Austin City Council mulling financial aid package for city’s most vulnerable residents

Austin City Council is scheduled to vote on the aid program at its April 9 meeting. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin City Council is scheduled to vote on the aid program at its April 9 meeting. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

Austin City Council is scheduled to vote on the aid program at its April 9 meeting. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

For Austinites most at risk due to the widespread economic fallout from the coronavirus, City Council members are working on a relief package that would provide direct financial assistance to help residents with rent, food, medication and shelter.

City Council is expected to vote on a new program and budget amendment at its April 9 meeting that would send city budget funds to a range of local organizations that provide direct assistance to vulnerable Austinites. Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza, who is leading the effort, said the program would focus on rent, food, medication and shelter assistance to residents who may be left behind by the federal government’s stimulus package.

“There are a lot of families left out of that package,” Garza said of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, signed into law by U.S. President Donald Trump on March 27. “They won’t get a check; they won’t qualify for additional unemployment. We just want to reach our most vulnerable people.”

Garza said City Council would look to draw funds from the city budget to send money to nonprofit organizations that have already been helping the community but have had their capacities tested amid the influx of people now in need following the coronavirus. Garza said the hope is, if City Council approves the program April 9, money would be available to the organizations within two weeks.

City Council made an initial round of approvals last week aimed at aiding Austinites left vulnerable due to the virus. City Council created a 60-day grace period for Ausitnites to pay their rent before an eviction proceeding can begin and directed the city staff to draw up programs that would help small businesses seeking loans and laborers left without work due to the pandemic.

City leaders have said that anything City Council can do for residents would be only a “Band-Aid” compared to the assistance needed from the state and federal governments.

The mayor and council will also vote on another resolution April 9 aimed at urging financial institutions, from banks to lenders, to work with and help their clients and show flexibility during the pandemic. The resolution follows calls from Austin Mayor Steve Adler for banks to “show grace” during this time.

Much of the resolution is only a strong urging on behalf of City Council and does not carry much teeth; however, the last section of the resolution does direct the city manager to close a loophole that allows payday lenders to charge predatory interest rates. If passed, City Manager Spencer Cronk would come back to City Council with a related law change April 23.

By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, USA Today and several other local outlets along the east coast.


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