Designed to help those financially impacted by the pandemic, the Wilco Forward grant program launched in May with two main goals —helping businesses stay in business and keeping residents on their feet.
“These are tough times,” Pct3 Commissioner Valerie Covey says. “Just like tough times in the past, our County business owners and citizens have stepped up to meet the challenge. The county and our cities have worked hard to help meet the ever-evolving needs of our citizens during the pandemic. I’m so thankful and proud to live and serve in Williamson County.”
The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act includes more than $2 trillion in economic relief. After receiving $93 million in CARES funds and a Community Development Block Grant, the county formed an oversight committee; Covey, Commissioner Russ Boles, and County Treasurer Scott Heselmeyer.
The committee’s first priority was small businesses immediately hit in the March shut-down. The Phase I Small Business Grant program began in the Spring and ended June 30. Phase II focused on reimbursing governmental agencies for COVID-19-related expenses, including cities, emergency service districts, the Williamson County and Cities Health District, Bluebonnet Trails Community Services, and the YMCA. So far, the county has approved 3,684 applications and split $72 million between businesses and agencies.
Now in Phase III, the county is shifting focus to helping residents pay rent and utility bills through partnerships with local nonprofit organizations. Until now, an eviction moratorium and extra unemployment benefits have kept residents afloat, but now the extra unemployment is ending and the county is picking up where federal funding left off.
“My goal is to help people unemployed because of COVID from being evicted, or their power turned off,” Covey says.
County Residents are eligible to receive up to three months’ rent and utility assistance based on need. For residents in the Williamson County portion of Austin, assistance will come from the City of Austin. Those in the Austin ETJ within Williamson County are Wilco Forward-eligible.
Wilco residents may file applications with The Caring Place, Round Rock Area Serving Center, and Salvation Army of Williamson County, based on zip code, until the end of December or the $5million is fully allocated. The county will reimburse organizations for COVID-related rent and utility assistance provided.
In an uncertain time, and with many confusing COVID-19 programs, the County’s team has provided a quick and efficient path to assistance. The goal from the beginning, Covey says, was to create a straightforward program so applications could be processed quickly. She noted the county’s IT department was quick to set up the online Wilco Forward application for Phase I while the auditor’s office reviewed documents to ensure accuracy. Instead of rejecting incomplete applications, staff worked with applicants to make sure those needing assistance received it.
Wilco Forward has $17 million in unallocated funds because, as Covey says, we don’t know what’s going to happen in the Fall. What she does know is Wilco Forward is a short-term fix for a long-term need.
“The CARES Act money is helpful, but on a short-term basis,” she says. “For our economy to rebound, our businesses need to reopen, of course, in a healthy and safe way.”
For more information about Wilco Forward, visit Wilco.org.