San Antonio Express-News: Federal government sends $15B to Texas for economic recovery. Here’s where it will go.
WASHINGTON — Texas is set to receive $15.8 billion in new coronavirus relief aid, with billions more headed to its cities and counties as the Biden administration on Monday rolled out the latest round of stimulus funding meant to help them bounce back from the pandemic’s economic punch, which led local governments in the U.S. to cut over a million jobs.
The new round of funding — which includes a combined $1.5 billion for Houston and Harris County and $716 million for San Antonio and Bexar County — comes as state and local leaders are piecing together budgets after a year of financial woes.
The money comes with fewer strings than previous batches of state and local COVID aid and will go directly to smaller cities for the first time. It can be used to plug revenue holes; hire public sector workers including teachers, police and firefighters; and fund housing, mental health, small business and other assistance programs. It can also go toward some infrastructure projects, such as expanding broadband, among other things.
The Biden administration said the funding is key to a more equitable recovery that was a central aim of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that Congress passed in March.
Gene Sperling, the White House aide overseeing the stimulus spending, said the new round of funding is aimed at “making sure these states and governments do not cut back on the very things that are important for equity, but in fact have the resources to keep people in their homes, to help young kids catch up with learning loss, and to allow more workers and students to get the college, the training, the opportunities they need to bounce back from this difficult period for the economy, and obviously for our whole society.”
But the funding is also aimed at getting people back to work, Sperling said. It comes after a disappointing national jobs report released last week — showing only 266,000 new jobs added in April — had President Joe Biden defending some aspects of the stimulus package, including a $300-a-week boost in unemployment benefits that Republicans have said encourage people to stay unemployed.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, called the jobs numbers a “stunning economic setback, and unequivocal proof that President Biden is sabotaging our jobs recovery with promises of higher taxes and regulation on local businesses that discourage hiring and drive jobs overseas.”
Sperling said about 1.3 million state and local government jobs have been lost since the pandemic’s onset, most of which were in education, public safety and other frontline fields.
“So much about this is getting our economy back, our society back to normal, but also to get people back to work. There’s no question that a place we still need more progress is at the state and local side,” Sperling said. “This is also part of the strategy to have a recovery that is getting Americans back to work, whether they’re working in the private sector or working for these vital public services that we, our children, our loved ones, all rely on.”
That is likely to be the case in Houston, where Mayor Sylvester Turner is expected to lay out a budget proposal this week that he has said will use some of the stimulus money to increase the size of the police department and give firefighters a long-awaited pay raise.
The nearly $608 million the city is slated to receive amounts to nearly a quarter of the city’s $2.5 billion general fund budget that covers most core services, such as public safety, trash pickup, libraries and parks.
“But for these dollars, it would have been very, very difficult to balance this upcoming budget,” Turner said in March.
The nearly $327 million headed to San Antonio and $389 million going to Bexar County will “strengthen key services for the greater San Antonio area and reinforce recovery efforts from our local champions,” U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-San Antonio, said.
“The rescue plan rises to the tremendous needs of this moment, not only delivering direct help to families, schools, and businesses, but also calling in the cavalry to back up our local governments that have been shouldering so much of the burden of leadership,” Doggett said.
For the first time, the funding will also go directly to smaller cities that had to rely on states to dole out local funding from previous stimulus packages.
“These small cities — their tax base is gone and they really need the help,” U.S. Rep. Al Green, a Houston Democrat, said when Congress passed the stimulus package in March. “They have been waiting with bated breath for some help.”