Travis County allocates $10M in federal aid to small businesses, considers strategy following governor’s orders to reopen

A photo of a virtual meeting of the Travis County Commissioners Court
The Travis County Commissioners Court met virtually April 28. (Courtesy Travis County)

The Travis County Commissioners Court met virtually April 28. (Courtesy Travis County)

The Travis County Commissioners Court moved forward with plans to allocate federal stimulus funds for coronavirus recovery, designating $10 million of the county’s $61 million in coronavirus relief funds to go to local small businesses.

Travis County’s $10 million small-business relief grant program will be available to businesses located in unincorporated areas of the county, the city of Austin’s extraterritorial jurisdiction and Travis County municipalities without a comparable program. Businesses with 25 or fewer full-time employees and which net less than $1 million in annual revenue may apply for grants of up to $40,000, to be spent by year’s end, per federal requirements.

According to Diana Ramirez, director of Travis County Economic Development & Strategic Investments, funds may be used for three reasons, including “the continuation of business operations and services during the declared disaster and its aftermath; business model adjustments needed to accommodate ongoing practices of social distancing and sanitizing requirements to deter the spread of COVID-19 and protect public health; and retention of jobs of the employees of the business concerned.”

Reimbursable expenses through Travis County’s grant program include rent, equipment, technology, utility payments, supplier payments and personal protective equipment—not payroll. Expenses must not receive duplicated reimbursement through another loan or grant program.

“We’re trying to get to the people who have fallen through the cracks of the biggest loan programs out there,” Ramirez said.

Also at the meeting, Travis County commissioners pondered what steps they could take to follow the recommendations of local health experts while complying with directives from Gov. Greg Abbott following the governor’s April 27 order for certain businesses to begin reopening statewide. Because Abbott’s order supersedes local ones, Travis County businesses, including restaurants, malls and movie theaters, can open at 25% capacity May 1. After a two-week period, those businesses will be able to increase capacity to 50%, provided no substantial increase in coronavirus cases emerges.

Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County interim health authority, cited concern with the push to reopen in comments to both Travis County Commissioners Court and Austin City Council, emphasizing the need for continued caution as businesses consider reopening.

“It seems like the wrong time for us to be turning up the dimmer switch at this stage,” Escott said.

Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt did not confirm how the county’s current stay-at-home order—which runs through May 8—would be affected by Abbott’s new policy or whether she would issue a new order when the current one expires. However, on April 27, Eckhardt released a statement expressing disappointment with the governor’s choice.

“Travis County has more knowledge of infection and how it spreads in our community than most other communities in the State,” Eckhardt said in the press statement. “We are better prepared to set standards of care in a phased and measured opening of businesses locally. Governor Abbott has only set an expectation of calendared reopening. I look forward to working with him to set clear expectations for a measurable advance in health and economic recovery from Covid-19, whether or not it meets his calendar.”
By Olivia Aldridge
Olivia is the reporter for Community Impact's Central Austin edition. A graduate of Presbyterian College in upstate South Carolina, Olivia was a reporter and producer at South Carolina Public Radio before joining Community Impact in Austin.


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