SALEM, Ore. — Governor Kate Brown and Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum released a statement on Thursday, defending a fund set up by the state specifically to provide coronavirus relief funds for Black-owned businesses, Black-led nonprofits, Black families and individuals.
The Oregon Cares Fund recently became the subject of a lawsuit filed by a timber company, Great Northern Resources. The lawsuit, filed by attorneys representing the timber company in a Portland federal court on October 29, alleges that the fund is unconstitutional.
"Grants from the Fund are only available to individuals and business owners who 'self-identify as Black,'" the lawsuit states. "This express use of race in distributing government money is unprecedented and blatantly unconstitutional."
Based in the eastern Oregon town of John Day, Great Northern describes itself in the suit as a small, family-run logging company that has suffered major economic losses from the pandemic.
Separate from federal SBA coronavirus relief options, Oregon has offered — and continues to offer — emergency grants for small businesses regardless of race. However, Great Northern's lawsuit takes aim at the Oregon Cares Fund on the grounds that the company does not fit its requirements.
"The pandemic’s harm to Great Northern should qualify it to compete in any government-aid program for businesses that have been affected by Covid-19. And yet the company is ineligible to receive a grant from the Fund because its owner is not Black," the lawsuit states.
Governor Brown and Attorney General Rosenblum's statement on Thursday claims that the Great Northern lawsuit is being funded by an "out-of-state activist" — presumably a reference to controversial legal strategist Edward Blum, who the Oregonian/OregonLive reports has helped to bankroll the suit.
Blum is also the mastermind behind ongoing litigation against Harvard University for its affirmative action policies, rebuffed in a U.S. appeals court this week.
The full statement from Brown and Rosenblum is as follows:
"The state has been named in a lawsuit funded by an out-of-state activist who is known to use the courts to try to undermine civil rights legislation and public policy. The suit challenges an innovative program created by the Legislature that directs a portion of the state’s CARES Act funding to address the disparate impacts of COVID-19 faced by Black Oregonians."
"The data show that Black Oregonians are experiencing disproportionate harm from COVID-19. These harms, the result of long-standing systemic inequities, include higher rates of COVID-19 infection and a greater risk of adverse health impacts. Additionally, Black-owned businesses are less likely to have received federal aid, and are closing at a faster pace than other businesses.
"In July, the state legislature directed federal CARES Act funding to a range of communities and local industries, including a partnership with Black leadership across Oregon to stand up the Oregon Cares Fund. The fund provides narrow, timely, and targeted relief to Black-owned businesses, Black-led nonprofits and Black families that demonstrate financial adversity due to COVID-19.
"As a state, we have a duty to aid those in need. We must not allow pernicious and ideologically-motivated lawsuits to impede our efforts to deliver critical resources to Oregonians amid a devastating pandemic. On behalf of all Oregonians, we intend to actively defend this important program."