Austin, Travis County work to allocate CARES Act funding by December deadline as Congress deadlocks over new relief bill
As Congress faces a stalemate over another possible coronavirus relief package, local and state governments around the country are facing a looming deadline for the last one.
By Dec. 30, they must spend all the federal coronavirus relief dollars they received through the CARES Act, a bipartisan bill that was signed into law in late March and provided more than $2 trillion in assistance. Any unspent dollars must be returned to the U.S. Treasury Department.
At the local level
The city of Austin received nearly $171 million in CARES Act funding, which was intended for necessary expenditures incurred by the pandemic, according to an April presentation by Brie Franco, intergovernmental relations office for the city.
As of Sept. 30, the city has spent more than $101 million of its CARES Act allocation, spokesperson Bryce Bencivengo wrote in an email to Austonia. More than two-thirds of the spending occurred between July and September.
Some of this funding has paid for new pandemic-era hires, such as epidemiologists, contact tracers and strike force teams that have helped respond to clusters at long-term care facilities and schools, Austin Public Health Director Stephanie Hayden said on Sept. 29.
Earlier this month, council members unanimously approved the SAVES Resolution, which allocated $15 million in CARES Act funding to music venues and other businesses deemed vital to the local culture.
Although Congress has not yet developed a relief package that could extend funding into 2021, APH is already planning to continue its COVID response efforts beyond the deadline.
"We understand that the federal funding will end as of December of this year, but we must continue to provide testing and contact tracing, our case investigations, our surveillance and our enforcement," Hayden told City Council. "Those efforts have really helped us as a city and county be in this place that we are in."
At the county level
Travis County received just over $61 million in CARES Act funding. As of Oct. 9, it has spent around 43%, with a remaining balance of more than $34 million to administer in the next 11 weeks.
The largest expense for Travis County has been through its economic development and strategic investments department, which has disbursed nearly $10 million in small business grants.
The bulk of the county's unspent dollars fall under two programs: 1) rent and mortgage assistance and 2) direct response.
With a countywide ban on rental evictions in place through at least the end of the year, staff have recommended that some of the rent and mortgage assistance funding be reallocated toward other causes rather than risk it being returned.
Direct response funding covers direct personnel and operating costs for the county's public health response.
Despite the unspent dollars, Budget Director Travis Gatlin told county commissioners on Tuesday that the county's COVID-related costs are far in excess of the CARES funding it has received.
"We want to spend every dollar as soon as we can because we don't want to take a chance on having to send a dollar back," he said. "We want to keep those funds in the community."
An Oct. 13 presentation by Travis County Budget Director Travis Gatlin shows how CARES Act funding has been allocated. (Travis County)
At the state level
The state of Texas received approximately $8 billion in CARES Act funding and had a similarly broad mandate for how it could distribute it. The act also included funding for specific applications, such as homelessness outreach and rental assistance.
Although the state has disbursed some of its CARES Act funding to public schools, it simultaneously reduced its typical funding to those same schools, leaving many districts—including Austin ISD—scrambling to make up the additional costs incurred due to the pandemic.
At the federal level
Congress has not passed a relief package since May. Since then, more than 100,000 Americans have died of the disease.
Earlier this month, President Donald Trump announced an abrupt end to negotiations with Democrats over additional COVID relief funding until after the election. Hours later, he tweeted a request for Congress to send him a bill for a second round of stimulus checks.
Austin Mayor Steve Adler expressed hope that another relief bill was imminent during an Oct. 1 City Council meeting but acknowledged "it's like reading smoke signals or tea leaves."
Since then, Congress has struggled to reach an agreement. Treasury Secretary Steven Mncuhin said Wednesday that he does not expect a relief bill to arrive before the Nov. 3 election.
Despite the uncertainty of additional funding coming through in the new year, Hayden stressed the importance of the programs currently being reimbursed through the CARES Act.
