Senator Merkley and Congresswoman Hoyle respond to the issues of Benton County residents in joint townhall


Duane Knapp

Senator Jeff Merkley, and Congresswoman Van Hoyle host a town hall meeting at Crescent Valley High School on Saturday, February 21, 2023. Community members asked questions about universal healthcare, free education, and upcoming support for small businesses.

Skand S., News Contributor

“Get up, vote, get engaged, talk to your elected officials –  know that your voice matters, because there’s a group of people that are doing everything they can to let you think that your voice doesn’t matter.” 

That is what Congresswoman Val Hoyle said to the 275 Benton County residents joining her in attending and participating in Senator Jeff Merkley’s town hall on Saturday at Crescent Valley High School. This was their first joint town hall.

Several other issues including healthcare, affordable housing, wildfires, technology and student debt were raised by the residents of Corvallis during the meeting.


Merkley emphasized that individuals have to navigate a complex, counterproductive system with medicaid, medicare and private insurance.

“We have not one single system, but about five or six,” Merkley said. “I’ll take any path to make that transition that we could possibly get to a simple seamless system that any American can access.”


On being asked by a Crescent Valley High School debate team member about what they are doing to address the affordable housing issue, Hoyle said that she is working with Governor Tina Kotek – who recently declared homelessness as a state of emergency – to see how they can address this issue by partnering with state and local communities.

One strategy to address the affordable housing issue, according to Merkley, is to increase the number of housing vouchers and have them be able to cover higher levels of rent. The most common voucher known as Section 8, requires the individual to cover 33% of the income in rent. 

“The new element that I am bringing to (the housing issue) is to get the hedge funds out of the housing business – because they really drive up the price of homes and cost of rent,” Merkley said. “When individuals have to compete against billionaires to rent to buy, we’re in big trouble. Let’s get them out of their business.”

Merkley said that he was successful in procuring an $850k grant for community land trust for 38 new permanent affordable housing homes in Benton County from the recent Omnibus Appropriations Bill that was signed by President Biden into a law in December.

Student Loans

When asked about student loan forgiveness, Hoyle, a Pell Grant recipient herself, said that she supported President Biden’s decision because she believes that students should not be charged more interest on loans than the banks are charged by the government.

Both Merkley and Hoyle are hoping that the courts confirm that President Biden has the power to waive $10,000 in student loans ($20,000 for Pell Grant students).

“I think it’s important, we double the Pell Grant, we make sure that students don’t graduate with mountains of debt, we learn to fund and I think deliver education differently,” Hoyle said.


Another Corvallis resident asked why the people who have served in the US Armed Forces are not cross trained for firefighting – given the numerous incidents of wildfires in Oregon.

Merkley indirectly responded to it by pointing to two of his bills – Smoke-Ready Communities Act of 2021 and the Smoke Planning and Research Act of 2021. 

The former bill proposes grants to support communities in detecting and mitigating the environmental and public health aspects of wildfire smoke. The latter proposes four Centers of Excellence for Wildfire Smoke at institutions of higher education.

Both Hoyle and Merkley also emphasized on increasing the pay for firefighters.

“One of the things that we’ve done here in Oregon is we have a firefighter apprenticeship program, so we can get people in for structural firefighting as these wildfires are coming closer to the cities,” Hoyle said.


A graduate student from OSU asked what the representatives were doing to boost the technology in Oregon. 

Merkley responded by saying that the recent CHIPS and Science acts will play an important role in restoring American production of computer chips, which are essential to every digital product and would reduce America’s dependence on supply chains from other countries.

Social Security

While talking about Social Security, Hoyle pointed out a new bill that was introduced in the House of Representatives on Monday to expand social security benefits by $2,400 a year. 

Advice to young people

When a Crescent Valley High School student asked Hoyle and Merkley for their advice to young people – both of them responded saying: register and vote.

Hoyle added to this by encouraging young people to pursue internships in government or related jobs. She also emphasized that because young people showed up to vote in the last election cycle, they were able to flip some critical races in the House and Senate.

Was this article helpful?