Cathe Wiese, Executive Director of My Father’s House, a Gresham nonprofit that serves homeless families
Lawmakers in Salem recently held a hearing extolling the virtues of their proposed cap-and-trade law and a program that would refund low-income families for increased gas prices that cap and trade would force them to pay. In the real world, a Band-Aid rebate is no help at all for the homeless families I serve every day.
My team and I have operated east Multnomah County’s largest shelter for homeless families since 2001. We work every day to equip homeless families with housing and the life skills that they need to become contributing members of society and live independently.
The life skills we teach our families include managing their family budgets so they can pay their bills when they eventually live on their own and hold meaningful jobs. Many of our families are single mothers with young children who we are working to help get their first stable job and apartment.
The lawmakers behind the cap-and-trade proposal don’t seem to understand the financial realities of families living literally from paycheck to paycheck. To put it simply, when one of our families graduates from our program, their ability to pay monthly bills is extremely fragile.
State government assistance doesn’t cover transportation, including cars or gas, clothing, utilities, insurance and other staples such as diapers, soap and other personal care products, pet food and vitamins. That doesn’t count children’s toys, books or birthday or Christmas presents. Our families pay monthly bills and have monthly budgets for staples like gas.
So, when well-meaning legislators think they’re helping financially vulnerable low-income families by handing out an end-of-the-year gas rebate, they’re wrong. The proposed gas rebate is a clear confirmation that cap and trade will increase costs immediately for low-income people in Oregon. When one of our families graduates into car ownership, they are forced to fill their tank to drive to a job that’s often far from home. Cap and trade would immediately increase that family’s transportation costs by 16 cents a gallon, according to Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality.
The last things our newly housed families need as they emerge from homelessness are new, unanticipated costs outside their meager budgets.
And what do these families get in return for paying more for gas and other necessities? According to the head of the Oregon State University Climate Center, who testified before the Legislature last year, cap and trade in Oregon would have an “imperceptible” impact on global climate change. In other words, low-income families would foot the bill for a new law that won’t do anything to help the problem.
I would urge lawmakers to reject this proposed cap-and-trade law and work to find solutions that actually reduce the impact of global climate change without penalizing fragile family budgets.