PORTLAND, Ore. — The money is gone. All $35 million of it.
In less than three days, Oregonians in need collected 70,000 relief checks worth $500 each. The money came from the CARES Act and went out on a first-come, first-serve basis to those who qualified for it.
To get their checks, thousands of people waited in line at participating banks and credit unions starting Wednesday. Some were able to apply online but many who needed a relief check didn’t have internet access. That included Rebecca Lester, 50.
“We need help,” Lester said on Friday, while waiting outside the OnPoint Community Credit Union in Beaverton. “Some of us really, really need help.”
Lester said she collects cans and relies on donated food boxes to support her and her adult son who has special needs. Lester has diabetes, but the hope of getting $500 compelled her to stand in a crowded line for two days in a row.
“I was in Hillsboro [Thursday] at 10 in the morning and I was here at 7 this morning and both times I have to walk away with nothing,” said Lester. “It hurts… not everyone is getting help and some of us are really, really having a hard time.”
Lester and others felt how the state chose to distribute the checks was not fair, ethical or humane. In some lines, fights broke out. Social distancing wasn't observed and many stood in line for hours in near 90-degree heat.
On Friday, Oregon Senate President Peter Courtney addressed concerns over the process including using the first-come, first-serve method during a pandemic.
“We had reached the point of enough is enough and we wanted to do something,” said Courtney. “It’s very important you understand, we did not hold a summit meeting, we did not get together, we did not do that. It's not that we didn't care about the virus, we surely did. We felt that the pain was so bad, that people’s loss of respect was so bad, that we had to do what we did, the way we did it.”
Oregon House Speaker Tina Kotek also weighed in. Asked how much money she thought the program would have needed to meet the demand, her response was, “Probably hundreds of millions” of dollars.
For those who needed the money most, the result is all that matters.
“It's almost like they're teasing us, hanging a carrot in front of us,” said Lester, who went home empty-handed. “If they don't have enough money, they should have done this a whole different way.”