Austin City Council votes on RISE relief funds, resources for those affected by COVID-19

The Austin City Council held a meeting Thursday via teleconference to vote on relief funds and resources for residents affected by COVID-19.

Council members discussed a number of items aimed at assisting residents financially during the coronavirus pandemic. The health crisis quickly turned into an economic crisis with the city projecting more than 260,000 potential job losses.

“Getting relief to those who need it most is a critical priority,” said Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde, Deputy City Manager. “In these most trying times, this is an opportunity to reaffirm our values as an organization and demonstrate our community’s commitment to helping those among us hardest hit by this pandemic.”

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The need for immediate assistance inspired Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza's sponsored resolution.

"Many in southeast Austin already live paycheck to paycheck before the economic challenges we are seeing under this current crisis and now this has just magnified that so we were looking for ways to help those families as fast as possible," said Garza.

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Items 81 and 87 taps into the city's reserve fund and reallocates no more than $15 million to the general fund to be used to offer immediate support services and direct financial assistance to residents impacted by COVID-19.

The fund titled RISE (Relief in a State of Emergency) will partner with existing social service agencies who have a demonstrated history of success in reaching vulnerable community members. 

Garza explains that Austin Public Health will decide which nonprofits will receive assistance and direct financial assistance for families will be chosen by nonprofits.

The city says the funds will be allocated into two forms of immediate relief: 

  • Direct relief services such as diapers, improving food access, case management, and assistance with rent, mortgages, utilities, medical and childcare expenses.
  • Direct financial assistance such as one-time payments through pre-paid debit, gift cards or ACH transfers provided to eligible Austin residents by a social service provider.

"The family must be below the 200-percent poverty line and so there were a bunch of families not below the 200-percent poverty line a month ago and are now under that," Garza said.

In public comment, many residents voiced their support for the immediate assistance, as it is unsure when people will begin seeing stimulus checks from the government and who will inevitably receive those checks.

“We have many great community partnerships in place to help us provide quick social service assistance,” said Stephanie Hayden, Director of Austin Public Health. “During this time, our community should unite to support those who may be struggling financially to meet their basic needs.”

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"I think this is a great Austin solution because it's not a flat number. Everyone is getting a certain amount from Austin," Garza said. "It's for our nonprofit partners who know the community who have their boots on the ground to be able to craft assistance for every family's unique needs."

The city council also voted on emergency utility relief, which puts a moratorium on disconnections and expands the customer assistance program.


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