Congresswoman Andrea Salinas held a Town Hall in Keizer as part of a tour of her Sixth District.
About 30 people attended the meeting at the Keizer Civic Center.
After being introduced by Mayor Cathy Clark, Salinas opened with information about two House committees she sits on: Agriculture and Science, Space and Technology.
“I think (they) will directly impact the district,” Salinas said.
She is also a member of an executive commission on China, which monitors what that nation is doing.
The congresswoman reported that the Agriculture Committee is tasked with reauthorizing the farm bill this year. The bill comes up every five years.
“In the past Oregon farmers have largely been unable to access a lot of the benefits,” said Salinas. She explained that the farm bill has 12 programs, including subsidies. She went on to say that about 89% of the farm bill usually supports about 150,000 farms across the country.
“The other two million farms, many of which are here in Oregon, are forced to fight for that remaining 11%,” she said.
Salinas reported that a formal House agriculture listening session was held in Oregon for the first time in years.
“It was a good first meeting, but the first step to making change is listening,” Salinas said.
Salinas addressed some of the agricultural issues she has been working on such as improving soil health, expanding access to crop insurance for small family farms and wildfires.
“I’ve introduced some critical legislation. It’s called the Civilian Conservation Center Enhancement Act.” The act is a bipartisan bill that will ramp up the ability to hire federal wildland firefighters.
Salinas also said that a component of the farm bill is SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assisstance Program). One in six Oregonians utilize the program to help put food on the table and stabilize family budgets.
“Keeping this program strong, especially for our seniors, children and veterans is absolutely critical for me,” Salinas said.
Bringing her knowledge from her state legislative experience, Salinas is tackling behavioral health and substance abuse.
“I know mental healthcare is healthcare,” she said. Adding that healthcare does not stop at the neck. “We need to consider all of the neck up issues.”
The representative is staying active on the issue; she joined the Mental Health Caucus and she spearheads a mental health Monday campaign. She is working to bring federal dollars to Oregon; she requested $36 million for projects such as housing, public safety, infrastructure and rural development across the state.
Salinas closed her remarks with reference to the federal budget. She said she supported the deal to raise the debt ceiling because the alternative would be catastrophic.
“I would not be doing the work I am doing if I were not an optimist. I’m going to remain optimistic until somebody proves me otherwise,” she said.
Responding to questions from the audience, the Congresswoman said that commodity crops are the bulk of the farm bill money, leaving little to Oregon’s specialty crops such as cherries and wine grapes which have been hard by bad weather. She wants to push insurance agents to write policies that address that.
On a question about mental health and law enforcement, Salinas responded that police, like schools, are asked to be psychologists, housing providers and law enforcement. She said she will look into funding to alleviate the pressure to do all those tasks.
“Medicaid should be actually providing some reimbursements for some of the work being done at the local county levels for some of the things that feel more like social service needs,” she answered.
Answering a question about how much money Oregon will get from last year’s infrastructure bill, Salinas said it will be close to $7 billon. “We don’t have the specifics on exactly what projects are going to be funded, because the federal government is good at handing over big pots of money, but then it’s up to the state and local jurisdictions to fight over what actually gets funded,” she said.
In answer to a question about a federal role in addressing homelessness the congresswoman said there is no one solution to solving the crisis. Citing that Oregon is up to 130,000 housing units short of what is needed, she said that additional bonding authority for affordable housing is critical.
Other topics brought up by the audience included pardons by a sitting president of people from their administration or campaign; democracy in the country and voting rights; federal funding for special districts such as fire, parks and recreation ,and water and sewer districts. Salinas said that special districits were left out of ARPA fund allocations. “It is taxpayer dollars going towards something meaningful to each community,” she said.
Salinas also answered questions about U.S. Supreme Court ethics, pharmaceuticals and food bank funding.
After an hour of speaking and answering questions Rep. Salinas had to rush to an appearance in McMinnville.
“We’ll definitely be here to help you with additional questions and we are thankful that you all came out to make this a great conversation,” she said in parting.