Out of 180 responses received, 90 people said that a mortgage, rental and utility assistance programs should be the highest priority. Other proposed assistance programs include help for small businesses and personal protective equipment for senior citizens.
Additionally, residents requested funds be used for PPE and food assistance, hazard pay for public safety employees and efforts to increase safety, and sanitation at public facilities—all expenses for which Trameka Jewett, Missouri City’s emergency management coordinator, said the city is eligible to be reimbursed with Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds.
However, residents also wanted HOA fees to be waived, taxes frozen or lowered, broad health care help and child care assistance, none of which are allowable uses of CARES Act funding, Jewett said.
“This grant can only cover things that are particular to COVID[-19],” Jewett said. “The key with this is that everything has to be tied with COVID[-19] for us to be able to get reimbursed for the money that we spend.”
During the Sept. 8 meeting, City Council authorized the city manager to contract with MPACT Strategic Consulting, which will help the city carry out the programs for small business grants and for mortgage and rental assistance.
For the mortgage, rental and utility assistance program, MPACT President and CEO Spurgeon Robinson presented a matrix for prioritizing applicants according to whether they are facing an immediate eviction, their level of income and if members of vulnerable age groups live in the household.
Documents presented show funds would be distributed to residents according to that applicant's priority status until money for the program is exhausted. During the Aug. 3 City Council meeting, staff said a mortgage, rental and utility assistance fund would have $500,000 in it and that families could apply for grants up to $2,500.
Mayor Yolanda Ford questioned whether income data ought to be used to determine who receives mortgage, rental and utility assistance.
“The situation with that is [when] you have a community where the average income on the low end is $80,000 and a pandemic that has affected everyone regardless of their income, it becomes a little problematic,” Ford said.
Robinson said MPACT proposed prioritization by income so that the relief reaches the most vulnerable residents. Furthermore, since Fort Bend County is offering a similar rent assistance program, Robinson said he believes Missouri City’s aid will be able to reach residents who might not have qualified for Fort Bend County’s funding, which had an income requirement. Applicants will be screened to make sure rent relief efforts are not duplicated.
In March, the U.S. Congress passed the CARES Act, which allocated money to the city through the counties. Missouri City is eligible to be reimbursed for $4.1 million dollars from Fort Bend and Harris counties on coronavirus-related expenditures through the end of the year.
In addition to the public outreach efforts, CARES Act funding will also support a small business assistance program, safety upgrades to city facilities and other pandemic response efforts, according to a presentation by Fire Chief Eugene Campbell during the Aug. 3 council meeting.
Moving forward, Campbell, City Manager Odis Jones and MPACT will work to develop a timeline to set up the assistance programs. Coronavirus-related expenditures must occur prior to Dec. 30 in order to qualify for reimbursement under the CARES Act.