Oregon's $62M coronavirus relief fund for Black residents suspends operations

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PORTLAND — The state’s new $62 million pandemic relief fund for Black Oregonians will stop allocating grants and deposit the remaining $8.8 million with a federal court while legal challenges against it continue.

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The Oregon Cares Fund agreed to deposit its money with the court Thursday after plaintiffs challenged the fund’s constitutionality, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

Plaintiffs also asked U.S. Judge Karin Immergut to issue a preliminary injunction or restraining order to stop the fund from distributing money on the basis of race.

CORONAVIRUS RELIEF FUND IN OREGON MEANT TO HELP BLACK-OWNED BUSINESSES EXCLUSIVELY

Immergut had previously denied two requests for an injunction. In those instances, the Oregon Cares Fund set aside money for the plaintiffs in case they prevailed in their legal challenges, leading Immergut to find that they couldn’t show the irreparable harm needed to warrant an injunction.

But the original plaintiff in the case, John Day logging company Great Northern Resources, joined with Salem electrical contractor Dynamic Service Fire and Security and its owner, Walter Van Leja, to seek class-action status for the suit earlier in December. They then filed a new motion for a preliminary injunction against the Oregon Cares Fund on behalf of themselves and others in their situation.

They contend that Oregon has violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by distributing benefits on the basis of race and that they and other non-Black individuals and businesses who have suffered because of the pandemic will be irreparably harmed if the fund is allowed to continue distributing money on the basis of race, according to The Oregonian.

PORTLAND BUSINESS OWNER DESCRIBES 'DEVASTATING SITUATION,' SAYS 'THERE ARE NO CONSEQUENCES' FOR CRIMES

As of Monday, organizers of the Oregon Cares Fund had already approved nearly $50 million in payments and paid out more than $38 million to Black Oregonians, Black-owned businesses and Black-led nonprofits. Federal dollars used to seed the fund must be spent by Dec. 30.

Oregon Cares Fund offered to deposit its remaining $8.8 million with the court, effectively shutting it down, at least for now.

Lawyers for The Contingent, a nonprofit administering the Oregon Cares Fund, said Thursday that about 7,000 applications for grants from the fund remained pending. Those applications will remain on hold.

OREGON OFFICAL TO DEFY GOVERNOR'S CORONAVIRUS RESTRICTION

Observers have said it is unlikely that legal challenges would force Black Oregonians who received assistance to repay the money, even if the fund and its supporters ultimately lose in court.

There were questions about the fund’s legality when the Oregon Legislature’s Emergency Board voted in July to allocate federal dollars to seed it. The legislative counsel’s office warned that setting aside funds for one race could be considered unconstitutional without strong data and evidence showing “past discrimination in the economic sphere.”

Gov. Kate Brown and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum have issued a joint statement backing the fund and promising to defend it.

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