Pot tax revenue in helpers’ hands

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Local organizations helping people who are struggling through the pandemic received $100,000 in marijuana tax money Wednesday from the city of Medford.

The city will distribute the relief funds, derived from a portion of its marijuana tax revenue, to ACCESS, Center for NonProfit Legal Services, Community Works, Consumer Credit Counseling of Southern Oregon, Hearts with a Mission, Greenway Food Distribution Program, La Clinica, Maslow Project, Mercy’s Gate, Salvation Army, Senior Food Assistance Program, Set Free Ministries, St. Vincent de Paul, and Youth 71Five.

“We have seen such a huge increase in demand for our services,” said Bill Ihle, executive director and chief executive officer for Consumer Credit Counseling. “A lot of people don’t know where to turn. Two months ago, they were happy, prosperous and paying their bills.”

Ihle said his nonprofit received $10,000 from the city, money that will be used directly for credit counseling as hard-hit small businesses and individuals face the hard decision of whether to put food on the table or gas in the car. Credit counselors have been set up to work from home during this time of social distancing. Consumer Credit Counseling asks for a donation from clients to help support its operation.

He said his organization has seen spikes in calls for service. One day over the past month he saw a 149% increase in calls, followed by a 96% increase the next day.

Ihle said he’s seen many people call Consumer Credit Counseling because they anticipate they could be in dire straits after their savings run dry or stimulus checks are spent.

For those living on the edge, Ihle suggests contacting his organization as soon as possible. Creditors are more willing to work with people who have established a plan with a credit counseling service, he said.

Clients who had already set up a plan to reduce their debt and agreed to surrender their credits cards are now coming back asking if they could get their credit cards back to deal with mounting financial pressures because they no longer have an income, Ihle said.

He said counselors are not judgmental and their goal is to help people get back onto a more secure financial footing.

“There is no shame in this,” he said. “We are here to help.”

Medford officials chose the different organizations that receive the money based on high-priority areas such as community food support, hygiene stations, youth shelter assistance, domestic violence support, transitional housing, legal services and financial health.

Kevin Stine, president of the Medford City Council, said the council decided to distribute the money to local organizations because they are struggling to receive donations during this economic downturn and they perform a valuable community service.

The money will help provide food or rental assistance as well as other issues related to the economic downturn and pandemic, he said.

“Every community wishes it could do a little more,” Stine said.

He anticipates the council will look at setting aside additional money to help the community in the weeks and months ahead.

“We’ll definitely inject more money into nonprofits or into the business community,” he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

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