The Oregon Cares Fund has been allocated $62 million by the Oregon Legislature’s Emergency Board to provide direct support to Black-owned businesses, individuals, and families as part of the coronavirus relief effort. Families will receive grants of up to $3,000 and businesses will receive up to $100,000.
The Oregon Cares Fund faces opposition from some who believe it may be unconstitutional to allocate funds to a specific racial group. David Fang-Yen, deputy legislative counsel, wrote in an opinion he sent to Oregon Senate Minority Leader Fred Girod that there is no “evidence that satisfies the requirements of the equal protection clause,” making the fund “almost certainly… unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment.”
However, the federal government has been widely criticized for the package of Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP) loans given out earlier this year which were set up in a fashion that would discriminate against Black-owned businesses.
As Timothy L. O’Brien of Bloomberg reported on June 15, “The White House and Treasury Department were broadly criticized for not making funds more accessible to small businesses owned by people of color after the first PPP round ran dry.”
“There definitely have been Black-owned businesses that have difficulty getting PPP money because they lack the qualifications,” Regina Smith, executive director of the Harlem Business Alliance, an advisory organization for African American entrepreneurs said to O’Brien. “They either don’t have enough employees or often don’t have relationships with banks.”
Megan Cerullo of CBS News reported that approximately 95 percent of Black owned businesses nationwide stand no chance of receiving funds from the PPP program.
In an open letter to the state government in June, members of the Black community across Oregon voiced their “questions and concerns about the equitable and reparative approaches” that would be taken in response to the coronavirus crisis and the subsequent economic downturn. The fund seeks to ensure that the Black community receives the investments to ensure long-term resilience.
The Oregon Cares Fund will be managed by the Portland-based nonprofit organization The Contingent.
By Emily Weninger