Oregon runs out of $500 emergency relief payments

By Kate Davidson (OPB)
Portland, Ore. Aug. 21, 2020 7:30 p.m. Updated: Aug. 21, 2020 11:25 p.m.

It took less than three days — and long lines — to tear through the money.

The $500 checks are gone.

Oregon wound down its $35 million emergency relief program Friday morning, after tearing through the federal funds in less than three days.


The news came as Oregonians across the state continued to stand on line, stretching across parking lots and around city blocks, hoping for relief. The state said bank branches and credit unions still had some funds to allocate on Friday — but it was unclear how far that money would go.

For many people waiting in person, it simply depended on where they stood in line.

The state said previously scheduled appointments would be honored through the end of the month, but no new appointments were available.

In July, Oregon lawmakers authorized up to 70,000 emergency payments to people experiencing financial hardship because of the coronavirus pandemic. The direct distribution of federal CARES Act money was also meant to help people suffering in limbo while still waiting for unemployment benefits.

That financial hardship was in plain view as tens of thousands of Oregonians braved exposure to coronavirus for the chance to take home $500.

The lines were long at OnPoint Community Credit Union branches in the Portland area. Eva Rodriguez stood for hours in the sun outside the Sellwood branch on Thursday. Her roommate came too, holding her sweating 1-year-old baby in her arms.


“Social distancing — there’s no room for that, the lines are too long,” Rodriguez said. Dozens of people stood shoulder to shoulder by the branch’s back door, most of them Oregonians of color.

Rodriguez said she is a single mother and domestic violence survivor. She paused when asked if the risk of exposure to the coronavirus was worth it to get a payment.

“Yeah, it’s worth it. I need it. I need it. I can’t live off of, like, nothing,” she said. “I’ve fallen through the cracks.”

By early Friday afternoon, OnPoint had closed at least half of its Oregon branches for the rest of the day. The credit union said individual sites were shutting their doors as soon as they depleted their allotment from the state, to avoid confusing the public.

Meanwhile, lawmakers said the program did what it set out to do: provide emergency relief to 70,000 Oregonians in need.

“I think if we did anything wrong, we didn’t allocate enough money,” House Speaker Tina Kotek said at an afternoon press briefing.

Still, both Kotek, D-Portland, and Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, seemed shaken by the stark display of need that was evident in lines of people snaking around the state.

“This brought to me a reality of the magnitude of the pain out there and suffering,” Courtney said. “I knew it existed, but now I saw the faces. I saw the lines.”

Kotek defended the decision to allow people to walk up to financial institutions and wait in line, even in the midst of the pandemic. It was an important option, she said, for those without an internet connection. She added that more appointment slots would have helped.

Kotek called for another direct stimulus payment from the federal government.

“The state of Oregon does not have those types of resources,” she said. “We’re going to keep doing everything we can to step up, but at the end of the day we need more money from the federal government.”