Travis Co. commissioners approve hiring freeze, discuss new COVID-19 cases at construction sites

Coronavirus

TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Travis County commissioners approved a targeted hiring freeze Tuesday which is expected to save the county more than $4 million over the next fiscal year.

The budget item was approved by a 4-1 vote, but there will be some exceptions. Those include election workers, public defense attorneys and law enforcement officers. The hiring freeze is set to go into effect on May 5.

Officials in Travis County also revealed a recent spike of COVID-19 cases within the construction industry. Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt says they’re now looking to impose additional standards on construction sites.

“We have investigated a cluster in the construction industry, and the construction industry knows it, and they are responding,” said Eckhardt.

Travis County leaders say they’re looking to the National Association of Home Builders for guidance on labor standards.

Additionally, during Tuesday’s voting session the court discussed using federal funding for small business loans.

Through the CARES Act state stabilization fund, Travis County is eligible for the direct allocation of federal funding. The current estimate from the court is that the county will receive $54 million while the city of Austin will receive $168 million.

The court doesn’t have any guidance yet on what the money can be spent on, just that the statute only says it’s for COVID-19 response. The money has to be spent between March 1 and Dec. 30.

The court is thinking of using the money to provide no interest loans to small businesses, at a max of $50,000 per business.

“We want to make sure is that the small businesses that would be getting this money, they don’t have to immediately turn around and try to figure out how they’re going to pay this, how they’re going to pay this back so give them some breathing room to reset,” said Diana Ramirez, the Director of Economic Development & Strategic Investments for Travis County.

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