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Austin City Council passes numerous items to aid in COVID-19 relief

The Austin City Council passed several items Thursday aimed at helping the community cope with economic losses from COVID-19.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Austin City Council passed several items Thursday to help people cope with the financial hardships they're facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The council unanimously approved creating the Austin Creative Space Disaster Relief Program to help artists do things like pay rent to preserve creative spaces.

Members voted to accept $2.35 million from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to help people economically impacted by the virus that are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

They also accepted a $272,065 Coronavirus Relief grant for Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS.

Members also voted to transfer $1.5 million from the city's Emergency Reserve Fund into the Austin Music Disaster Relief Fund. This will help the city's musicians with financial emergencies due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funds will be distributed by the Austin Music Commission.

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"We realize that we can't make up for all their losses, but we hope that this relief will be something that will help them in the short term and may help, you know, put some gas in the car, pay some rent, buy some groceries," said Rick Carney, chair of the Austin Music Commission. "Hopefully it will make up for at least a couple of lost gigs."

Carney said the commission is working to come up with criteria for how to distribute the funds and hopes to have money in the hands of musicians within the next few weeks. 

"We want to move as quickly as possible," he added. "I know that there is hope that there will be federal money that comes through later but that may be too late for some folks. So we want to try to get them some immediate relief."

The council also took steps to ramp up its response to COVID-19. Members approved a $2.1 million contract to rent the Embassy Suites on Stonelake Boulevard in North Austin for a maximum of 93 days. The hotel will be used as an isolation facility for any Austin or Travis County resident who is being monitored for or has contracted COVID-19 and cannot safely isolate at home.

Council voted to accept nearly $1.7 million in grant funds from the Texas Department of State Health Services for its COVID-19 response. The money can be used on virus surveillance, lab testing and community intervention.

And the council gave Foundation Communities an additional $250,000 to be used to help people trying to get tax relief through the CARES Act that was signed into law last month.

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