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

Multiple ordinances are aimed at providing support and millions of extra dollars to support people and businesses impacted by COVID-19.

AUSTIN, Texas — The Austin City Council approved a $15 million budget amendment 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 the money will be allocated to nonprofits and social service organizations, such as food banks, that are helping residents during the coronavirus crisis.

"This was a a way that we could provide an Austin solution to get families help as quickly as possible," Garza said.

In addition, council members approved a $10 million utility bill relief for Austin Water and Austin Energy customers. 

"We should be proud of that, that our city is stepping up to provide assistance to those most in need right now," Garza said.

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 at least a 4% reduction on their electric bill. 

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

“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.”


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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 approved to temporary leases on 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. 

According to the Austin City Council agenda, one of the locations is located at 6121 N. Interstate Highway 35 for emergency housing, isolation and support services related to COVID-19.

The other locations include located at 4200 S. I-35 and 8010 N. I-35.

According to a city spokesperson, there are two different types of facilities: Isolation Facility #1 and Pro-Lodge #1 and #2. 

Isolation Facility #1 is for members of the community who can’t otherwise self-isolate who are under monitoring/investigation, or who have tested positive and need a place to safely quarantine. 

Pro-Pro-lodges provide an option for people experiencing homelessness who are at high risk for negative outcomes if they become COVID-19 positive and are unable to practice physical distancing otherwise.  

According to a city spokesperson, physical distancing of at least six feet is being practiced in halls/communal areas at all the facilities. 

At Isolation Facility #1, someone in the facility must stay at least seven days since the onset of symptoms before being discharged. The last three days must be fever-free without the use of medicine, and with minimal respiratory symptoms. For people who have not tested positive, they can leave Isolation Facility #1 when they’ve completed a 14-day quarantine with no symptoms, according to a City spokesperson.

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." 

The council approved an agreement with UT Austin's Dell Medical School, as well as other state agencies, to share data and manage and monitor people who contract COVID-19.

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