Municipalities can use CARES Act funds for issues directly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and ARPA money for issues secondarily affected. Commissioners unanimously approved allocating the funds Aug. 10, effectively accounting for $5 million of the county’s CARES budget and $16.8 million of its ARPA budget.
Williamson County Treasurer Scott Heselmeyer said one of the areas the county is focusing its funding on is mental health for the adult and juvenile population.
“Other than the loss of life, which has been significant in those that are ill, the greatest, and I think the most pressing outcome of the pandemic, has been the mental health of people in our community,” Judge Bill Gravell said. “I often hear about the forest fires raging out west. I think the forest fire we have raging locally is the mental health of our community.”
Among its projects under the CARES Act, Williamson County is creating a mental health drop-off center for people coming into its justice system with mental health issues. The facility is meant to provide a temporary stay.
The county justifies this under the CARES Act for social distancing purposes, as inmates within its prisons have greater exposure to COVID-19, Heselmeyer said. Appropriate prison staff will be relocated to the center through ARPA funding since this process is related to the pandemic.
Through ARPA funding, the county is also partnering with Bluebonnet Trails, a mental health nonprofit, to add 16 beds for a youth respite center. Additionally, a 24-bed dual diagnosis inpatient treatment facility will help those experiencing mental illness and substance abuse issues.
“There is nowhere that will accept a person who has mental health and substance use disorder [in Williamson County],” Precinct 1 Commissioner Terry Cook said. “People with mental health issues often try to self-medicate to quit whatever is going on in their heads, and you try to find a place for those to go for dual treatment, and the answer is zero locations.”