Category Archives: COVID-19 Updates

RISE 2.0 Info Flyer

RISE2 Financial Assistance Opportunity for Austin/Travis Co. Residents

City of Austin / Travis County has made available another relief program for households impacted by loss of work due to COVID-19. RISE 2.0 $2000 relief grants will be dispersed via a lottery to applicants who qualify.

For more details visit the program page:
https://www.austintexas.gov/article/covid-19-relief-state-emergency-rise-fund

To qualify your monthly household income, including UI benefits, has to be below twice (2x) the poverty level, and have lost work/income due to COVID-19.

Applications are accepted Sept. 14th through 7pm on Sept. 21st.

You can apply online here:
https://fund.uptogether.org/rise2

Or apply by phone:
(512) 714-6950

Additionally…

The existing RENT Assistance program applications are still ongoing for households making less than 80% of the MFI (Median Family Income). Providing up to 3 months of rent assistance.

August Financial Aid Opportunities for Austin Residents

Two opportunities became available in August for Austin residents.

RENT Assistance

This program is being periodically funded by the COA, last round of funding and applications was opened on August 19th, which may still have funds available, but is also somewhat first come first serve. There are income thresholds to qualify, and awards are decided via lottery.

Creative Workers Relief Grant

The Creative Worker Relief Grant is a direct result of advocacy on part of Austin’s Chapter of Soundgirls.org in partnership with IATSE Local 205 to earmark some of the CARES Act municipal funding for creative worker relief. It provides for up to a $2000 grant to cover expenses incurred due to COVID-19 loss of income from March 1st to August 17th. This program was definitely designed with live event professionals in mind, among many other disproportionately affected creative fields.

Apply online through August 28th at 5pm.

You can start/stop the application process at any time, so feel free to start it now so you can become familiar with the questions. The video webinar above and FAQ on their site are also excellent resources.

Additional eligibility questions can be fielded by:
Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts
Email:  
Call: 512-588-9971

For application process technical support:
Austin Better Business Bureau
Email: 
Call: 512-318-2683

Awards are to be split. 50% of them are based on a weighted matrix of vulnerability. The other 50% are lottery based. They are NOT based on how quickly you get your application in.

Thank You SoundGirls!
IATSE Local 205
Thank you IATSE Local 205!

TWC’s Lost Wage Assistance Program ($300 extra)

UPDATE: TWC Has reported that the last week that will pay the LWA $300 extra is the workweek ending Sept 5th. The Funds had to be requested weekly from FEMA and after 6 weeks FEMA denied Texas’s request.

The following was sent via email to claimants 8/22 to clarify the Lost Wage Assistance Program benefit Texas is enacting due to the presidential executive order round of funding. Especially note that if your reason for loss of work on your original application was not noted as COVID-19, your next payment request should give you an opportunity to change/correct that.

The FAQ at this time does not estimate how many weeks this extra benefit will exist. Press and other sources are estimating 3-5 weeks.

Understanding the Lost Wage Assistance Program

On August 20, 2020, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott authorized TWC  to submit the application for the additional $300 made available under President Trump’s Lost Wage Assistance Executive Order. TWC is working to implement this change as quickly as possible. 

To help you understand how this program may impact your benefits, we’ve compiled frequently asked questions on the Lost Wage Assistance Program.

What is the LWA program?
President Trump signed four Presidential Memorandums on Aug. 8, 2020, including one to offer enhanced unemployment insurance benefits of $300 per week. The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) continue to provide guidance to each state for the proper administration of the benefit. The Department of Workforce Services will continue to communicate the guidelines of the program as they are finalized by these federal agencies.

Who is eligible to receive the $300?
To be eligible for LWA benefits:

  1. Your weekly benefit amount must be $100 or more.
  2. You must receive at least $1 of benefits from one of the following programs:
    • Regular unemployment insurance
    • Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees (UCFE)
    • Unemployment Compensation for Ex-Servicemembers (UCX)
    • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC)
    • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA)
    • Extended Benefits (EB)
    • Shared Work
    • Trade Readjustment Allowances (TRA)
  3. You must certify that you are unemployed, partially unemployed, or unable or unavailable to work due to disruptions caused by COVID-19.

