Unprecedented local relief fund will send millions of tax dollars directly to vulnerable Austinites impacted by the coronavirus

Austin and Travis County's orders went into place March 25 and require residents to stay home for everything but essential travel. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin and Travis County's orders went into place March 25 and require residents to stay home for everything but essential travel. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

Austin and Travis County's orders went into place March 25 and require residents to stay home for everything but essential travel. (Christopher Neely/Community Impact Newspaper)

For Austin’s most vulnerable residents who will not receive assistance from the federal government’s coronavirus economic stimulus package, help is on the way.

With a unanimous vote, Austin City Council passed its own Relief in a State of Emergency, or RISE, package, which will send $15 million from the city’s budget reserves directly to social service organizations that will help those Austinites heavily impacted by the coronavirus but may have fallen through the cracks of the federal government’s relief efforts. City staff estimates the organizations will receive the funds in two-to-three weeks.

The resolution and its accompanying budget amendment, headed by Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza and Council Member Greg Casar, respectively, directs about $7.5 million to organizations that will provide direct financial relief to vulnerable Austinites, in the form of one-time payments or pre-paid debit cards. The remaining half of the money will go to organizations aimed at helping residents secure fundamental services such as food, diapers, rental assistance and medicine.

Garza called the move “a really big deal” and sends the message to undocumented residents and those at the bottom of the income ladder that the city does not want them to have to decide between no food on the table or putting themselves and their families at risk by trying to go to work.

The city government itself will not be sending Austinites money. Instead it will infuse the money into existing contracts with social service organizations already doing this work, and expand services by bringing on emergency contracts.

Those eligible for the assistance includes those earning an income at or below 200% of the federal poverty line, who have experienced significant hardship from the coronavirus or are ineligible for significant government relief, such as the recent federally-passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or the CARES Act.

No organizations have been named, and no specific monetary allocations have been made. Austin Public Health will be responsible for selecting the organizations and allocating the funds. Garza said the package allows flexibility to the organizations to craft the best assistance for each individual client, rather than a flat amount check.

Casar said the city’s ability to craft such a significant package so quickly for residents who are “under so much stress” is “really meaningful.”
By Christopher Neely
Christopher Neely is Community Impact's Austin City Hall reporter. A New Jersey native, Christopher moved to Austin in 2016 following two years of community reporting along the Jersey Shore. His bylines have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Su


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