Governor Kate Brown and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum defend Oregon state black relief fund
Governor Kate Brown and Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum on Thursday defended Oregon’s new $ 62 million coronavirus relief fund for blacks in Oregon and businesses after the state was named in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the program.
Great Northern Resources, a small logging company of John Day, litigation filed last month in Portland U.S. District Court, claiming state and Oregon Cares Fund organizers violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by distributing government benefits on the basis of race.
The lawsuit lists The Contingent, a nonprofit organization that administers the fund in partnership with the Black United Fund, and the Oregon Department of Administrative Services as defendants.
Brown and Rosenblum, both Democrats, insisted in a statement Thursday that the Cares Fund was constitutional and said the state would actively defend it.
“The fund provides limited, timely and targeted assistance to black-owned businesses, black-run nonprofits and black families experiencing financial adversity as a result of COVID-19,” the statement said. . “As a state, we have a duty to help those in need. We must not allow pernicious and ideologically motivated prosecutions to hamper our efforts to provide essential resources to the people of Oregon in the midst. of a devastating pandemic. “
In the lawsuit, Great Northern Resources said it expects to lose $ 200,000 this year due to the coronavirus recession and maintains it has the right to compete for the coronavirus relief money allocated to companies.
“This express use of race in the distribution of government money is unprecedented and patently unconstitutional,” the complaint states.
Great Northern Resources filed a petition on Saturday to prevent the fund from using race to allocate money until the courts resolve its legal challenge. As of Wednesday, organizers of the Oregon Cares Fund had already approved more than $ 37 million in payments and made more than $ 27 million to more than 7,000 blacks in Oregon and nearly 400 businesses and nonprofit organizations. lucrative black-owned.
Fund attorneys responded by offering to post a bond of $ 200,000, more than the program’s maximum grant amount, to be reserved for Great Northern Resources in the event their legal action is successful. The court set a hearing for November 20 to decide whether Great Northern Resources could establish irreparable harm to support a preliminary injunction in light of the bond offer.
Tad Houpt, a land rights activist who was active in the events surrounding the occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016, identifies himself as chairman of Great Northern Resources in the litigation. Grant County Commissioner Sam Palmer identified himself as the vice president of Great Northern on file with the state last year.
Conservative legal strategist Edward Blum, who has led high-profile challenges to federal voting rights law and racial considerations in college admissions, said his organization was funding Great Northern’s trial.
Brown and Rosenblum highlighted Blum’s involvement in their statement Thursday, saying the trial was funded by an “out-of-state activist who is known to use the courts to try to undermine civil rights legislation and public policy “.
However, the Oregon Legislature’s Emergency Board was aware that the fund’s legality could be challenged when it voted in July to allocate federal dollars from the CARES Act to seed the fund.
A Notice of July 13 from the Office of the Legislative Counsel said setting aside funds for a race could be considered unconstitutional without hard data and evidence showing “past discrimination in the economic sphere.” The agency said it was not aware of the compilation of this evidence by the legislature.
Supporters of the fund pointed to a Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt legal opinion who claimed that blacks in Oregon suffer disproportionate economic damage from COVID-19 and receive less help from existing relief efforts.
According to the Oregon Health Authority, blacks in Oregon are more than three times as likely as white Oregonians to contract COVID-19.
A study conducted by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition in July found that black business owners had more trouble get financial relief from the coronavirus than white business owners. A separate study by researchers at the University of California at Santa Cruz found that black-owned businesses were closing twice as fast as white-owned businesses during the pandemic.
“Data shows black people in Oregon are suffering disproportionate damage from COVID-19,” Brown and Rosenblum said in Thursday’s statement. adverse health effects. Additionally, black-owned businesses are less likely to have received federal assistance and are closing at a faster rate than other businesses. “