The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocated $134 million to Fort Bend County to aid in its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The distribution of those funds was recently approved by the Fort Bend County Commissioners Court, but not without dissention. During a regular meeting May 19, the court voted 3-2 to approve distribution of funds that will begin this week.
As per recommendations from a roughly 30-member advisory representing cities, school districts and special purpose districts – under the direction of two county commissioners – Fort Bend County Health and Human Services will receive $20 million to help with testing, tracking and treatment of COVID-19 as well as staffing shortages.
Meanwhile, about $19.5 million will go toward rental assistance from June to November, and $22 million will
go into a small business grant to help business owners get back on their feet. The remaining $72.5 million will be distributed to the county’s Office of Emergency Management facilities, personal protective equipment for residents and reimbursement to local city governments for COVID-19 related spending.
“We looked at trying to do a balanced and fair distribution,” said Precinct 4 Commissioner Ken DeMerchant, who voted in favor of the proposal.
The vote was split across party lines, with DeMerchant and fellow Democrats Grady Prestage and KP George voting in favor of the proposal. Republican commissioners Andy Meyers (Precinct 3) and Vincent Morales (Precinct 1) opposed it in the form it passed.
“My vote was not against helping people or moving the money quickly into the hands of those who are in need, but it was the way it was handled. I seconded Commissioner Meyers’ proposal to keep the dialogue going,” said Morales, who helped oversee the initial advisory committee. “It’s a workshop, and I was trying to create a dialogue so we could find some common ground. Obviously that’s not something they wanted to do.”
Meyers submitted a counterproposal that had about $61 million being poured into small businesses as the state begins to reopen under Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order. Morales also said he found many redeeming qualities in the advisory committee’s recommendations, and didn’t necessarily back every prong of Meyers’ counter.
“There was some tweaking I thought could be done. More money should’ve been put in the business category to help people get back to work than the rental assistance. There would have been some common ground found there,” Morales said. “I’m not saying we shouldn’t put money into those other areas – there is a real need. But the underlying basis of the CARES Act is to get businesses back up and running.”
DeMerchant argued that there would be no customers for businesses to serve without the peace of mind and safety that could come from increased testing and tracking ability as well as help with rent.
“If you don’t have the health piece, it doesn’t matter how much money you put into businesses. If I can’t pay my rent, I’m not going to the mall to go shopping. If I can’t pay my electricity bills I’m not going to buy a new pair of shoes,” he said. “What good is it to have the store open if nobody’s going to go?”
DeMerchant said the county hopes to begin the appropriate distribution of funds later this week.
“It’s about how we can get through this pandemic and help the residents of Fort Bend County the best way,” he said. “… That’s why I like that we were able to pass this fair and balance distribution of funds.”
Morales echoed the sentiment.
“I’m a team player, and we’ve got to move forward. I’m hoping (the committee) will come back if there are unused money and reallocate where there’s need. I’m hoping there’s some flexibility so we can appropriate that money appropriately,” he said. “We’re all working toward the same goal. It’s just a time we need to come together and be undivided.”