COVID-19 May 7 Updates: Austin City Council Approves Funds To Aid Nonprofits And Child-Care Centers

May 7, 2020

This post has local news on the coronavirus pandemic from Thursday, May 7. Read Friday's live updates here. If you'd like to go through a roundup of COVID-19 news from Wednesday, read it here. If you have a news tip or question, email us at news@KUT.org.

Update at 6:05 p.m. — Evictions in Austin pushed back until late July, Mayor says

Austin Mayor Steve Adler said at a City Council meeting Thursday that he would be extending an order banning notices to vacate — the first step in the eviction process — until July 25. By the time of this reporting, though, he had yet to post the extended order.

Council members today did take action that could postpone eviction for some people. Until at least Aug. 24, tenants who cannot pay rent because of the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to have 60 days to come up with owed rent before a landlord can start the eviction process.

Council did not extend the grace period itself, meaning that if a landlord filed a notice of proposed eviction in April because a tenant did not pay rent, they could still begin that eviction process 60 days later, or in early June. Although once signed, the extended mayoral order should push that back even further.

There are other eviction protections in place right now. For example, tenants living in buildings financed by federally-backed mortgages are protected from eviction until late August.

— Audrey McGlinchy

Update at 5:20 p.m. — Council devotes resources to nursing homes 

A resolution passed by Austin City Council on Thursday directs city staff to dedicate more resources to stopping the spread of COVID-19 in nursing homes. 

At least 30 residents and staff at nursing homes in Travis County have died because of COVID-19, with hundreds more testing positive for the coronavirus. 

The resolution calls for the testing of all staff and residents at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities and provides personal protective equipment, if requested. The council also wants the city to send strike teams to facilities with the largest clusters to help with staffing issues. Some of the steps are already underway. 

“This is to get resources now. We can’t wait for the state and federal government,” Council Member Ann Kitchen said. “We will of course seek reimbursements when we can, but we can’t wait.” 

Kitchen said she has heard from families concerned about the situation inside nursing homes since the pandemic began. Officials did not put a specific dollar amount on the spending. 

The state sent teams to three hard-hit nursing homes, but only for 10 days. The resolution calls for City Manager Spencer Cronk to provide a report to council on May 21. 

— Samuel King

Update at 4:40 p.m. — Austin Parks and Recreation to monitor capacity at three parks, require day passes

To help ensure public health and safety during the coronavirus pandemic, the Austin Parks and Recreation Department will be monitoring capacity starting Friday at three major city parks: Emma Long, Walter E. Long and Commons Ford Ranch. Once capacity is reached, on-site staff will stop additional vehicles from entering. 

Beginning next Thursday, visitors to these parks will need to obtain day passes. There will be a limited number of passes available each day, and people can sign up online or by phone. No one will be allowed entry into these parks without securing a pass. 

Update at 3:49 p.m. — Council approves three funds to support local business, nonprofits and child care

Austin City Council approved using a portion of the money it received from the federal coronavirus relief bill to establish three funds that support local businesses, child-care centers and nonprofits.

One is the Commercial Loans for Economic Assistance & Recovery, or CLEAR Fund, which will provide economic injury loans, grants and technical assistance to local and small businesses in the city that have been impacted by COVID-19. Ten million dollars will fund revolving loans and grants, and $1 million will be set aside for grants to help businesses cover expenses that come with complying with safety protocols as they reopen.

Another is the Childcare Support Fund, which will distribute $1 million in grants to child-care centers in Austin that have been impacted by COVID-19. The funds will go toward centers that serve families receiving child-care subsidies and have at least a two-star rating under the Texas Rising Star system, as well as any that have virus mitigation or protective equipment needs.

“Right now many [child-care centers] have been closed because of the stay-at-home orders, but we need them to be able to reopen as we move through the recovery process,” Council Member Alison Alter told KUT. “If they can’t weather this storm right now, they won’t be there when we need them when we reopen.”

The third fund is Austin Nonprofit & Civic Health Organizations Relief, or ANCHOR Fund. The $6 million fund will aid local nonprofits affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Alter said that for many nonprofits, the pandemic has caused donations to go down but demand for their services to go up. 

“This will provide those nonprofits the ability to be there for us throughout the whole recovery process,” she said.

Council directed the city manager to begin implementing these programs as soon as possible. Applications to receive loans or grants from the funds are not yet available but will be publicized when they are, Alter said. The city will likely work with outside organizations to administer the funds.

Update at 1:40 p.m. — Council approves nearly $3.7 million for PPE and services to respond to COVID-19

Austin City Council approved Thursday spending nearly $3.7 million on personal protective equipment and other services to combat COVID-19. The emergency purchases — which include hand sanitizer, N95 masks, ventilators and face shields — are “urgently needed” to respond to the health crisis, according to the city.

The largest purchase in the group is $1.2 million on additional COVID-19 testing from the American Institute of Toxicology Inc. Other larger purchases include $731,039 for ventilators,  $285,120 for hand sanitizer, and $255,000 for isolation gowns. 

The spending also covers temperature screenings for Austin Energy and Austin Water departments. 

  • Are you — or someone you know — immunocompromised? KUT reporter Ashley Lopez is wondering what you're thinking as the state starts to reopen and people start to venture out into the world again. You can reach her at alopez@kut.org.

Update at 12:21 p.m. — Drive-thru food distribution held at Del Valle High School

The Central Texas Food bank is giving out emergency food boxes Thursday to help families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The drive-thru distribution will be held at Del Valle High School from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. 

