Prosper Portland Emergency Grants: Standards needed to ensure program integrity

Blog Post
A photograph of an individual wearing a protective face mask and hanging an open sign on a business store window or door.
Prosper Portland’s Small Business Relief Fund provided a lifeline during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. But in the rush to get funds to businesses, some normal grant safeguards were shortchanged.
This is a chart showing the distribution of awards by the race of the business owner. Prosper awarded more grants to People of Color.

Prosper designed the program to provide short-term support to businesses and avoid layoffs. The program prioritized assistance to businesses owned by Black, Indigenous, Asian Pacific Islander, People of Color, and/or women and employees. The grantees were diverse, with 89 percent of awards going to people of color. Fifty-eight percent went to women.

Staff designed an emergency program to address key grant-making best practices for selection, monitoring, and measuring outcomes.

But staff also had to balance the need to get funds quickly into the hands of affected businesses against careful adherence to the program requirements. This was further complicated by the potentially limited capacity of vulnerable businesses to provide the documentation needed. As a result, the program had problems with the grant-selection process, documentation, monitoring, and reporting.

  • The selection process was not transparent and higher scoring applicants did not always receive grants.
  • Staff interpreted eligibility criteria generously and, in some cases, awarded grants to businesses outside of Portland.
  • Staff did not design a system to detect unauthorized use of funds even though examples of fraud were found in a similar federal program.
  • Outcome reporting was unreliable because only 36 percent of grantees reported outcomes despite it being a condition of receiving a grant.

The agency can use lessons from these initial rounds to strengthen its performance in future emergencies and evaluate results. We recommend that Prosper Portland create procedures for future Prosper grant programs that will ensure that staff implement adopted program standards or officially change them prior to implementation.

Managers at Prosper Portland agreed with our audit recommendation.

View the full audit report online


Elizabeth Pape

Performance Auditor II