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Joint council mulls ‘once in a generation’ ARPA funding for region

Wednesday, April 28, 2021 by Seth Smalley

The Commissioners Court joined City Council Tuesday to discuss the allocation of federal funding granted by the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act. Ralph Garboushian, a career municipal consultant, described the level of local funding from ARPA as “once in a generation.”

While $424 billion of the $1.9 trillion total was directly distributed to individuals in the form of $1,400 checks, the next largest chunk of ARPA funding, $360 billion, will be devoted to state and local fiscal assistance programs. Additional money from ARPA is also expected to reach local and state governments in the form of rental assistance and homelessness prevention assistance.

“I’ve worked in local governments for just over 25 years, and this is once-in-a-generation kind of money coming down to local governments,” Garboushian said.

The city of Austin is slated to receive $195.8 million in local fiscal assistance, $22 million in rental assistance and $11 million in homelessness prevention assistance. The county, meanwhile, gets $247 million in fiscal assistance and $10.6 million in rental assistance, according to the same estimates.

“These are just estimates, based on an Excel chart the House government Reform and Oversight Committee put out back when the bill was moving,” Garboushian said of the allocation numbers. While the Treasury Department hasn’t yet announced official allocations, he said these numbers are “pretty accurate.”

One potential roadblock in communities receiving their funding has to do with the minutiae of the rules surrounding allocation.

Counties and certain cities like Austin, Round Rock and Pflugerville – which are presently classified as Community Development Block Grant entitlement cities – will receive money directly from the federal government, with no middleman. However, smaller communities and “non-entitlement” local governments will have to receive their money sub-allocated from the state.

ARPA also extends the child tax credit and the earned income tax credit to last an additional year, in addition to assisting airports and local transit. Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority is slated to receive about $130 million.

“I don’t think we can cover everything in this bill in a single presentation,” Garboushian said.

Rosie Truelove, director of the city’s Housing and Planning Department, addressed the $22 million in emergency rental assistance, saying, “This is going to be deployed in phases and can be used for eligible things such as rent, rental arrears, utilities and home energy costs, and other expenses related to housing as defined by the U.S. Treasury.”

The emergency rental assistance component of ARPA is just one aspect of housing-related funding that the city will receive. ARPA also designates money for homelessness and home allocation from Housing and Urban Development in the amount of $11 million.

“We do not have any guidance on this yet for when we’ll be able to apply for or plan out these dollars,” Truelove said. “We do anticipate getting that in the next couple of months but we are excited about the opportunity for $11 million to be spent directly on homelessness.” Specifically, she mentioned the prospects of using the money toward programs such as transitional housing, tenant-based rental assistance and homelessness prevention services.

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