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COVID-19 Relief Directed to Black Community

Updated: Oct 5, 2023

New cash grants available to offset financial harm

Akasha Lawrence Spence speaks before the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners in January when the board named her state representative for House District 36, a temporary assignment to fulfill a vacancy. Spence is one of 11 Black leaders charged with guiding the allocation of a $62 million relief fund reserved for the Black community to help individuals, families and businesses weather the financial harm caused by COVID-19. (Photo courtesy Multnomah County)

Applications are now being taken for cash grants to help Black people, Black business owners and Black-led nonprofits throughout Oregon weather the financial harm caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The new $62 million Oregon Cares Fund for Black Relief and Resiliency opened this week, a targeted grant program that the Oregon Legislature’s Emergency Board installed last month as part of $200 million from the federally funded CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund reserved for specific communities and sectors of the economy.

The Council of Trust, composed of 11 Black leaders from across Oregon, is charged with guiding the relief fund and overseeing the distribution which will be carried out by two nonprofits – The Contingent (previously the Portland Leadership Forum) and The Black United Fund.

Individuals and families will be eligible for cash grants of $1,000 to $3,000 with higher amounts going to for Black businesses and Black-led nonprofits, officials said.

Applicants must demonstrate economic harm caused by the pandemic and prove residency in the state. Due to the expected high volume, it will take a few weeks after submission for applicants to receive funding notifications. The monies will be disbursed in three application periods with the final allocation finished by Dec. 30, officials said.

“This is a historic first step to address the disparities facing Black Oregonians in the face of COVID-19,” says Rep. Akasha Lawrence Spence (D-Portland) and member of the Council of Trust. “Oregon has underinvested in its Black citizens for far too long. From this moment forward, our state must commit to continued investment in the health and economic well-being of our communities throughout this pandemic, in the recovery efforts, and for as long as it takes to finally close the inequities that have crippled Black Oregonians for generations.”

Even before COVID-19, twice as many Black Oregonians were living in poverty than white Oregonians. The global pandemic has widened and exacerbated the longstanding inequities that existed before the virus, hitting Black Americans harder than whites in terms of job and wage loss, the amount of financial reserves on hand and the ability to pay monthly bills.

According to state data, in the past two months approximately four times as many Black Oregonians have contracted COVID-19 than white Oregonians.

Sharon Gary-Smith, former executive director of the MRG Foundation, helps oversee a COVID-19 Relief Fund directed to help the Black community.

“This is a wonderful, deserved, and appropriate step to address the harm caused by COVID-19 on the Black community,” says Sharon Gary-Smith, former executive director of the MRG Foundation and member of the Council of Trust. “Black Oregonians have had monumental losses in spirit, hope, community, and resources due to centuries of racial injustice and discrimination.”

The Black business community is less likely to have access to loans and traditional capital and has also received proportionally less COVID-19 federal aid.

Nationally, twice as many Black-owned businesses have closed since the start of the pandemic compared to small businesses overall -- 41% compared to 22%, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

In one survey of 500 Black and Latinx business owners, done by Color of Change, only 8% of Black small businesses received the full federal assistance they requested.

Despite a traditional lack of investment from banks, Black Oregonians are becoming entrepreneurs in ever-increasing numbers. The number of Black-owned businesses still grew by 25% in Oregon from 2007 to 2012, according to the Small Business Administration.

“Especially right now, Black business leaders face an uphill battle. But we know with targeted investment, this community has incredible resiliency and creativity. This relief fund will help Black businesses weather the economic storm caused by the virus,” said Stephen Green, entrepreneur and member of the Council of Trust.

Officials said the Oregon Cares Fund highlights the strength of a diverse leadership coalition aligned on behalf of the Black community’s interests. This investment was championed in the legislature by Rep. Akasha Lawrence Spence and Rep. Janelle Bynum, Black leaders across the state, and thousands of Oregon constituents.

For more information or to apply, visit

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