Harris County and the city of Houston are expected to receive more than $1.5 billion combined in federal aid, after President Joe Biden signed a COVID-19 relief package into law on Thursday.
Houston is projected to receive roughly $615 million, with Harris County expected to take in more than $900 million.
City officials said roughly half the money will be available for distribution in 2021, with the other half coming in 2022.
“It is huge for the city of Houston,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said. “I certainly want to thank the Biden administration for really stepping up.”
The funding comes just as Houston prepared to balance the upcoming budget, which Turner said the city has been working on for the last six months.
Because of the pandemic, the city lost about $156 million it would have normally received in sales tax, parking fees, and other funding sources city lawmakers usually rely on. Turner added that the financial impact of the virus will also go into 2022.
“But for these dollars, significant services would have been cut, and employees, at the very minimum, would have had to be furloughed from the city of Houston,” Turner said.
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Federal money will also find it’s way to smaller city governments surrounding Greater Houston, and to area school districts.
Bellaire, Memorial Village and West University will receive more than $10 million combined in federal aid.
“The American rescue plan will fund our police, it will fund our first responders, it will fund our sanitation departments, it will fund fire, EMT, it will fund many more public services we need to keep our communities working,” said Houston Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher, Texas’s 7th district.
The Houston Independent School District said it would use its portion of the money to help cure the loss of learning district leaders say has happened as a result of the pandemic.
That includes specific attention to cleaning supplies, and a focus on getting kids prepared to safely come back to in-person learning. Only 80,000 out of 196,000 students are currently learning in person at HISD schools as a result of the pandemic, according to outgoing HISD interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan.
“We will use the funds that arrive in Houston to address the students social and emotional needs, to address our faculty’s mental health,” Lathan said.
Small businesses in Houston are getting help as well, including restaurants and bars, as well as institutions like Children’s Museum Houston.
Local officials say money will also be dedicated specifically for rent relief, and to support the most vulnerable communities who’ve suffered the worst economically as a result of the pandemic.
“We cannot forget that COVID-19 did not impact every community equally,” said Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis. “So it’s incumbent on my colleagues to take steps to ensure that the resources we receive from our federal partners are targeted to those most impacted by this pandemic.”
Ellis was among many lawmakers who expressed relief that money will go directly to local governments, and not the state.
“We’re a billion dollars short, in terms of recovery as it relates to Harvey flooding projects,” Ellis said. “Why are we a billion dollars short? Because the last go-around, that federal money did not go directly to cities and counties. It went to the state.”
Harris County and the city of Houston both pledged to use local money to advance COVID-19 testing and vaccination capabilities.
“The vaccine is the answer and the virus is the enemy,” said Dr. David Persse, chief medical officer with the Houston Health Department. “There’s over $20 billion being put forward towards vaccines. The vaccine is our way out of this.”