LWA is not payable to individuals collecting Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA).

I did not certify that my claim was COVID-19 related when I first applied, can I do so now?
If you have not previously certified that your claim is COVID-19 related you will be given the opportunity to do so on your next payment request.

I’m on a shared work program, how do I certify that my reduced hours are COVID-19 related?
If you are on a shared work program, TWC will reach out to clarify if your reduction of hours is COVID-19 related.

How do I apply for the additional $300?
If you are already receiving benefits, no application is required. Continue requesting payments as normal. Our team is updating the system. Eligible claimants should receive the additional $300 a week on their first payment request on or after 8/23/2020.

Will the additional $300 be backdated?
Yes, the President’s Executive Order allows for additional $300 a week to be backdate to the week of August 1, 2020.

Will the additional $300 appear on my account?
Like the previous additional benefits, this amount will not be added to the weekly benefit amount visible on your account but will be added when deposited.

Why is it an additional $300?
This is the amount set forth in the Presidents Executive Order and agreed upon by the State of Texas.

If my weekly benefit amount is less than $100, do I receive the additional $300?
If you receive less than $100 a week of unemployment benefits you are not eligible to receive the additional $300.

Is the additional $300 paid per week?
Yes. Since TWC deposits payments every two weeks, eligible claimants will receive an extra $600 every two weeks.

I returned to work between 8/1 and 8/23, do I qualify for backdated payments?
Yes, if someone returned to work between 8/1/2020 and 8/23/2020 they may be eligible. We will review those claims and if needed reach out to those individuals.

Stamp Out Hunger with NALC and AFL-CIO

The following is a message from our sisters and brothers at AFL-CIO and the National Association of Letter Carriers:

Sisters, Brothers & Kin,

The need for food relief has never been greater and neither is our determination to help. Throughout this COVID-19 pandemic, the labor movement has stepped up to help union members and struggling families keep food on our tables. We’re doing what the labor movement does best: joining together in solidarity, lifting each other up and serving our communities.

The AFL-CIO is proud to partner again with the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) for the “Stamp Out Hunger” Food Drive campaign. Because of safety concerns, this year’s food drive was unable to happen as it usually does in May. This year’s campaign may be different because of the pandemic, but it is more important than ever.

NALC is asking members of the community to participate by donating food directly to food banks in their area.

Please go to nalc.org/food, select your state and find the food banks in your area.

In Solidarity,
Team AFL-CIO

Below are some central Texas food banks:

Central Texas Food Bank
6500 Metropolis Dr
Austin, TX 78744
http://centraltexasfoodbank.org/stampout

Round Rock Area Serving Center
1099 E Main St
Round Rock , TX 78664
https://www.rrasc.org/donate/

Bastrop County Emergency FP
806 Fayette St
Bastrop, TX 78602
https://www.bastropfoodpantry.org/donate/

Caldwell County Food Pantry
901 Bois D’Arc
Lockhart, TX 78644
https://www.caldwellfoodpantry.com/donate

The Caring Center
2000 Railroad Ave
Georgetown, TX 78626
https://www.caringplacetx.org/how-to-help/give/donate-online.html

Fredericksburg Food Pantry
701 Mustang
Fredericksburg, TX 78624
http://fbgfoodpantry.com

The Helping Center
1315 Broadway
Marble Falls, TX 78654
https://www.helpingcenter.org/#give

Lacare
507 W Bachanan Dr
Burnet, TX 78611
https://austincf.fcsuite.com/erp/donate/create?funit_id=2244

San Antonio Food Bank
5200 Enrique Barrerra Parkway
San Antonio, TX 78227
https://safoodbank.org/donate

Soundgirls of Austin and IATSE Local 205 to Mayor Adler

The City of Austin has taken measures during this unprecedented time to provide relief for both musicians and music venues via the Music Disaster Relief Fund. Sadly, this fund offers no support for the hardworking venue technicians whose behind-the-scenes efforts make live music events possible. Please sign this petition to let City Council know that production technicians such as lighting designers, sound engineers, and stage managers need to be included when it comes to aiding the Austin music scene and providing hope through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Sign the online petition.

