Houston aims to avoid furloughs with CARES Act funding

Despite an enormous budget shortfall, the city of Houston is aiming to use an "out-of-the-box" solution to avoid furloughing over 3,000 employees in fiscal year 2020-21. (Courtesy Fotolia)
Despite an enormous budget shortfall, the city of Houston is aiming to use an "out-of-the-box" solution to avoid furloughing over 3,000 employees in fiscal year 2020-21. (Courtesy Fotolia)

Despite an enormous budget shortfall, the city of Houston is aiming to use an "out-of-the-box" solution to avoid furloughing over 3,000 employees in fiscal year 2020-21. (Courtesy Fotolia)

Despite an enormous budget shortfall, the city of Houston is aiming to use an "out-of-the-box" solution to avoid furloughing over 3,000 employees in fiscal year 2020-21.

Mayor Pro Tem Dave Martin said at a budget and fiscal affairs committee meeting June 2 the city will use the $404 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funding it has received to make city employees who would otherwise be furloughed temporary COVID-19-essential workers, allowing them to continue to work throughout the year.

Martin's chief of staff, Jessica Beemer, shared preliminary details on the plan.

There are currently temporary workers at all Houston offices who take the temperatures off all employees who show up to work. Employees are then given a colored wristband that acts as proof their temperature was under 100.4 when they showed up to work, Beemer said.

Under this new plan, employees who would have otherwise been furloughed will take on these temporary temperature-checking roles. Beemer, for instance, instead of being furloughed will work to take other city employees' temperatures, she said.


The coronavirus relief bill funds COVID-19-essential services, such as those working to take temperature checks, so the money can help pay city employees so long as they are performing such services, Beemer said.

"Instead of a furlough day, we're all being deployed in a different use," she said. "I appreciate [that] as a city employee."

Beemer said it is uncertain at this point if each employee will be doing temperature checks for 10 full days—the original amount of time they were proposed to be furloughed. However, Mayor Sylvester Turner is committed to minimal disruption, so employees will be doing temperature checks at or close to the offices in which they normally work, Beemer said.

Additionally, the city proposed removing Houston Police Department and Houston Fire Department cadet classes for fiscal year 2020-21 to save more money. Those cadet classes are back on for the upcoming year, Beemer said.

Houston City Council will discuss the budget June 10.
By Jake Magee
Jake Magee has been a print journalist for several years, covering numerous beats including city government, education, business and more. Starting off at a daily newspaper in southern Wisconsin, Magee covered two small cities before being promoted to covering city government in the heart of newspaper's coverage area. He moved to Houston in mid-2018 to be the editor for and launch the Bay Area edition of Community Impact Newspaper.

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