Advocates call on Gov. Abbott for bigger rent relief package


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Liz York opens her fridge and sees mostly bare shelves.

“I feel like it’s not real. I still struggle with it,” she said.

Once a Human Resources Consultant for large tech companies, she became a full-time delivery driver when work dried up because of the pandemic. York is now delivering the groceries she often can’t afford herself.

“I work over 10 hours a day, just to hopefully make over $80,” she said.

The effort has been enough to keep a roof over her head, but now she worries about a slow holiday season.

Eight months into the pandemic, the hard times aren’t unique to York. Family Eldercare says it is hearing from more and more people trying to stave off losing their homes.

Brittany Baize with the nonprofit says direct rent payments for Texans won’t alone be enough. She says there’s a “digital divide,” with many people who are older or have disabilities needing help navigating the application process for government assistance programs.

“We need to increase the investment in case management to help people cross those, because we’re not going to solve digital equity tomorrow,” she said.

Advocates are calling on Gov. Greg Abbott to tap into billions of unspent CARES Act dollars.

In September, we reported some state lawmakers were demanding a plan from the governor about how the remaining $6 billion dollars would be spent.

At the time, Abbott’s office only said the money will be spent in a fiscally responsible way. His press staff did not respond to emails Monday about how much of the funds had been spent since September.

The state has provided $171 million for rent assistance programs so far. Baize says if it’s still not enough to keep people housed, it won’t matter.

As it stands, CARES Act recipients have until Dec. 30 to spend the money or it is returned to the federal government.

“The money needs to flow today, it needs to happen today,” said Baize.

To date, the City of Austin says it has approved $8.5 million in rent payments, representing 2,572 households. It has $4.35 million remaining. Of that is $1.5 million from the CARES Act.

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