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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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Monday, December 28, 2020 by Elizabeth Pagano
Jeff Travillion: Working to improve opportunities
“It was a really busy year,” Travis County Commissioner Jeff Travillion says.
Giving a quick overview of the past 12 months, he reminded the Austin Monitor that he had been running for office in addition to making sure clinics stayed open and employees were able to work from home safely and serving vulnerable populations in his precinct.
Many Precinct 1 students go to Title I schools, which means that 60 percent or more of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. With the schools closed, he worked to make sure that students who rely on schools for healthy meals had access to that food.
He also worked to ensure that elderly District 1 residents could get food while “cocooning” in order to stay safe from a virus that was particularly dangerous to their demographic.
“This has been a year of trying to address the needs of our most vulnerable,” he said. To that end, Travillion’s office and the county have been working to bring together different facets of the community in order to create a sustainable model to help those who are often faced with hardship, even outside of a global pandemic.
“If this is a consistent need, how do we put the infrastructure in place to deliver the most resources?” he asked. Travillion said on the topic of food insecurity, the county had to work to make sure food didn’t spoil. To solve that problem, they’ve engaged restaurant owners and workers, who had the expertise and time to help while their industry was offering them little typical work. “Not only do you address the need, but you create an employment opportunity,” he said.
Churches, commercial kitchens, fraternities and sororities, nonprofits, small businesses and restaurant groups all pitched in to address the sudden explosion in need, he said. “We really saw community come together, and though it was a difficult time, it was a beautiful thing to see. We have been pleasantly surprised and energized by the communities that have actually pitched in. Our challenge is how to make it sustainable.”
He said they were working to make the response “measured and continuous” as opposed to an emergency exercise. “We do emergencies well,” he noted.
In terms of non-Covid things that happened this year, Travillion highlighted work on plans to spend Hotel Occupancy Tax funds, which the county was authorized to (eventually) collect in November 2019. “We started that conversation with the expectation HOT taxes would become available to us,” he said.
Travillion was also excited about continuing work on the “transportation conversation” at Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 2020. That conversation includes an expansion of pickup zones in underserved communities, and a plan to extend hours of operation. In his precinct, he said, Project Connect means more than transportation options: It also means more jobs.
“We are creating a number of jobs that will exist in this community for 10-20 years for people who are building out Project Connect,” he said. “It’s going to bring construction jobs. It’s going to bring more driving jobs.”
Travillion also brought up increased access to health care. “We’ve been working with Central Health to make sure that there’s access to clinics in the Colony Park area and Austin’s Colony area,” he said, adding that he was hoping to see hospital access in that area in the future.
“We have worked really hard with Central Health. … You know, when the pandemic first hit, they closed down the clinics in the poor parts of town. We had to challenge them to open them back up and to make sure that we were serving the community that they were designed to address,” he said. “We got those clinics open again.”
He also worked with Central Health this year on mental health programs in schools in Austin, Pflugerville and Manor school districts.
During his time in office, Travillion said he’s seen displaced community members who moved from Austin – where there were things like public transit and recreation centers – to places that don’t have as many resources. He has worked to make sure that those communities have resources to things like Wi-Fi and computers and recreation. Travillion said that the Food Policy Board is working to increase access to healthy food as well.
“You can go get a Big Mac, a sugary drink and some french fries for $2.50, but you can’t find any business out there that cooks a meal,” he said. “That has to change.”
Even after a trying year, Travillion is grateful to be starting another term in office.
“This is a labor of love. I don’t think I’ve ever had a job that I enjoy more than this one. Even with the difficulties – and maybe because of the difficulties – you actually feel like you are improving opportunity,” he told the Monitor. “Because we know that talent is equally distributed. Opportunity is not.”
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