Oregon Cares Fund to release final round of COVID grants to Black community
Settlement documents filed in federal court mean full fund can be distributed
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.”