"Public health is a number-one priority for the city of Austin and Travis County," she said at a press conference earlier this month. "We will continue to provide the level of service that we have provided thus far."
Want to read more stories like this one? Start every day with a quick look at what's happening in Austin. Sign up for Austonia.com's free daily morning email.
- We Are Blood requests funding for convalescent plasma program ... ›
- Austin launches $17.75M COVID rental assistance program - austonia ›
- Austin music venues qualify for the majority of $15M COVID-19 relief ... ›
- Austin ISD sees enrollment fall amid COVID, raising funding concerns ›
- What is the status of federal coronavirus relief funding? - austonia ›
- Local Texas governments scramble to meet CARES Act deadline - austonia ›
After two years of no in-person events, Austin festival South by Southwest has agreed to give 50% of ownership to P-MRC, a Los Angeles company that controls publishing operations for Rolling Stone and Billboard.
The media venture was founded in 2020 and is part-owned by Jay Penske, racer Roger Penske's son and head of Penske Racing and Penske Media.
The move comes after the COVID-19 pandemic left the festival with two years worth of hemorrhaging funds. SXSW organizers were left scrambling for solutions in March 2020 when the city of Austin canceled the festival at the onset of the pandemic. One-third of the festival's 175 year-round employees were laid off, and the festival ran a shortened virtual event in 2021.
SXSW CEO and co-founder Roland Swenson said in a statement that the company is grateful to get aid when they need it most and that they are now looking to the future.
"It has been an incredibly tough period for small businesses, SXSW included," Swenson said. "When Jay Penske approached us with an interest in becoming a partner, it was a true lifeline for us. Both of our companies share a passion for producing high-quality content that helps shape modern culture, so this feels like a natural alliance."
Both of Austin's big-name festivals are now in the hands of out-of-town buyers. In 2014, homegrown festival Austin City Limits was bought in part by LiveNation, who took 51% ownership in Austin live promoter C3 Presents.
The fest has captured the essence of Austin arts and culture for 34 years, and it doesn't plan on stopping now. With P-MRC by its side, SXSW said it plans on keeping its unique identity but expanding operations as it prepares for an in-person celebration next spring.
"Since 1987, SXSW has been the world's premier festival centered at the convergence of tech, media, film, and music," Penske said. "Today SXSW continues to be one of the most recognized brands for empowering creative talent and bringing together the brightest creators of our time. As part of this significant investment, we plan to build upon SXSW's incredible foundation while extending the platform further digitally and assisting Roland and his incredible team to bring their vision to even greater heights."
With their future restored, SXSW's newest slogan rings truer than ever: "See you next year at SXSW!"
- These 27 Austin musicians are taking over the SXSW stage - austonia ›
- Austin artists to add to your playlist after SXSW - austonia ›
- SXSW: Bill Hader talks mental health during his SNL days - austonia ›
- SXSW goes virtual for 2021, possible in-person event - austonia ›
- SXSW Music Festival announces showcasing artists - austonia ›
- What to expect at SXSW virtual 2021 festival - austonia ›
- SXSW: Chance the Rapper and Kenan Thompson talk SNL - austonia ›
- Stacey Abrams talks road to representation in democracy SXSW ... ›
Update: Former Travis County deputy suspected of killing 3 in northwest Austin now in police custody
Stephen Broderick is now in police custody for a suspected domestic violence incident that killed three in northwest Austin on Sunday.
After initially being called an active shooting incident, joint local law enforcement and more than 75 FBI agents proceeded with an almost day-long manhunt with three helicopters and on-ground teams for former Travis County deputy Broderick. Police captured him after a 911 caller reported a suspicious man walking along U.S. 290, where he was taken into custody.
Police believe the victims, who have been identified as two Hispanic women and one Black man, knew their assailant. A child was involved but is now safely in police custody. Two of the victims have been identified as former and current Elgin ISD students: Alyssa Broderick and Willie Simmons III.
