Oregon COVID-19 Relief Funds Reserved for Underserved Black People in Jeopardy Due to Lawsuits

Illustration for article titled Oregon COVID-19 Relief Funds Reserved for Underserved Black People in Jeopardy Due to Lawsuits
Photo: Shutterstock

After the first round of Paycheck Protection Program loans meant to help small businesses survive shutdowns due to the pandemic went out last year, report after report after report documented how Black businesses were being ignored.


The state of Oregon has been trying to do something to ensure that racism doesn’t play a part in pandemic relief distribution by reserving a relatively small amount of federal COVID-19 relief money to provide grants to Black people—and it was working out fine until people who don’t think racism is real unless anything resembling affirmative action comes up started filing discrimination lawsuits.

From the New York Times:

Data and anecdotes around the country suggested that the coronavirus was disproportionately killing Black people. Locally, Black business owners had begun fretting about their livelihoods, as stay-at-home orders and various other measures were put into place. Many did not have valuable houses they could tap for capital, and requests for government assistance had gone nowhere.

After convening several virtual meetings, the civic leaders proposed a bold and novel solution that state lawmakers approved in July. The state would earmark $62 million of its $1.4 billion in federal Covid-19 relief money to provide grants to Black residents, business owners and community organizations enduring pandemic-related hardships.

“It was finally being honest: This is who needs this support right now,” said Lew Frederick, a state senator who is Black.

But now millions of dollars in grants are on hold after one Mexican-American and two white business owners sued the state, arguing that the fund for Black residents discriminated against them.

According to the Times, nearly $50 million of that reserve money has already been distributed, but because haters gonna hate Black people getting their fair share, a state court has frozen the remaining $8.8 million (minus administrative costs) until litigation gets resolved.

Edward Blum—the conservative legal strategist for Project on Fair Representation and the man who represented the queen of white basicness, Abigail Fisher, in her wrong-as-hell claim that she didn’t get accepted into the University of Texas because she’s white—is underwriting one of two lawsuits challenging the fund. He made a bunch of fart noises with his mouth on the subject. (Fart noises is what all white people sound like to me when they argue that merit is the reason white people are overwhelmingly represented in damn near everything, not racial discrimination.)


“It is like, in the employment arena, going to apply for a job and seeing a sign on the employment office that reads, ‘No Asians need apply,’” Blum said, the Times reports. “Your race and your ethnicity should not be used to help you or harm you in your life’s endeavors.” Blum likely made sure to use Asians as his example out of fear that his usual “affirmative action is Jim Crow for white people” shtick might not be received well.

Walter Leja of Dynamic Service Fire and Security, a plaintiff in one of the lawsuits, couldn’t say whether a history of racial discrimination put Black businesses at a disadvantage, but he appears to be absolutely sure that his white ass is being held down by the man.


“It’s discriminatory,” he said. “It’s locking up a bunch of funds that can only be used by Black businesses when there’s a ton of other businesses out there that need access to those funds. It’s not a white or Black thing. It’s an everybody thing.” But where is this energy when data indicates that Black people are getting the shaft? It only becomes an “everybody thing” when someone makes even the slightest move to correct the historic disenfranchisement of Black people.

It’s also worth mentioning that Black people are not the only racial group that Oregon is trying to be fair to. More from the Times:

Supporters of the fund argued that the $62 million accounted for about 4.5 percent of what the state received, leaving plenty for residents who are not Black. They also noted that other Covid-19-related funds were tailored in a way that allowed them to almost exclusively benefit particular racial or ethnic groups — a $10 million fund created by the state that largely benefits undocumented Latino immigrants and one created by Portland officials to aid a district of largely Asian-owned businesses.


Advocates for the fund are concerned that waiting out a potentially lengthy litigation process could take years and that, because there’s a deadline for states to spend their COVID relief funds or return what’s left over to the federal government, the millions that have been frozen might be lost for good.

So basically, no one gets paid because racists pretending to be victims of racism don’t want Black people to get the money.

Zack Linly is a poet, performer, freelance writer, blogger and grown man lover of cartoons


It would be nice to have an option to read the comments (no ungreyed) without clicking the button to write a comment. Like I can if there is at least one ungreyed one. Kinja updates just seem to make it less user friendly.