County allocates CARES funding

by Sahar Chmais

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act has allotted $4.8 million to Hays County to spend on resident and staff COVID-19 safety. So far, the county has decided how 20% of the funds will be spent, and the rest is in the works.

It is necessary that the county uses 75% of the CARES Act funds on medical, public health and payroll expenses for employees mitigating and responding to the emergency. The other 25% should go toward small business assistance. The rest of the funds will be purposed after the county spends the first 20%, or $966,000. The county also decided to use this money to open up a few more job opportunities for its understaffed health department.

Hays County has a current commitment of almost $308,000 to spend on supplies for first responders, PPE equipment, COVID-19 testing, disinfecting county offices, call center data lines, staff hours and social services relief.

While the county wants to hire more employees in its health department using this grant, the Texas Division of Emergency Management has hired an additional epidemiologist for Hays County and one contact tracer. Although having these added personnel on staff has helped the county, the county has job listings for four contact tracers, four data entry personnel, two statisticians and a part-time communications specialist. Adding on these staff members will cost almost $112,000.

Nearly $30,000 will go toward equipment and operating costs. The county also plans to expand its testing sites, at a price of about $246,000. Maintaining cleanliness in county buildings is going to cost around $129,000.

But Hays County wants to utilize its funds beyond the physical safety measures. Hays County’s emergency management coordinator, Alex Villalobos, said he is working on a program that aids residents affected by COVID-19. The program will help with rent, mortgage and utility assistance.

Villalobos does not know when the project will take off due to the complexity of setting it up. Kicking off the program means finding organizations that will help facilitate the program, working on the registration process and synthesizing the data and types of qualification criteria.

The CARES Act funds should be utilized by Dec. 31 if the county wants financial reimbursement. Villalobos believes there might be an extension, but nothing is official yet.

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