COVID-19 in Austin: City council approves $15M in relief funding, buys buildings for emergency isolation

AUSTIN, Texas — The Austin City Council has approved a $15 million ordinance during a meeting Thursday, April 9, that provides relief funding to the community due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This includes support for people, businesses and organizations impacted by the pandemic. Mayor Pro Tem Delia Garza, who drafted the relief ordinance, said they would allocate some of this money to organizations in need, such as food banks, as well as toward purchasing personal protective equipment for first responders. 

The City is also expected to get $150 million from the federal relief package. However, relief does not only come in the form of financial contributions.

In addition, council members approved a $45 million utility bill relief for Austin Water and Austin Energy customers. 

Austin Water customers will see a 10% reduction in residential water and wastewater volume rates, according to the city. Most Austin Energy customers will see a 4% reduction on their electric bill. 

“During this time of crisis and uncertainty, no one should go without utility service or worry about mounting bills they cannot pay due to illness or unexpected job loss,” Councilmember Kathie Tovo said in a statement. “I appreciate the swift response of Austin Energy and Austin Water as well as the support of my colleagues, and I am committed to continue identifying ways for those who have been impacted by this global crisis to receive the support they need to remain safe and healthy in their homes.”

Austin Energy will also cap residential electric rates at $0.07814/kWh for all usage above 1,000 kWh. 

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Customers can also seek additional assistance through the City of Austin Customer Assistance Programs. 

"This immediate assistance is in addition to City of Austin Utilities’ efforts already underway to stop all utility disconnections, waive late fees and place every customer in need on a payment arrangement that meets their financial needs. These changes ensure that those experiencing significant hardship due to the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic get relief on their utility bills. The City of Austin will continue to respond to customer needs and make further recommendations for bill relief, as needed," the city said.

The council also voted to temporarily occupy three buildings to use for COVID-19 emergency housing, isolation and support services. Two buildings are in North Austin -- a 292-room hotel and a 71-room facility -- and one building is in South Austin -- a 129-room facility. The funding would come from the City's reserves, which are currently $25.7 million above the policy level of 12%, according to a city budget briefing.  

During Thursday's meeting, city leaders also approved a resolution that condemns violence, hate speech and racism during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically in solidarity of Chinese and Asian Americans. 

Another resolution approved at the meeting implores Gov. Greg Abbott and Secretary of State Ruth Ruggero Hughs to protect the voting rights and the public health of all Texans during the coronavirus pandemic by "permitting voting-by-mail for all voters eligible to vote in Texas elections." 

RELATED VIDEO: Economic impact of coronavirus on Downtown Austin businesses


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