The Austin City Council has finally voted on a spending framework for the more than $271-million in COVID-19 relief dollars. Following the unprecedented shutdown of the private sector over concerns surrounding the virus, Austin’s small business community was hoping for as much help as it could get. However, after hours of debate this week, council chose to slash the amount to be allocated to private sector businesses in lieu of tens of millions more for direct financial aid to residents.
By unanimous vote, $70-million will be spent on that direct aid, including rental assistance and direct payments to individuals. In late-April, council approved $15-million as part of the Relief In a State of Emergency, or RISE find. Of that $70-million, $24-million will be spent specifically to help pay the rent of people impacted by the fallout from COVID-19.
Heading into this week, small businesses in Austin were on pace to receive $23.5-million in economic relief, but on Tuesday, council member Greg Casar called for that to be cut in order to allocate some of those dollars to individuals. By Thursday’s meeting, the dollar amount for private sector business owners had fallen to $16.5-million, and despite some pushes from council member Kathie Tovo to boost that a bit, council did not support that plan. The business community was also hoping to receive $2-million in commercial rent support, but that money was cut down to $1-million after Casar also balked at that request, and ultimately won support from the rest of the dais.
The spending framework is broken down into three main categories:
- $37.9-million for public health needs to slow the spread of coronavirus;
- $98-million to recover direct costs born of the pandemic response;
- $101.2 million in economic relief to the community.