Updated post Dec. 7, 2020:
BakerRipley, the organization tasked with distributing Houston's recovery funds established a website for questions about the direct assistance fund at www.bakerripleydirecthelp.org. Those who previously applied for aid and did not receive any due to lack of funding will be prioritized, a representative with BakerRipley said. A general application process could open if funds remain available with time to distribute them before the city's Dec. 31 spending deadline.
Original post Dec. 5, 2020:
Houston residents can apply to receive a $1,200 check from a new allocation of the city’s federal coronavirus relief funding.
City Council approved setting aside an initial $10 million Dec. 2 for the payments, which will not be restricted to use for rent or utility bills, unlike previous relief funds.
“We decided to allow them to use it based on their needs,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said. “If they need to spend it on rent, they can spend it on that. If they need to spend it on utilities or groceries, they can use it on that. If they need it for animal food for dogs or cats, they can use it on that. ... We didn’t want it to be so restrictive that it becomes frustrating.”
The provision also allows the city to potentially allocate up to $20 million more to the program in the coming weeks. City documents estimate the total allocation could assist up to 23,750 individuals.
Applications will be evaluated based on need rather than a first-come, first-served basis. Applicants must be city of Houston residents, earn 80% or below the area median income and provide evidence of financial hardship related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Any resident who received funding from Harris County’s direct assistance program may not apply.
BakerRipley, which also facilitates the city’s rent relief program, will be in charge of reviewing applications for the direct assistance program. Applications will be accepted through Dec. 31 although the application portal on BakerRipley's website has not yet been finalized. Turner told reporters Dec. 3 that the process will also identify and try to administer funds to individuals who had applied but missed out on other relief efforts administered though both the city and the county.
Houston has until Dec. 31 to spend all of the $405 million of funding it received from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. It recently allocated funds to new and existing relief measures, including a $3 million relief fund for music venues and musicians, $3 million for day care operators and a $10 million boost to the city’s existing small-business relief fund.
Editor's note: this post has been updated for clarity.