The money will be spent along three "tracks," with the first track funding programs started with federal Coronavirus Relief Funds. ARPA funds for these programs will be disbursed between June 2021 and September 2022, with the possibility for an additional year of funding depending on community feedback.
"The $247 million is a lot of money. However, we can only spend this money once, and there are many competing community benefits that need attention," said Diana Ramirez, the county's director of economic developments and strategic investments, emphasizing that any ARPA funds allocated to "ongoing needs" should be accompanied by a plan for continued funding once ARPA funds expire.
Track one programs will receive a proposed $38.38 million. TCTX Thrive, a program supporting small businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic, is set to receive the largest share, $8 million, followed by the county's Health & Human Services food assistance program with $7.6 million.
Travis County staff have also recommended an allocation of $325,000 in Track 1 funds to HHS Targeted Behavior Health Support for Homelessness, a partnership with the city of Austin to support people experiencing homelessness who are at high risk for complications from COVID-19 due to previously existing medical conditions. These individuals, who have been sheltered at protective lodges during the pandemic, would receive behavior health serves and case management through the program.
"This is a very small request for a very large issue," said Travis County Budget Director Travis Gatlin. "This is a small piece that will just continue that funding into next year."
The county plans to make these issues a key component of its second track of funding. Track 2 funds will go toward establishing new programs, with other major focuses including the improvement of water infrastructure, broadband infrastructure and public health resource navigation.
Already, the city of Austin has committed more than $100 million of its own ARPA dollars to homelessness and housing programs, with city council calling for the county and other community partners to pitch in at least $200 million to a multiyear plan to address homelessness.
"We are issuing this as a challenge," council member Kathie Tovo said at a June 10 meeting. "We are willing, we are ready, we are about to take this step to commit to investing these dollars, but we are doing so in a way that is contingent on that other public participation and on that private philanthropy.”