The boxes include shelf-stable groceries such as tuna, rice and canned fruit. Families also receive hygiene items including toothpaste, shampoo and baby wipes. Drivers are asked to make room in their trunks before they arrive. Walk-ups are not allowed.

The food bank has scheduled additional emergency relief food distributions in May: 

  • May 14 at Nelson Field, 7105 Berkman Dr., Austin, from 9 a.m. to noon.
  • May 16 at ACC Highland, 6101 Highland Campus Dr., Austin, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • May 21 at Del Valle High School, 5201 Ross Rd., Del Valle, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
  • May 28 at Toney Burger Stadium, 3200 Jones Rd., Austin, from 9 a.m. to noon

Update at 11:14 a.m. — Gov. Abbott eliminates jail time as a punishment for violating COVID-19 orders

Gov. Greg Abbott has removed jail time as a punishment for people who violate his executive orders that require certain businesses to close.

Abbott said the modifications are being applied retroactively to April 2 and supersede local orders.

“Throwing Texans in jail who have had their businesses shut down through no fault of their own is nonsensical, and I will not allow it to happen,” Abbott said in a statement. "And if correctly applied should free Shelley Luther."

Luther, a Dallas hair salon owner, was sentenced to seven days in jail for defying orders to keep her business closed. The Texas Supreme Court has since ordered her release.

"It may also ensure that other Texans like Ana Isabel Castro-Garcia and Brenda Stephanie Mata who were arrested in Laredo, should not be subject to confinement," the governor said. "As some county judges advocate for releasing hardened criminals from jail to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it is absurd to have these business owners take their place.”

The two Laredo women were arrested after offering beauty and cosmetic services from home, the Laredo Morning Times reported.

Update at 10:36 a.m. — Volunteers needed to help assemble personal protective equipment

Austin Public Health is looking for volunteers to help put together thousands of face shields that will be given to frontline health care workers. People signing up to volunteer will need to be able to sort items and box them up for distribution.

The volunteers will need to report to the Travis County Expo Center. There are a few time slots Thursday and Friday:

  • Thursday, May 7 from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Friday, May 8 from 8:30 a.m. to noon
  • Friday, May 8 from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.

You can sign up for a volunteer shift here.

Update at 9:28 a.m. — Texas gets $5.8 million in federal funding for crisis counseling services

Gov. Greg Abbott's office said Wednesday the Texas Health and Human Services Commission has received $5.8 million in federal funding for crisis counseling services for Texans affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I thank our partners at FEMA for providing this important funding to help Texans across the state," Abbott said. "As Texas continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are working to provide Texans with access to the mental and emotional support resources they need."   

The grant allows 31 local mental health and behavioral health authorities to connect Texans to short-term crisis counseling services and is expected to help more than 260,000 people across the state, the governor's office said. 

Texas residents can dial 2-1-1 to learn about programs and services. You can find a list of hotlines you can call or text on KUT.org

Update at 8:22 a.m. — Just over 2 million Texans have applied for unemployment since the start of the pandemic

Numbers out this morning show just over 247,000 Texans filed new unemployment claims last week. That's about 7,000 fewer claims than the week before.

But since COVID-19 started hitting the state's economy in mid-March – just over 2 million Texans have applied for unemployment benefits.

The Texas Standard spoke with the executive director of the Texas Workforce Commission to answer your questions about unemployment benefits. You can read that Q&A here.

Update at 6 a.m. — Application opens for small business grant program in Williamson County

Local business owners in Williamson County who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic can now apply for financial assistance from a new county grant program. The application for WilCo Forward opened Wednesday evening and closes June 30.

The Williamson County Commissioners Court voted to use $25 million from the more than $93 million the county received from the coronavirus relief bill to create the grant program. Small businesses with fewer than 100 employees, as well as sole proprietors, can receive up to $30,000 through the program, the county says. For-profit and nonprofit businesses headquartered and located in the county can apply

“The Commissioners Court felt very strongly about getting assistance to our small businesses as quickly as possible to help them recover from the effects of the coronavirus restrictions,” said County Commissioner Valerie Covey in a press release. “We will be processing applications as soon as they come in so that business owners can quickly receive Wilco Forward grant funds.” 

Catch up on what happened yesterday

University of Texas System to open campuses this fall

All 14 UT campuses are reopening for the upcoming school year amid the coronavirus pandemic. The UT Board of Regents said in a virtual meeting Wednesday morning it’s still discussing how institutions can return to campus safely. 

“While we’re hoping we can offer as much of a valuable in-person residential experience as possible, it seems safe to say that campus life will not be exactly like it was last fall,” Chancellor James B. Milliken said. “But it won’t be like this spring either.” 

In mid-March, UT announced it would close its schools and finish the rest of the semester remotely. Officials have also moved all summer classes online with the possibility of opening some campus facilities such as research labs.

Milliken said the institutions are now working with officials including UT’s Commissioner of Higher Education to plan for the fall semester. 

Other local coronavirus news from Wednesday: 

  • Two free COVID-19 testing locations will be in Hays County on Sunday. One will be in Wimberley and the other in Dripping Springs, according to a press release from the county.
  • Austin is doling out an additional $3.3 million from a $15 million relief fund for people affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The money will be shared across eight nonprofits, in addition to the five organizations announced last month. This includes Goodwill Industries of Central Texas, which will get $1.25 million from the city, and Workers Defense Project, which is getting $400,000.
  • Pools are among the facilities allowed to reopen Friday under Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s order loosening restrictions imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The City of Austin is still considering when it will reopen city pools.

What's happening statewide? Check out special coverage from KERA for North Texas, Houston Public MediaTexas Public Radio in San Antonio and Marfa Public Radio.

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