Sample Letter:

To: Mayor Steve Adler
From: You

We recognize that protecting Austin’s musicians and music venues is extremely important. However, if the goal is to protect Austin’s music industry, one key element has been left out of Austin’s Music Disaster Relief Fund; live event technicians.

Whether an event is large or small, musicians cannot be seen or heard without the involvement and expertise of stage technicians. Production staff, including sound engineers, lighting designers, video engineers, and others, are integral to the success of live music performances. In fact, the quality of production can have a direct impact on the income a venue generates.

Production staff are often freelance and just as financially unstable as musicians. Like musicians and music venues, technicians are also in need of assistance to survive the health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19. Most affected are technicians who have been misclassified as contract labor causing their unemployment claims to be denied, delayed, or significantly reduced.

We realize these are extremely difficult times for everyone. However, in formulating help for performance-based arts, we ask that assistance is not limited to performers and venues only. Although professionally stage technicians strive to be invisible, we do not wish to be invisible within our community.

Please expand the Austin Music Disaster Relief Fund to include production staff who live in the Greater Austin Area and regularly work in local venues, and contribute to Austin being recognized as the Live Music Capital of the World.

City of Austin adds new Key Indicators COVID-19 dashboard

Austin Public Health released a dashboard that illustrates the key indicators for moving between risk stages and is now live at AustinTexas.gov/COVID19.

  • Stage 1 (Green): Zero (0) new COVID-19 hospital admissions in a 7-day period
  • Stage 2 (Blue): Average of less than 5 new COVID-19 hospital admissions in the MSA in 7-day period
  • Stage 3 (Yellow): Average of 5-19 new COVID-19 hospital admissions in the MSA in a 7-day period
  • Stage 4 (Light Orange): Average of 20-70 new COVID-19 hospital admissions in the MSA in a 7-day period
  • Stage 5 (Red): Average of 70 or more new COVID-19 hospital admissions in the MSA in a 7-day period 

The risk stages system created by Austin Public Health (APH) illustrates the regression and progress of several factors, including disease, healthcare, and public health on a seven day moving average. These key indicators will inform recommendations on the tightening or loosening of restrictions on physical distancing, mass gatherings, business operations, and other safety measures in the months ahead.
 
Austin-Travis County is currently in Level 3 – the yellow risk category. At this level, APH recommends individuals at high risk for serious illness shelter-in-place and telecommute or be reassigned to non-public facing roles. Individuals at lower risk for serious infections should minimize their interactions with individuals outside of their household.   
 
At all times and levels, APH continues to urge the community to continue: 

  • Practice social distancing 
  • Wear fabric face coverings in public 
  • Cover coughs and sneezes 
  • Wash hands often 
  • Avoid touching your face 
  • Clean commonly touched surfaces
Gov Abbot Announces Phase 2

Texas enters Phase-2 Re-opening, for better or worse.

Yesterday, on May 18th Gov. Abbott issued the Executive Order moving Texas into Phase 2 of the staggered re-opening. Phase 1 re-opening had occurred almost precisely 3 weeks prior. The primary arguments used in favor of doing so revolve around restoring jobs, hospitalization rates remaining somewhat steady, and percentage positive confirmed tests. They provided state-wide numbers for the last two points.

That last one can be misleading though, as state testing volume overall has continued to increase, a decline in the positive “ratio” is definitely going to occur, even if daily positive tests are actually increasing! Daily positive rates would have to OUTPACE any increase in testing volume before this “ratio” metric would trend any direction but down, and no testing volume per day data was provided as part of the governor’s chart seen below.

Cases as a ratio of total daily tests to positive daily tests.

The validity of this metric and trend is highly dependent upon how many tests are being administered per day and the health status of people seeking those tests. Being that testing is not yet widespread, free, or public in Texas, it is hard to make an argument that those tested equates to a representative sample of the population yet.

Also worth noting is that on May 12th, the state disaster declaration was extended for all Texas counties.

