PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Oregon Cares Fund is nearly ready to release its final round of COVID grants to the Black community, after a settlement agreement was reached with plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit filed against the fund. If approved by the judge, the agreement allows the remaining $8.8 million to be distributed to Black Oregonians, Black-owned businesses and Black-led nonprofits that have demonstrated financial harm due to COVID.
So far, the Fund has allocated $49.5 million to 15,600 Oregonians (more than 33,000 when dependents are included), 488 businesses and 103 nonprofits that submitted applications and met the criteria. In at least one case, a Black business owner reported that the fund saved his life.
“The resounding success of The Oregon Cares Fund demonstrates the impact of state government when it appropriately responds to the needs of community members. I am pleased to continue organizing with community leaders across Oregon and collaborating with State officials so that future relief funds will be prioritized for communities with the greatest needs,” said one of the Fund’s architects, Nkenge Harmon Johnson, chief executive for the Urban League of Portland. “Grants from the Oregon Cares Fund saved Oregon jobs and small businesses. In nearly every county in Oregon, the fund helped children and families who are struggling to survive the pandemic. The fund also illustrated the wisdom of addressing disproportionate impacts on Black Oregonians through narrowly tailored remedies.”
Three plaintiffs - Great Northern Resources, Dynamic Service Fire and Security, and Dynamic’s owner Walter Van Leja - sued the State of Oregon, The Contingent and the Black United Fund of Oregon this past fall. The plaintiffs filed and lost a motion for an injunction and a motion for a restraining order, which, if granted, would have shut the fund down immediately. By denying both motions, the judge allowed the fund to continue operating. Nonetheless, on December 8, the state and The Contingent agreed to deposit what remained in the fund at that time -- $8.8 million -- with the court until a decision was made or settlement reached. This settlement resolves all ongoing litigation in this case.
Moving forward, the state is poised to continue to lead the nation on ways to support communities of color and ensure resources are distributed without discrimination by pushing forward a data equity legislative concept. “In an ideal state, a fund like The Oregon Cares Fund would not be needed,” said Dr. Tyler TerMeer, chief executive officer of the Cascade AIDS Project and member of the Council of Trust, the 11-member body of Black leaders statewide that guided administration of the Fund. “The reason it was needed is that we know that systems have discriminated against the Black community, leading to dollars being distributed unevenly and unfairly. For example, Black-owned businesses get less funding than white-owned businesses. Black families have a harder time securing loans and financing. We are proposing that businesses in Oregon be required to collect demographic data on beneficiaries, so that in the future, we know exactly which communities need more support and how much.”
“The Oregon Cares Fund saved my business and helped my family rebuild after we lost our home to the wildfires,” said Aisha Wand, owner at Ashland DanceWorks. “I am thankful The Oregon Cares Fund removed barriers and made Black people, Black business owners and Black-led nonprofits a priority during these times. I look to the Oregon legislature to continue investing resources into Black communities during and after the pandemic.”
“The Oregon Cares Fund was an important first step toward ensuring, for the first time, that financial relief designed for all communities actually came to its most vulnerable community. It was an equity-based systemic response to systemic racism, and it was a great success,” said Rep. Janelle Bynum, state representative. “The pandemic is still happening, and Black Oregonians are most vulnerable to the virus and least likely to receive aid. There is an urgent need for ongoing relief. I’m committed to holding the state accountable to expanding the collection of disaggregated data to include race, ethnicity and gender.”
“The Oregon Cares Fund was an incredible success that served the diversity in Blackness to provide relief to African communities, Afro-Latinx Oregonians and Black-mixed folks,” said Musse Olol, Somali American Council Of Oregon (SACOO). “Black people are not a monolith and this Fund truly reflected the diversity among Black Oregonians in terms of nationality, geography, religion and language.”
More on the details of the settlement agreement
If the court approves the settlement agreement, the court will immediately release $5.3 million of the $8.8 million held by the court. The Contingent will disperse that money to eligible applicants that were vetted and approved in November and December and have been waiting for grants.
The remaining $3.5 million would continue to be held by the court and disbursements made by The Contingent upon court approval.
The lawsuit filed by Cocina Cultura remains ongoing and the approximately $42,000 being held by the court for that applicant will remain with the court until the suit is settled or decided by a judge or jury.
Background on The Oregon Cares Fund
The Oregon Cares Fund was a targeted grant program available to help Black individuals and families, Black business owners and Black-led nonprofits across Oregon weather the financial harm caused by COVID-19.
The $62 million fund was made available through the Oregon Legislature’s Emergency Board. In July 2020, the Board voted to allocate a portion ($200 million) of Oregon’s $1.4 billion in federally funded COVID-19 relief (from the CARES Act) toward specific communities and sectors of the economy -- including the Black community in Oregon. This was necessary because the Black community often receives a disproportionately lower amount of financial support from relief funds such as the CARES Act.
The Oregon Cares Fund highlights the strength of a diverse leadership coalition aligned on behalf of the Black community’s interests. This investment was championed in the legislature by Rep. Akasha Lawrence Spence, Rep. Janelle Bynum, Sen. James Manning, Sen. Lew Frederick, Black leaders across the state and thousands of Oregon constituents.
The Council of Trust, composed of 11 Black leaders from across Oregon, was charged with guiding the fund and approving applications. The fund distribution was carried out by two nonprofits – The Contingent and The Black United Fund.
The need for The Oregon Cares Fund
Even before COVID-19, twice as many Black Oregonians were living in poverty than white Oregonians. The global pandemic has widened and exacerbated the longstanding inequities that existed before the virus, hitting Black Americans harder than whites in terms of job and wage loss, the amount of financial reserves on hand and the ability to pay monthly bills. According to state data, in the past two months approximately four times as many Black Oregonians have contracted COVID-19 than white Oregonians.
The Black business community is less likely to have access to loans and traditional capital and has also received proportionally less COVID-19 federal aid.
- Nationally, twice as many Black-owned businesses have closed since the start of the pandemic compared to small businesses overall
- 41% compared to 22%, according to Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
- In one survey of 500 Black and Latinx business owners, done by Color of Change, only 8% of Black small businesses received the full federal assistance they requested.
- Despite a traditional lack of investment from banks, Black Oregonians are becoming entrepreneurs in ever-increasing numbers. The number of Black-owned businesses still grew by 25% in Oregon from 2007 to 2012, according to the Small Business Administration.