Photo: The Influential Grooming Lounge in Portland
The Oregon Legislature’s Emergency Board designated more than $200 million in federal relief money in a hearing Tuesday. $62 million was set aside for the “Oregon Cares Fund.” The fund is designed to provide direct assistance to Black businesses, nonprofit organizations and individuals or families. The fund will grant up to $3,000 to families and up to $100,000 to Black owned businesses.
According to theoregoncaresfund.org, “The Oregon Cares Fund is a targeted investment in the Black community from the CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund. This fund is meant to provide the Black community with the resources it needs to weather the global health pandemic and consequent recession. The Oregon Cares Fund is for Black people, Black-owned businesses, and Black community based organizations.” The $62 million fund, a set-aside from $200 million Oregon received in federal relief funds, is a byproduct of intense advocacy by Black people, nonprofits, churches and other organizations across the state. The idea of explicitly targeting federal funds at Black people and institutions is exciting but contested, for sure.
Critics of the Oregon Cares Fund question the constitutionality of earmarking funds for a specific racial group. They have pointed to a July 13 opinion from the Office of Legislative Counsel indicating that unless the state specifically cites detailed evidence of past discrimination against Black families and businesses, the fund could violate Constitutional protections mandating equal protection under the law. Oregon’s Black Exclusion laws should serve as a natural starting point for those with sincere questions. Oregon’s Black population grew by only 75– 75 people– between 1850 and 1860. Neighboring California grew by 4,000 during the same period. The difference can be traced back to a series of Black “exclusion” laws which effectively banned Black settlement. The last of these laws was repealed in 1926 but racist language in the state’s constitution remained until 2002; even then, 30 percent of Oregonians voted to keep it.
The Oregon Cares Act fund will be administered by The Contingent, a Portland-based nonprofit. The organization has a white CEO, Black President and racially mixed staff. The organization’s performance with respect to managing this fund is yet unknown but the historical data mandates sincere caution. Further, one scarcely could imagine a fund for Holocaust survivors being administered by Latinos, Black people or even a “mixed” organization. In a perfect world, unapologetically Black owned, managed and targeted organizations would administer such a fund and where they do not exist, Black people must create them. Collective Black advocacy helped to birth this fund and that same collective spirit must create the institutions needed to see such initiatives through.