Some noteworthy local exceptions were illuminated in the Phase 2 plans, including the Amarillo area, whom are experiencing a surge in cases, a hot-spot likely originating from the struggling meat processing plants

Notably this includes scheduled re-open dates between May 18th and May 31st, and additional language for things like:

  • Bars
  • Restaurants (further capacity)
  • Massages
  • Tattoo Parlors
  • Gyms
  • Sporting Clubs
  • Youth Clubs
  • Childcare Facilities
  • Youth Camps
  • Youth Sports
  • Professional Sports (without spectators)

It remains a unclear how local counties and municipalities are going to be allowed to handle their own case surges, if and when an additional waves of COVID-19 cases mount up. So far, the State has been adamant about how the order at the state level over-rules any local ordinance or orders, and Austin has been actively adjusting it’s guidance to comply with state rules.

Deadlines, Claims, and COBRA from the IATSE-NBF

The following is from an email notice via the IATSE National Benefits Fund Office.

Important Information Regarding Extensions of Deadlines Related to Benefit Claims and Appeals, Special Enrollment and COBRA

Due to the various challenges that individuals are facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S Department of Labor (DOL) and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) jointly issued rules that extend certain deadlines for individuals who participate in employee benefit plans. These rules apply to the IATSE National Benefit Funds. 

In accordance with the DOL/IRS rules, the “outbreak period” will not be counted when the Funds (or their claims administrators and benefit providers) calculate certain deadlines. The “outbreak period” is defined as the period from March 1, 2020 until 60 days after the COVID-19 National Emergency ends as determined by the federal government (or such other date as the DOL/IRS announce, which may be specific to different states or geographic regions).

The following deadlines are extended by the rules:  

  1. The Funds’ deadlines for filing a benefit claim or an appeal of a denied claim (or other adverse benefit determination), and the period for requesting an external review (or perfecting a request for external review) of a health benefit claim.
                                                         
  2. The 60-day period to request special enrollment in the Health & Welfare Fund after acquiring a new dependent due to birth, marriage, adoption or placement for adoption, or after losing other health coverage (or becoming eligible for health coverage assistance under Medicaid or CHIP). 
  3. The 60-day COBRA election period and the 60-day period for notifying the Health Fund of a COBRA qualifying event or Social Security disability determination.
  4. The 45-day and 30-day deadlines for paying initial and monthly COBRA premiums.

For example, if the National Emergency ends on June 29, then the outbreak period would end on August 28 (60 days later), and the period from March 1 through August 28 would not count toward any of the above periods that would ordinarily expire between March 1 and August 28. Those periods would re-start on August 29, with the remaining days left in the applicable period. Please refer to the Summary Plan Descriptions and the Funds’ website for additional details regarding the various plan deadlines, and email  if you have any questions regarding how these rules may apply to you. Please note that only the four deadlines listed above are extended. Any other deadlines under the Plans (such as the due date for making any required CAPP payments) remain in place.

Please also note that, in conjunction with the above relief, the DOL stated that it recognizes that employee benefit plans (like the Funds) also face challenges and disruptions that make it difficult to communicate with participants by the usual methods and in as timely a manner during the outbreak period. In addition, the DOL/IRS rules specifically provide for the outbreak period to be disregarded in calculating the deadline for the Fund Office to provide COBRA election notices to qualified beneficiaries

Austin-Travis County extends ‘Stay Home Work Safe’ orders

Austin-Travis County extended the “Stay Home Work Safe” orders today, as anticipated. Note, these are NOT in conflict with the state orders, but rather adjusted orders to accommodate them.

Mayor Steve Adler and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt admitted not much changes under the extended guidelines – except to allow for salons to reopen under the state’s rules. Though both asked Austinites to continue social distancing, wearing facial coverings and limiting nonessential travel to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The Austin-Travis County orders extend the requirement to wear facial coverings in public, though there is no penalty for violating that rule. And both orders are consistent with the governor’s latest order, which requires people to “minimize social gatherings and minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household.

Also included is instructions to voluntarily keep guest logs at local businesses, this will help future contact tracing efforts.

