Harris County Commissioners have until the end of 2024 to fully obligate the remaining of its $915 million in federal funding from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act.

According to the county's ARPA recovery plan document that was released on July 31, $643 million has already been committed, leaving at least $272 million up for grabs.

"As we look ahead to fully obligating remaining funds by the end of 2024, efforts remain focused on ensuring that Harris County residents not only recover from the pandemic, but emerge stronger than before," officials said.

The backstory

In 2021, the U.S. Treasury allocated $915 million in Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery Funds to Harris County. Since then, funding has spread amongst the five categories, with the largest amount toward jobs and education:
  • Health: $161 million
  • Housing: $120 million
  • Jobs and education: $207 million
  • Justice and safety: $120 million
  • County operations: $35 million
Zooming in

A recap of where Harris County commissioners have committed funding include the following:

Year 1, or 2021, of the recovery plan focused on immediate relief projects, helping families and small businesses get back on their feet.

  • The Harris County Recovery Assistance program offered $60 million in direct assistance: $1,500 checks to 40,000 low-income families impacted by the pandemic to help with health care, rent or mortgage expenses, utilities, food, transportation, child care, or other past due expenses.
  • The Harris County Business Relief program made $30 million in grants available to 2,577 small and micro businesses, helping business owners catch up on payroll and rent in order to remain operational and accelerate economic recovery.

Year 2, or 2022, focused on the launch of strategic, longer-term transformative projects addressing disparities exacerbated during the pandemic.

For Year 3, or 2023, county officials are scaling strategic programs and committing the remaining funds. Substantial investments will go toward affordable housing, county ARPA officials said. Harris County Commissioners approved $30 million on Oct. 31 toward multifamily affordable housing units in Harris County.

One affordable housing development was $5 million for a project in north Katy called Park Row that allowed Harris County's Housing Finance Corporation to purchase the land and enter a 99-year lease.
  • According to court agenda documents, due to the increase in insurance rates, interest rates and construction costs, the Katy project was no longer viable without Harris County's ARPA investment.
  • Out of the 93 new units at Park Row, 58 units will go toward affordable housing.
Another affordable housing development for seniors was at Kingsland Park, also in Katy. More than 145 additional affordable units were added to the existing senior housing complex.

Commissioners approved in June $7.2 million in ARPA funding for the Knowles-Rowland House, a permanent supportive housing development in Midtown named after Houston-natives Beyoncé Knowles and Kelly Rowland that will provide 31 units to individuals in need. That development will begin construction in the first quarter of 2024 with a completion date by the end of the year.

Recent investments in jobs and education include the launching of the Early Reach Education Access for Children, which aims to provide free, high-quality child care for families in high-need areas, addressing the challenges faced by both children and child care providers in the county.

Harris County commissioners also awarded five organizations a combined $18.8 million in grants to improve child care quality over the next three years.

An investment of $4.7 million in ARPA funding for Harris County's Domestic Violence Assistance Fund was approved for 2022-2024.

  • The Harris County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council and 19 nonprofits were awarded grants through the fund in March 2023. The HCDVCC, which administers the fund, distributed grants of up to $350,000 to the 19 community-based organizations.
  • HCDVCC reported its partners have disbursed nearly $1.3 million as of Aug. 31. According to county officials, this funding has assisted over 600 households and approximately 1,800 individuals, delivering immediate financial assistance to survivors and addressing a range of pressing needs, such as food, housing, transportation and child care.
Quote of note

All federal funding must be spent by the end of 2026, according to the county's ARPA website. James Thurmond, a professor at the University of Houston's Hobby School of Public Affairs, said that while local government officials have their reasons for choosing what to spend funding on, they also have to be careful.

"It's not to say that any of these new grants are bad or not needed, but you just need to be aware when you create a new demand or a new service, is it sustainable with your current revenue? If it's not sustainable, then what do you cut? Are you going to create user fees, new taxes?" Thurmond said.

Before Thurmond worked at the university, he served in government since 1972 with stints as a city manager in various cities across Texas, including Cleveland and Missouri City.

"You've got to find some other source to cover that cost. It's basic budgeting," Thurmond said.

Get involved

More information continues to get updated on Harris County's ARPA website: www.harriscountyarpa.org.