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What started with concerned neighbors bringing water to senior citizens has now become a multi-day fiasco involving a state representative, FEMA and Travis County Emergency Operations.
A Pflugerville senior living center, Cambridge Villas at 15711 Dessau Road, is still without running water after a burst sprinkler system flooded every apartment unit with inches of water on Saturday.
Before the pipes broke, residents had reportedly been without water for several days.
On Thursday night, Pflugerville neighbors Jack Morgan and Lindsey Ballard learned via a resident's Facebook post requesting help that Cambridge Villas facilities had no running water. Thinking they would just need to drop off some goods at the community center, the two teamed up with other volunteers and loaded up a Jeep with cases of water on Friday morning.
What they found made them stay for the rest of the day, rally neighborhoods and eventually get banned from the property for a year.
All units had been without wellness checks for six days. Both the power and water had been out for much of the week, making toilets resemble "outhouses" and insulin doses spoil. Most residents hadn't eaten a warm meal in several days, and ice on sidewalks made it difficult for even volunteers to get around.
"It was like a ghost town," Morgan said.
As Morgan and Ballard checked on different units, they realized they weren't going to be done helping anytime soon. The group soon received help from neighbors, businesses and churches, many without running water themselves, to deliver residents potable water and their first warm meals in days.
Ballard said that the feeling was bittersweet as she witnessed an entire community band together to assist those in need.
"It was incredible and heartwarming, especially after we had been through our own personal crises, for everybody to rally together even before our needs were met," Ballard said. "That's the kind of world I want to live in, so I was very excited to be a part of that."
As entire neighborhoods began bringing supplies in, some volunteers came into contact with management. What started as a cordial conversation ended in both Morgan and Ballard being escorted off the property for trespassing by police.
While both volunteers were unable to touch the property again, Ballard began getting the ball rolling, calling her friend, State Rep. Celia Israel, who helped restore power to the community on Friday night.
Both volunteers and residents breathed a sigh of relief Saturday night as running water was also brought back to the apartments. The feeling was short-lived, however, as the entire sprinkler system burst later into the night, flooding nearly every unit in the complex. Volunteers began redirecting their focus and bringing Shop-Vacs to try and help with flooding into Monday. Residents continue to have no running water.
While water is not restored, the contributions of hundreds of neighbors, FEMA, a visit from Pflugerville Mayor Victor Gonzales and Travis County Emergency Operations have made a dire situation as livable as possible.
Ballard said that emotions ran high as residents expressed their gratitude for their Pflugerville neighbors.
"They couldn't believe that people were there that cared about them that didn't know them," Ballard said. "The reaction was always, 'You're here to check on me?' They were overwhelmed with gratitude."
As Ballard spoke with Austonia, she said she was on her way to another Austin-area senior center that was in need of food and water on Monday afternoon. While she doesn't know why senior populations have been left behind in the wake of the storm, she believes that the complex was underserved due to glaring oversight by management.
"These are the most vulnerable people we have in our community, that don't have access and don't have resources," Ballard said. "They have told me that they are terrified of management, so they don't want to complain too much. I can see how things could go neglected because management knows they aren't going to complain about it."
Ballard also said that the winter storm crisis revealed some key holes in city and county infrastructure with regards to emergency policies and assisting the areas' most vulnerable communities.
"This isn't something that is going to go away," Ballard said. "There are multiple senior facilities that went longer without power and water than neighborhoods. It's concerning, and I don't know why it happened, but I feel like they should have been a priority."
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Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Monday that Texas will opt out of further federal unemployment benefits related to the pandemic effective June 26, citing the number of current job openings and concern about potentially fraudulent unemployment claims. The benefits include a $300 weekly supplement.
"The Texas economy is booming and employers are hiring communities across the state," Abbott said in a statement. "According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the number of job openings in Texas is almost identical to the number of Texans who are receiving unemployment jobs."
TWC listed 837,273 job openings as of Monday afternoon compared to 226,849 unemployment insurance claims filed statewide between March 31 and May 1. An estimated 1 million Texans were unemployed as of March, according to latest estimates released by the state agency.
Some local business owners, including Doc's Backyard Grill owner Charles Milligan, suspect unemployment benefits are deterring Austinites from returning to work. But others agree with economists who say multiple factors are at play, including health concerns and child care availability.
We're seeing lots of posts about how nobody wants to work right now. Just wanted to share our experience.
We received over 60 resumes for a taproom bartender position we posted last week. Every applicant we've set up an interview with has shown up.
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— Austin Beerworks (@AustinBeerworks) May 11, 2021
Abbott also cited fraudulent unemployment claims. Between March 2020 and April 2021, TWC received 4.48 million unemployment benefit applications, 611,000 or around 14% of which were tagged as suspicious. Most of those tagged were blocked before any benefits were paid out, according to an April 29 press release.
Federal law requires the effective date of such benefits change to be at least 30 days after the U.S. Department of Labor is notified.
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