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Commissioners applaud county’s assistance to ‘those who need help’

Wednesday, October 27, 2021 by Seth Smalley

On Tuesday, Health and Human Services staffers gave commissioners a report from the Family Support Services Division, the section of HHS that operates out of community centers and provides basic services for low-income families.

According to Kirsten Siegfried, HHS division director, the program has already spent double what it spent this time last year – $21 million in financial assistance, serving over 45,000 Travis County residents.

“Types of financial assistance that we provide include housing, in the form of rent, lot rent (for RVs), mortgage and utilities,” she said. “Pretty much every kind of utility that’s out there we will pay for, including firewood and indigent interment.”

The types of non-financial assistance HHS provides include basic supplies like food, clothing and diapers, as well as professional social work services relating to health, mental health, legal issues and safety issues.

“Traditionally, we have used the county’s General Fund for rent and mortgage assistance,” Siegfried told commissioners. However, since federal pandemic relief legislation passed, the county can now deploy both CARES Act funding and Emergency Rental Assistance Program funding in addition to the General Fund.

Of the rental assistance the program has distributed, approximately $6 million comes from ERAP, while $4.8 million comes from the General Fund and $2.6 million from the CARES Act. There was a 45 percent increase in the rental assistance provided compared to 2020. The program has spent $884,867 on mortgage assistance so far.

To provide utility assistance, HHS typically taps into a number of funding sources, including the Comprehensive Energy Assistance Program or Austin Energy’s Plus One program. CEAP paid for roughly $2.6 million of HHS’ utility assistance allocations, while Austin Energy contributed $1.7 million and the General Fund paid out $316,000.

“I think it’s really impressive, the amount of assistance the county is providing to those who need help,” Commissioner Brigid Shea said.

“The work that is being done is excellent,” Commissioner Jeffrey Travillion said. “And I think it’s demonstrated the things that we should continue to do. I just want to make sure that we make a point where there are inequities, we’ve got to build plans to address them.”

Photo from Farm Security Administration in the public domain.

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