AUSTIN (KXAN) — Facing a deadline at the end of the year, Gov. Greg Abbott is determining how to spend the remaining $3 billion Texas received when Congress approved the CARES Act for coronavirus relief.
Texas received $11.24 billion from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act in March, which has to be spent by Dec. 30. Cities and counties with a population greater than 500,000 automatically received a combined $3.2 billion under state law.
Abbott’s office told KXAN, of the $8 billion left for the state to distribute, $4.5 billion has already been spent.
The state plans to distribute an additional $1.45 billion to the Texas Department of State Health Services and Texas Department of Emergency Management and is working with state agencies to determine how to spend the remaining $2 billion before the end of the year.
A spokesperson for Abbott said the state plans to spend every CARES Act dollar before the Dec. 30 deadline.
“Of the $8 billion in CARES Act funding that Texas received, Governor Abbott has worked closely with legislative leaders and state agencies to allocate $6 billion so far as part of a data-driven strategy to bolster the state’s ongoing efforts to mitigate this virus and protect the lives and livelihoods of the people of Texas,” said Renae Eze, Abbott’s press secretary. “With $2 billion remaining of the original funding, the state will spend every dollar by the end of the year to ensure the health and well-being of all Texans.”
Abbott has faced criticism for not involving the state legislature in deciding how to use the federal funds, though Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, outgoing House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and members of the Senate Finance and House Appropriations committees, have been part of the process.
State Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat, has tracked the state’s share of CARES Act funds for months, saying the process needs to be more transparent.
“We’ve still been unclear with the governor about what the actual plan is to spend the remaining dollars,” Howard told KXAN. “I’m sure he has a plan… but it’s still not put together in a way that’s easily accessible.”
Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin) called Texas’ remaining balance of CARES Act funds “disappointing and irresponsible.”
“There are real needs out there,” Doggett said. “When you wait until the last minute like this, even if he gets this money to the appropriate places with our local governments, they have little time to spend it efficiently and effectively.
“This is not his piggy bank.”
The state has provided $171 million for rent assistance programs through the CARES Act, so far. Advocates for additional rent assistance have called on Abbott to release additional funds to support those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The City of Austin received $9.9 million for rent assistance from the CARES Act and has, to date, been able to help 2,815 unduplicated households.
The City’s rent assistance program has less than $900,000 of CARES Act funds remaining, which will be used by the Dec. 30 deadline.
While additional CARES Act funding from the state would help, Nefertitti Jackmon, the housing and policy manager for the City of Austin Planning Department, said the looming deadline to use those funds presents challenges if Congress doesn’t extend it.
“We’re very clear that there are more people who need assistance,” Jackmon said. “To date, nothing has changed in the economic well-being especially of vulnerable households.”