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Millions of federal stimulus dollars for COVID-19 relief are headed to Tarrant County and its cities part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan signed by President Joe Biden in March.
Tarrant County is set to receive more than $408 million, according to a breakdown provided by the White House. Fort Worth has been allotted nearly $174 million and Arlington more than $81 million. The funds are in addition to more than $15.8 billion allotted to Texas.
State and local governments are still determining how they’ll spend the federal dollars. The Biden administration has set guidelines for how the money can be used, which includes funding for public health expenses and funding to address negative economic effects stemming from the pandemic.
“With this funding, communities hit hard by COVID-19 will (be) able to return to a semblance of normalcy; they’ll be able to rehire teachers, firefighters and other essential workers — and to help small businesses reopen safely,” said Treasury Department Secretary Janet Yellen in a statement.
A spokesperson for Gov. Greg Abbott said the state is working with legislative leadership to analyze the department’s guidance on spending the money to make sure it is properly used.
“We look forward to continuing to support Texans and our communities to unleash the full might of the Texas economy,” said Abbott press secretary Renae Eze.
In addition to the $15.8 billion, Texas is eligible for about $1.4 billion that can be allocated to local governments with populations less than 50,000.
Texas Comptroller Glen Hegar previously projected that Texas’ budget for the biennium covering 2020-2021 would end with a $946 million deficit as a result of COVID-19. He updated his projection in May, forecasting a $725 million surplus.
The money will be distributed in two allotments and state and local governments have until Dec. 31, 2024, to spend the funds, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said the county may look into small business grants and finding ways to use the money to help child care facilities and restaurants. Another possible use is mental health care, he said.
The idea of a community assessment to help determine how the money will be spent was brought up in a recent Commissioners Court meeting, Whitley said. The county is also expected to hold workshops on potential uses.
“While there are some areas that we need to … spend it as quickly as we can to help people recover from the pandemic, there are other areas that we can wait,” Whitley said.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price has reservations about the stimulus package itself. In an interview with the Star-Telegram she expressed concerns about future generations having to pay for the stimulus in the long term.
“But right now it is a good opportunity for us, and we have to be good stewards of that money and use it responsibly and get it back in the hands of the taxpayers whose dollars it is,” Price said.
Price said the money will be used on projects that benefit residents and businesses in creative ways and do not have ongoing expenses.
The city is looking at using the funds to help offset tourism and convention losses by allocating money to help Visit Fort Worth. General revenue from the city could then be used to aid the city’s convention center project, Price said.
Price also expects some of the money may be used for small businesses, to expand broadband and help with homelessness.
Fort Worth’s economy would grow without the funds, Price said.
“Would we be OK without it? Yeah, we’d … pull on our boots and go work, and we can do without it, but it’s a nice bonus to have,” she said.
After being hit by losses in sales taxes and facing projected deficits in property tax revenue, Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams anticipates about two-thirds of the city’s roughly $81 million from the latest stimulus package being used to help restore budget cuts. Williams said the city has seen $18 million in lost revenue because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Arlington’s stimulus funds are also expected to be used to help cover costs of the city’s mass vaccination center and for small business assistance, he said.
Unlike with the CARES Act, Arlington is receiving a direct allotment through the American Rescue Plan.
“Whenever the money is directly allocated to the city, we’re able to, one, get it into the economy quicker,” Williams said. “We also know where the needs are, and then it’s also more efficient.”
Williams, who serves as co-chair on a U.S. Conference of Mayors task force focused on city economies, said the federal dollars are critical to many communities.
“I’m very hopeful that with the funds that we are going to receive, that we’ll be able to invest them wisely and more than make up for the effects of the pandemic,” Williams said.