Portland’s $114M Pandemic Relief Program Overwhelmingly Helped Black Residents, and Other POC

(Dave Killen / Staff) The Oregonian

A city of Portland drive to spend $114 million in federal coronavirus aid to help struggling residents last year overwhelmingly assisted Black Portlanders as well as other communities of color, according to an analysis released Tuesday.

The sweeping set of initiatives approved by the Portland City Council included providing everything from Chromebooks to those with limited digital resources to food boxes and direct cash payments to families to grants to businesses and artists that had fallen on hard times.

City officials said it was essential that programs created with Portland’s share of federal CARES Act money prioritize historically marginalized groups such as communities of color, immigrants and people with disabilities.

An interim a report issued to Portland’s mayor and city commissioners by the city’s Office of Management and Finance on Tuesday shows the programs largely achieved that objective.

For example, among those who received laptops or internet cards from the city’s $5 million “digital divide” program, 33% identified as Black and another 56% identified as Indigenous or other people of color.

Black residents also comprised 33% of those who received aid from a $2.3 million food assistance program and 58% of a $1.6 million homeowner stabilization fund.

According to the most recent census estimates, from 2019, people who identify as Black make up 8% of the city’s population, while 10% identify as Latino and 70% identify solely as white. In addition, 2% identify as Indigenous, 11% as Asian American and 1% as Pacific Islander.

Those percentages add up to slightly more than 100% because some people identify as more than one of those categories, such as Black and Latino.

The spending analysis, which faced multiple delays, comes as the City Council plans to approve a new $64 million assistance program using funds the city received from the federal American Rescue Plan, which Congress passed in March.

Ultimately, the city says it wants to pull all demographic and geographic data about relief recipients together to evaluate and share with the public.

Below is a breakdown for three of Portland’s largest CARES Act programs.

Read the full report here.

$500 gift cards ($18 million)

33,954 cards distributed, including 3,975 to those experiencing homelessness. So far, the report said, only 26,978 of them have been partly or fully used.

Recipients: 41% Black, 24% White, 18% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, 15% Latino, 9% Asian, 4% Native American, 1% Middle Eastern.

Language: 64% English only, 28% Non-English speaking, 6% Unknown, 1% Multilingual.

Rent Assistance ($16 million)

3,243 households assisted, with the average assistance totaling $4,300.

Recipients: 42% Black, 24% White, 15% Latino, 9% Asian, 4% Native American, 4% Other, 1% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.

Small Business Relief Fund ($15 million)

928 small business grants, 423 block grants, with the average grant totaling $10,000.

Recipients: 27% Asian, 25% Black, 22% Latino, 11% White, 5% Native American, 5% Middle Eastern, 2% Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander.