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Travis County releases unemployment and financial transparency tracker

Monday, April 27, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

In addition to its toll on public health, Covid-19 poses an economic threat both to individual finances and to businesses. In Travis County, the Economic Development & Strategic Investments Department has rolled out a public dashboard to track the pandemic’s economic impacts in real time.

“It make take several months for us to understand the impact of Covid-19,” said Christy Moffett with the county’s Community Development Block Grant program at the April 21 meeting of the Commissioners Court. “We focused on providing time-sensitive data.”

So far, the county’s Financial Transparency Portal only provides an interactive dashboard for employment data. It provides information and links to external resources in the areas of housing, businesses, social services and financial markets.

Employment data show a 1,993 percent jump in unemployment insurance claims between February and March. The majority of those claims came from people between 26 and 34 who are working in the accommodation and food services industries. Residents living in the 78745, 78741 and 78660 ZIP codes made up the bulk of those who filed for unemployment.

“I think we all knew that was coming; we had a lot of businesses that had to close so there was going to be a significant spike,” Moffett explained.

Next month, the county expects to see an another spike in unemployment claims. “I anticipate that we will see a similar kind of jump in April,” said Moffett, who explained that issues accessing the state’s unemployment benefits website prevented a number of people from applying last month.

In addition to tracking traditional unemployment numbers, Moffett told commissioners that the county is looking into possible funding sources in order to gather data on independent contractors who are facing unemployment as a result of Covid-19. Independent contractors, gig workers and self-employed people are not traditionally eligible for unemployment benefits. Under current circumstances, they are eligible for aid under the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

Commissioner Jeff Travillion said he was “alarmed” at the number of claims coming from the Pflugerville 78660 ZIP code, which had 2,463 unemployment claims in March.

“I just want to see how deep we can go into the causal effect … so we can craft our responses based on the evidence we see,” he said.

Travis County is working toward designing a grant and loan program for small local businesses to bridge the gap left by the depletion of federal Small Business Administration loans.

The idea, said Diana Ramirez, director of the Economic Development & Strategic Investments department, is to “make sure that we can put something out that is meaningful and really helps the folks that are most vulnerable.”

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