Merkley, Wyden Announce “Hardest Hit” Funds Will Be Available to Help Oregonians with Coronavirus Housing Relief

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today announced that the U.S. Treasury Department will allow Oregon to use funding from its Hardest Hit fund to assist Oregonians facing housing challenges during the coronavirus pandemic. Previously, these programs were set to expire on April 30, 2020.

The Hardest Hit fund was created during the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis for states, like Oregon, that were the most severely impacted by the decline in the housing market. Hardest Hit enabled states to offer direct assistance to families, such as help with mortgage payments or affordable refinancing, to keep families in their homes.

The new decision by the Treasury Department does not yet allow Oregon to tap into $25 million in leftover reserves to help fund the administrative costs of the program, and the senators emphasized that they would keep pushing the Treasury Department on this point.

“Oregonians are facing an unprecedented and dire economic cliff due to the coronavirus pandemic,” said Merkley. “At a time when Oregonians are being urged to stay at home, it’s more important than ever that families living on the financial edge right now are able to keep their homes and have a safe place to shelter. It’s a huge victory that these successful Hardest Hit programs will be able to ramp back up to help families during the pandemic, and I hope Treasury will follow suit soon with an additional decision that will give Oregon the flexibility they need to help fund the administration of this badly-needed assistance.

“The always-important job of making sure the federal government is working to help Oregon becomes magnified when a historic public health crisis is creating such huge financial challenges for families throughout our state,” Wyden said. “Keeping Oregonians safe in their homes is a top priority during COVID-19. I am glad this significant win has been achieved so the Hardest Hit fund can help Oregon families, and I won’t stop pressing the administration until it lets Oregon employ the fund to its fullest potential.”

As Oregonians have faced sudden and severe economic impacts from the coronavirus pandemic, Merkley and Wyden have pushed the Treasury Department to enable Oregon to continue its Hardest Hit programs to assist during these tough times. Merkley personally called Treasury Department officials to push for an extension, and Wyden and Merkley wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin supporting the state’s request to extend the program.

The state’s Oregon Homeownership Stabilization Initiative (OHSI) has already helped more than 14,000 homeowners avoid foreclosure since 2011. Because the program’s funds are returned as participants pay down their loans, sell, or refinance, OHSI still has $25 million in available program funds.