Portlanders struggling financially during the pandemic will be able to try once again for a prepaid $500 VISA debit card to cover household expenses.

The application period will open Thursday, Dec. 10 from 3 to 6 p.m. on the city’s PDX Assist website. Unlike past gift card giveaways organized by the city, the cards will not be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis. Instead, 4,000 applications submitted in the three-hour window will be chosen through a lottery.

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During past lottery rounds, the system has been overwhelmed within minutes, and discouraged Portlanders who were poised to submit their application as soon as the site went live left empty-handed. In a virtual press conference Monday, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said this application portal was the quickest way to get federal aid money that came to the city through the CARES Act out the door. The city is required to distribute all the federal dollars by the end of the year.

“Given that these are CARES dollars, and we’re required to distribute these dollars prior to December 31, we’re also thinking about how to do it as quickly as possible,” said Wheeler. “So this is the strategy being used here.”

He added that, in total, about $35 million in federal CARES Act dollars have been dispensed through the Portland Housing Bureau to provide rent and household support.

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According to the city website, successful applicants can expect to receive the $500 gift card by mail within a month. Applicants must be over the age of 18, live in Portland, and have a household income at or below 80% of the area median annual income. For a household of four, that would be $73,680.

Racist letters

Wheeler also provided an update during Monday’s press conference on the police bureau’s investigation into a series of racist hate letters delivered to politically active Black organizers in recent weeks. The mayor said both the FBI and the Portland Police are now involved.

“Those letters, which I have seen, are shocking, they are violent in nature, they are clearly racist in nature, and they are abhorrent,” said Wheeler. “...We’re working with both local and federal law enforcement to apprehend and hold accountable the individual or individuals who are responsible for sending those messages.”

Since this summer, leaders involved in the city’s racial justice protests have received letters containing racial slurs and death threats, including a “kill-list” singling out outspoken Portland activists who are connected to racial justice protests. Last week, activist and business owner Kamelah Adams published another threatening letter she had received.

Wheeler said he had been informed Monday morning that the police bureau had reached out “or at least attempted through all available public means” to all individuals who had been named on the list.

On Monday evening, all five members of the council released a joint letter condemning the threats. According to the letter, the sender of the racist hate mail had also targeted Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, the only Black member of council and an outspoken advocate for police reform.

“We offer our full support to those who have received threats, including our colleague Commissioner Hardesty,” the letter read. “With January 2021 bringing the most diverse City Council body in Portland, it is important we condemn this racist activity whenever we witness it.”

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