Image for Lawmakers Give Aid to Venues, Small Businesses and African-Americans

Meeting virtually this week, the legislative Emergency Board handed out $181 million in federal coronavirus financial relief funds to Oregon cultural and entertainment venues, small businesses, quarantined workers and individual African-Americans and black-owned businesses. Lawmakers also authorized $500 one-time checks for Oregonians who lost their jobs because of the pandemic, but haven’t yet received unemployment benefits.

The money was part of $1.6 billion allocated to Oregon from the congressionally approved CARES Act. A portion of the allocation remains to be distributed by future E-Board actions.

The $50 million allocation for entertainment and cultural venues had been discussed previously, but action postponed. Roughly half of the allocation will be sent directly to a list of 80 or so venues, which will receive seven months of operating costs the venues have identified. The list drew questions, including why it excluded the Portland Art Museum. The other half will be available through a grant program administered by the Oregon Business Development Department (OBDD) and the Oregon Cultural Trust and is intended for cultural institutions, children’s museums, county fairgrounds, cultural events on tribal lands, festivals and community event organizations.

OBDD was given an additional $22.5 million to bolster a grant program for small businesses with fewer than 25 employees that didn’t receive funds from the Paycheck Protection Program or other forms of federal financial relief. An additional $5 million will go to business assistance matching programs run by local governments. And $17.5 million will be sent to Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) and economic development districts (EDDs) to distribute to eligible businesses. The seafood industry will receive $2.5 million to weather lower prices caused by the economic lockdown.

In response to desperate pleas, lawmakers allocated $35 million for unemployed Oregonians whose jobless claims still haven’t been processed. They will receive a one-time $500 check, though details on how and when the money would be handed out are still in the works.

Some $30 million was set aside for a Quarantine Time Loss program that covers workers at businesses with more than 500 employees, healthcare workers and first responders not covered by the Federal Families First Coronavirus Relief Act that provided 80 hours of paid time off when workers were required to quarantine as a result of COVID-19 exposure. Eligible recipients will receive $120 per day to make up for lost wages. The QTL program was a top priority of House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland.

“We’re talking about how do we break the cycle of generational poverty.”

The largest allocation ($62 million) was reserved for grants of between $500 and $3,000 to individual African-Americans who can demonstrate economic distress resulting from the pandemic and grants of between $2,000 and $100,000 for black-owned businesses and nonprofits serving the African-American community. The Black United Fund will administer the grant program. This allocation drew several ‘no’ votes from GOP lawmakers who questioned the constitutionality of grant programs based on race. They suggested the grants also should be available to Latinos and Native Americans.

The exchange prompted comment from Senate President Peter Courtney: “When you get into describing different groups that have been persecuted one against the other, I don’t think that is in our best interest and I would ask you please not to do that.” Senator James Manning, D-Eugene, one of two African-American members of the E-Board, added, “We’re talking about how do we break the cycle of generational poverty,”  

The E-Board gave the secretary of state $2.5 million to strengthen election security and $3.5 million for improvements to the Warm Springs Indian Reservation water and wastewater systems.