Austin Rental Assistance, Apply May 4th-6th

Neighborhood Housing Department Issues $1.2M in Rental Assistance to Be Administered by Austin Housing Authority
Fri, 05/01/2020 – 09:56

Applicants must apply 9:00 a.m. May 4th through 11:59 p.m. May 6th

The City of Austin Neighborhood Housing and Community Development Department (NHCD) is providing $1.2 million in emergency rental assistance to Austinites affected by the COVID-19 outbreak to be administered through a contract with the Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA).
 
The Relief of Emergency Needs for Tenants (RENT) program will distribute one-time rental subsidies through a lottery system similar to HACA’s Housing Choice Voucher program.  Residents must apply for the lottery through HACA’s RENT website at www.atxrenthelp.org starting May 4th at 9:00 a.m. and ending at 11:59 p.m. on May 6th.  More information is available www.atxrenthelpinfo.org.
 
“Funding for this emergency rental assistance is being accessed from the City’s local funds.  In this time of pandemic and economic uncertainty, Austin families need the security of safe and stable housing,” said Rosie Truelove, Director of NHCD. 
 
“While we recognize that $1.2 million can only go so far, we are committed to our ongoing efforts to identify and access additional help for these families as soon as we possibly can. Providing this rental assistance is something we can do right now,” Truelove said.
 
HACA will manage the intake and processing of applications, determine applicant eligibility, and—upon approval—direct payments to landlords to help cover tenants’ rent obligations. 
 
“The RENT Program is expected to help more than 1,000 families in our community stay in their homes during this difficult time,” said Michael Gerber, CEO of the Housing Authority of the City of Austin.  “We applaud the Mayor and City Council providing critical funds for this emergency rental assistance program.  While the needs in our community will likely far exceed the rent help available, HACA is committed to moving funds quickly to help as many Austin families as possible.”
 
Applicants not selected in the lottery will receive written notification from HACA, with a list of additional potential alternative resources.  Should additional funding become available, all eligible Austin renters would be able to apply for subsequent lotteries or programs to ensure the broadest distribution of rental assistance possible. 
 
Eligibility for Rental Assistance
 
Eligibility is limited to City of Austin households that are at or below 80 percent of the Median Family Income (see table below) who can document both a financial impact by COVID-19 and need of rent relief (e.g., paystubs, unemployment notice, notice of rent due, etc.).  Applicants must also demonstrate that they are party to an existing lease agreement and are not recipients of other rental assistance programs. 

 
Amount of Assistance Available

The amount of rental assistance will be determined either by the number of bedrooms in the apartment OR the actual  monthly rent amount (per the current lease), whichever is LOWEST minus the 30 percent of the household’s gross monthly income (see table below).
  

 City of Austin Mayor Steve Adler praised the collaborative nature of the program.
 
“With so many out of work, the cries for rent relief are loud and they are being heard.  Thank you to the Housing Authority and the Austin Apartment Association for helping to rapidly deploy the RENT relief program for those in greatest need.  This is our community coming together to get crucial work done,” said Adler.
 
Adler’s remarks were echoed by Austin Council Member for District 4 and Chair of the City of Austin Housing and Planning Committee Greg Casar. 
 
“Addressing the crisis is a community issue.  No one should lose their home because of the COVID crisis,” said Casar.  “The City is here to help with the RENT program to provide Austinites the support they need paying May rent. For us to protect everyone’s housing stability, we also need landlords in the community to look for ways to offer additional relief through decreased rents and relaxed rules.”
 
Similar agreement was expressed by Austin Apartment Association Executive Vice President Emily Blair. 
 
“Austin Apartment Association member staffs are working closely with families in their communities to help connect people with resources and meet immediate needs, so we know many people who need these funds,” said Austin Apartment Association Executive Vice President Emily Blair.
 
“Our property managers will be eager to share this rental assistance source with their residents in need. On behalf of the hundreds of thousands of residents in our communities, we thank the City of Austin for helping Austin renters remain safe in their homes and helping keep the City’s housing supply stable,” Blair said.
 
For more information about the RENT program, call or text the HACA RENT Call Center phone number at (512) 400-4275.  Visit www.atxrenthelpinfo.org or www.austintexas.gov/RENT for more information.