Sen. Wyden addresses rural Oregon issues

MEDFORD, ORE. – U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden spoke to journalists Monday about policies affecting rural Oregon. He told NBC5 News he wants Southern Oregon residents to know what work is being done to help them. He mentioned three crucial issues Congress addressed before their holiday break and is already planning policies for next year.

The first issue Wyden addressed was accessibility to broadband in rural areas. The second stimulus package, which passed the Senate floor Sunday tackles just that. Now, rural Oregonians will benefit from $7 billion for broadband service. Wyden hopes the extra funds will go to build infrastructure so some rural Oregonians can better access the internet.

“We’ve got a lot of kids trying to learn with kind of less than stellar connectivity,” said Sen. Wyden.

According to Broadband Now, 91% of Oregonians statewide have access to high-speed internet. However, Coos, Jackson, Josephine, Klamath, Lake, and Lane Counties are below the state average.

Part of the broadband section of the stimulus package is going directly to disadvantaged communities.

“$50 a month for low-income families to get internet access. For vital classroom work, important for folks who are working remotely,” said Sen. Wyden.

Sunday’s stimulus bill also includes money to expand telehealth, also known as virtual doctor’s appointments. Sen. Wyden said it’s more important than ever that people can see a doctor, in person or not.

“I think we all know you can’t have rural life without rural healthcare. So it is a quality of life issue, particularly with folks who are elderly, isolated,” said Sen. Wyden.

But the senator says more work is needed. He wants legislation, like the Telehealth Expansion Act to pass through Congress, which expands access to virtual mental health services under medicare.

“In the past people would always have to go to a doctor [to] get mental health. We have been able to reduce the number of doctor visits very dramatically,” said Sen. Wyden.

Sen. Wyden also said after a horrific fire season more proactive work is needed to reduce the risk of another bad fire season.

“You can burn a little bit when the weather is cooler. You can avoid some of the bigger, hotter fires when it’s windy and dry,” said Sen. Wyden.

Wyden said he wanted to see more fire relief in the second COVID-19 stimulus package. However, it did not make it into the bill that passed Sunday.

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