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County helps tenants even as it risks losing money

By Megan Wehring

HAYS COUNTY — Despite the fact that Hays County could lose thousands in federal funding for its rent and utility relief program, it continues to help residents in need.
In Texas, 16 cities or counties might have to return unspent federal funds because they did not meet the 30% distribution requirement by Sept. 30 — Hays County is one of them. By the deadline, the county had spent nearly $167,000 or less than 3% of the $6.9 million allocated for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERA).
While the funds were disbursed to Hays County back in January, the program was not launched until mid-July. Commissioners were originally going to hire an outside company to administer it but because guidelines only allotted 10% for administration fees, the county brought everything in-house.
The county could lose around $650,000, according to numbers given to the county by the auditor’s office, but it would still have millions left.
“Even though there might be some funding that gets taken away from us and reallocated to someone else,” said Kim Hilsenbeck, communications manager for Hays County, “we are still going to have funds available to help people. We are still going to continue to work all of those tickets and take in new applications.”
More than 70 households have been helped, with about $307,630 paid out to landlords, hotels and utility companies through Nov. 12, Hilsenbeck said. She credits the staff in the ERA office for helping as many people as they can with the resources they have.
Last week, the county submitted a Program Improvement Plan to the Treasury Department that outlined how the county will improve and expedite the process. It’s unknown when the Treasury will inform Hays County of its decision.
“We are looking at it from a human standpoint,” Hilsenbeck said. “We’ve helped 73 households and the average household has about 2.5 people. That means we are helping human individuals in the worst days of their lives and we are able to try to get their lights back on, get them into a hotel or stop them from getting evicted.”

About Author

Megan Navarro (formerly Wehring) graduated from Texas State University in May 2020 with a bachelor's degree in journalism and mass communication. In June 2020, she started a summer internship at the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch through the Dow Jones News Fund and Texas Press Association. She then earned her way to a reporter position later that summer and now, she serves as the editor of the newspaper. Working for a small publication, Navarro wears multiple hats. She has various responsibilities including managing a team of reporters, making editorial decisions, overseeing social media posts, fact checking, writing her own articles and more. Navarro has a heart for storytelling and she believes that journalists are equipped to share the stories that are important to the community.

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