The state’s $62 million relief fund for Black Oregonians has agreed to stop allocating money while a federal court considers a new legal challenge that could shut down the program for good.
The Oregon Cares Fund legislation is racist. There is no chance—none—that the Oregon Legislature would ever have passed an Oregon Cares Fund that allowed only white recipients, and that’s the easy thought experiment: If you replace Black with White and it then sounds utterly horrible, something’s wrong. In the Oregon Cares fund, we have something that’s horribly wrong.
“The Oregon Cares Fund is, of course, following Judge Immergut’s ruling to not make any new awards, but will continue to distribute funds previously awarded while we await the next hearing,” said fund organizers in a statement Monday. “These funds – 4% of $1.4 billion (allocated to Oregon through the federal CARES Act) – are a crucial lifeline to Black Oregonians, Black-owned businesses and Black-led nonprofits who have not had fair access to other COVID relief funds.”
How have Black Oregonians not had fair access to other COVID relief funds? I would be eager to hear even one example of this overt, systemic discrimination at work. How specifically were Black Oregonians shut out of the other $1.34 billion?
In the meantime, Latinos, Native Americans, and every other ethnic and racial group are being left out of the Oregon Cares Fund.
[The plaintiffs] 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.
The plaintiffs are right about this, but what’s worse is that the Democratic legislators knew it at the time. They proceeded because with a super majority they could, and they knew most of the funds would be distributed before the courts ruled the whole thing unconstitutional. This sort of naked display of power for special interests is no less disgusting than when the GOP does it.
The Oregon Legislature’s Emergency Board voted in July to allocate federal CARES Act dollars to seed the unique fund.
At the time, 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.” Other legal experts have since questioned the constitutionality of the fund as well.
It does not take a law degree to see that this is unconstitutional. Either all of us, regardless of race, are equal under the law or we’re not. And if we’re not, well, we tried that before, and it did not go so well.