Travis County is preparing to begin distributing the first half of $247.1 million in federal funds aimed at COVID-19 recovery efforts by June. Some $123.5 million of this allocation, distributed through the Local Fiscal Recovery Fund arm of the American Rescue Plan Act, will arrive May 10, with the remaining funds arriving in May 2022.

While local officials await federal guidance to determine the specifics of how ARPA funding may be used, Diana Ramirez, Travis County’s director of economic development and strategic investments, presented county commissioners with a sketch of programming priorities for the funds April 6. Ramirez outlined both the possible creation of new programs and the continuation of some others started in 2020 with Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding, including TCTX Thrive, which offers support to small businesses, and TCTX Serve, which supports nonprofits.

New programming under consideration includes efforts to revamp county infrastructure—including water and broadband internet access. Resources to mitigate homelessness in the local area through supportive housing and mental health and substance abuse resources are also on the table—a priority the city of Austin has identified for its $195.8 million in ARPA funds.

According to a timeline proposed by Ramirez, county staff will present finalized ARPA funding priorities to commissioners by May 18, with distribution through local programs beginning by the end of June. Programs established with the funding may extend through 2024.

Beyond the Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, there are other funding opportunities through which ARPA Travis County may be able to explore, Ramirez said. For instance, ARPA also includes around $15 billion in nationwide Childcare and Development Block Grant funding earmarked for child care assistance for essential workers.

“We need to check and see if the county will be eligible for any of those additional funds, or if it will have to rely on child care funding through [Local Fiscal Recovery] funds,” she said.

Commissioner Ann Howard encouraged county staff to explore any potential avenue for additional funding.

“I want to make sure that we're looking at all of those sources to help fund even these initial priorities that you've identified so that we stretch the dollars as far as possible,” Howard said.

County commissioners also voted April 6 to reallocate $4,852,191 in remaining CARES Act funds to Travis County’s direct response program. Travis County originally received around $61 million in CARES Act support last year, which must be spent by December 2021. With these reallocations complete, county budget director Travis Gatlin said staff are shifting focus to ARPA programming as well as $10.6 million in federal aid the county recently received that is dedicated to direct rental and utility assistance.