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Economic hardship and shrinking public budgets can't become an excuse for jettisoning our values and cutting off access to the resources Oregonians need to thrive.

There's no question — every day of the past two months has been difficult.

And while we face massive challenges, I am drawing inspiration and hope from all of you who continue to care for your families, your colleagues, and your neighbors. I am also inspired by our state leaders' action to help small businesses survive. While I am fortunate that my meetings are on a computer screen, I acknowledge that so many people are working on the front lines of this crisis. Thank you.

ASHLEY HENRYI have observed in my isolation that as most of us navigate this crisis at a distance, we need connection and collaboration more than ever. To meet this need, Business for a Better Portland launched the BBPDX Switchboard, an online platform where the business community can gather to share resources, find answers, and build community. Over the past month, BBPDX members have offered trucking services for the Oregon Food Bank, connected with staff members for elected officials, offered free marketing and consulting services, and shared best practices for sanitation and social distancing. Truth be told, we'd originally planned for our Switchboard to be a resource for BBPDX members only. In mid-March, we opened it to the entire community so the broader business community can lead through collaboration.

As is the case for all organizations and institutions, we are all figuring this out. No one person or agency has all the answers. But over the past few weeks, we have learned how much we can help our elected officials by letting them know about the challenges facing businesses and what types of support are needed to weather this storm.

For all the talk of trillions being spent on economic aid, it is important that we focus on who is actually receiving relief and who isn't. The Center for Responsible Lending estimates more than 90% of businesses owned by black, indigenous, and other people of color have been shut out of the federal Paycheck Protection Program, either because their business didn't qualify or the funds had been exhausted before their applications were processed. Many banks participating in the relief program are only working with businesses that already have an established account — a problem for many businesses owned by people of color because they are less likely to have commercial banking relationships.

We should be prioritizing aid for communities that entered the pandemic at an economic disadvantage due to systemic discrimination, but the initial rounds of federal relief have done little to help those with the greatest need. Of the $2.2 trillion in the federal coronavirus relief bill, Congress allocated just $10 million to the Minority Business Development Agencyto help minority-owned businesses across the U.S. access funding.

Thanks to the power of organizing and partnership, our story in Oregon is different. In early April, Business for a Better Portland came together with 44 other rural, suburban, urban and culturally specific business and economic development organizations from across Oregon to request that Governor Kate Brown and the Legislature take specific actions to support small businesses and their employees, including direct cash infusions, technical assistance, and the prioritization of relief for businesses that have been disproportionately impacted by the crisis.

Fortunately, our state and local leaders listened to our calls to action and acted quickly. On April 23, the Oregon Legislative Emergency Board allocated $10 million to support small businesses affected by the pandemic. The funds will go to businesses with no more than 25 employees that have not received support through the Paycheck Protection Program or other provisions of the federal CARES Act. This financial help for Oregon small businesses will be available very soon, so please visit bbpdx.org to learn how you can apply.

In particular, I want to thank Governor Brown for pledging $5 million from Business Oregon and Speaker Tina Kotek for her leadership in prioritizing resources allocated by the Emergency Board. In addition, I am also grateful to Sen. Lew Frederick, Sen. Arnie Roblan, Rep. Janelle Bynum, Rep. Christine Drazan, Rep. David Gomberg, Rep. Susan McLain, Rep. Rob Nosse, Rep. Barbara Smith Warner, and Rep. Akasha Lawrence Spence who have all taken time in recent days to meet virtually with our members.

The difficult reality is that the past two months of learning, planning, and responding are just the beginning. The decisions we make in the coming days will define what our community looks like and how economic prosperity is shared for years to come.

We cannot allow economic hardship and shrinking public budgets to become an excuse for jettisoning our values and cutting off access to the resources Oregonians need to thrive. Instead, we must invest as a community to chip away at disparities and expand access to quality public education, sustainable and equitable transportation options, and access to safe, stable housing. The goal is not only to become more resilient when challenges arise, but to be stronger together by improving financial stability for everyone all of the time.

If we are successful, we won't spend the next crisis scrambling to support those who are most vulnerable, because we took the time and care to make sure they were not vulnerable in the first place.


Ashley Henry (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) is the Executive Director for Business For A Better Portland.


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