The school district released a statement offering its condolences to the families. Alyssa was enrolled until October 2020 and played on the basketball team. Simmons was a senior at Elgin High School where he was captain of the football team and had been recruited to play football at the University of North Texas.
Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez released the following statement on the incident: "I'm truly heartbroken that a former Travis County Sheriff's Office Deputy is the suspect in such a horrific incident. TCSO is standing by to provide any, and all assistance we can to the families of the victims in their time of need. I'm proud of the integrity and professionalism shown by the men and women of TCSO, APD and other law enforcement agencies, who worked tirelessly throughout the night to locate Stephen Broderick. I'm especially grateful to the vigilant citizen who called 911 after seeing Broderick, and to the Manor PD officers and TCSO deputies who took him into custody this morning."
APD @Chief_Chacon provides updated media briefing in relation to Great Hills Trail incident. - PIO8 https://t.co/47siNWhARI
— Austin Police Department (@Austin_Police) April 18, 2021
During a press briefing at 4:45 p.m. on Sunday, Interim Police Chief Joe Chacon said law enforcement was on the scene for several hours investigating the incident with 41-year-old Broderick.
"We're very sorry that obviously this has happened and we continue to try and locate this individual, we are transitioning from a search in this area to a fugitive search and those efforts will continue until this person is located," Chacon said. "I don't want anyone to think that we're packing up and going home. We're going to continue to look for this individual because he continues to pose a threat to this community."
#texasshooting #masshooting Arboretum shooting Austin. pic.twitter.com/SkIsgDoYHt
— Jamie Hammonds (@jamie_hammonds5) April 18, 2021
This story has been updated at 8 a.m. Monday to include the latest information.
- Three injured in East Austin during Easter festivities - austonia ›
- 2 dead, 4 injured in East Austin fire in winter storm - austonia ›
Formula 1 is returning to Florida for the first time since 1959, announcing that the brand-new Miami Grand Prix will join the calendar in 2022 and Austin will no longer be the only F1 race in the U.S.
Held at the Hard Rock Stadium complex in Miami Gardens, this will be the first race in the Sunshine State in 62 years. With a new track setup, F1 will loop the stadium, home of the NFL's Miami Dolphins.
Excited for @F1 @f1miami @HardRockStadium - a Global Entertainment Destination. This event will bring opportunities for so many and will be world-class. Thank you to @gregmaffei #chasecarey #stefanodomenicali @MayorRHarris @Ogilbert @CommishDiaz @MayorDaniella pic.twitter.com/n6dDDD1cPX
— Tom Garfinkel (@TomGarfinkel) April 18, 2021
The new 3.36 mile circuit has 19 corners, three straights and potential for three DRS zones, with expected top speeds of 198 mph.
Now with two races in the U.S., F1 President Stefano Domenicali said they will avoid having back-to-back events by keeping the Miami Grand Prix separate from the U.S. Grand Prix, which is held at Austin's Circuit of the Americas.
The date of the race has yet to be confirmed, though Domenicali said he expects the first race in a 10-year deal to take place in the second quarter of 2022. Austin's race will take place on Oct. 24 this year.
"The USA is a key growth market for us, and we are greatly encouraged by our growing reach in the U.S. which will be further supported by this exciting second race," Domenicali said.
Miami will mark the 11th race location in the U.S. since the Championship began in 1950: Circuit of The Americas in Austin; Dallas, Texas; Indianapolis, Indiana; Sebring, Florida; Riverside, California; Watkins Glen, New York; Long Beach, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Detroit, Michigan and Phoenix, Arizona. COTA was first opened in 2012.
Domenicali said F1 will be working with the FIA and the Hard Rock Stadium to leave a lasting impact on the community: discounted tickets for residents, a program to support local businesses and a STEM education program through F1 in schools.
- NASCAR is making its way to Austin's Circuit of The Americas ... ›
- W Series announce F1 partnership race at COTA in 2021 - austonia ›
- Formula 1 is returning to Austin in 2021 - austonia ›