A federal court last week approved a settlement in a case challenging an Oregon fund that gave COVID-19 relief money only to black-owned businesses.
The state of Oregon set aside $62 million of federal relief money for the "Oregon Cares Fund for Black Relief and Resiliency." The fund would only disperse payments to black Oregonians and black-owned businesses and nonprofits in the state. Great Northern Resources, a family-owned logging business in eastern Oregon, sued the state last October, arguing the fund violated the 14th Amendment and federal anti-discrimination laws. Because the owner of Great Northern is white, the business was ineligible to receive the aid money.
Great Northern and the state reached a settlement in March, under which Oregon will release $5.3 million from the fund to black-owned businesses while allocating a separate $3.5 million for non-black relief applicants. According to the Project for Fair Representation, a legal nonprofit that aided Great Northern, 1,155 additional applicants will receive payments because of the settlement.
"Sadly, the vast bulk of the $62 million had already been distributed before the district court enjoined the program," the nonprofit wrote in an email to supporters reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon. "Nevertheless, it is gratifying that some of these funds will be distributed to qualifying businesses without regard to the owner's race or ethnicity."
The settlement is a setback for state and federal "equity" policies, in which the government provides extra resources to particular people and groups in an effort to rectify past discrimination. Equity activists distinguish their cause from "equality" policies, under which everyone is treated equally. Equity policies have become popular in recent years, with businesses launching "corporate equity" seminars and public school districts mandating "equity training." President Joe Biden has signaled his support for the policies, signing a "racial equity" executive order the day he took office.
The settlement also comes as political divisions in Oregon deepen. The agricultural eastern half of the state tends to vote Republican, a stark contrast from the urban, deep-blue west, especially the city of Portland, which saw anti-police riots last year following the death of George Floyd. In recent weeks, eastern Oregonians have voted for their counties to leave the state and join neighboring Idaho.