Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the nation, millions of Americans were either living paycheck to paycheck or below the poverty level. In Harris County, the working poor are amongst the hardest hit by COVID-19. Harris County Commissioners Court took a much-needed first step to help the most vulnerable in our community by approving a $15 million COVID-19 Relief Fund that will provide support for rent, food, medical care, child care and other expenses. If approved by the Harris County Attorney’s Office, the fund will provide direct assistance to county residents who are in the most need.
“Due to the strict and exclusionary guidelines of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, federal support will not reach all residents, especially those who need the most support,” Commissioners Ellis said. “Only by helping the most vulnerable in our community – including students and adults with disabilities who are listed as dependents, undocumented immigrants, domestic violence survivors, people experiencing homelessness and children who have aged out of foster care – will we truly recover from this crisis.”
The Urban Institute estimates that the Houston metro area has lost more than 200,000 low-income jobs. In addition, Commissioners Court Analyst’s Office reports, since March 15, at least 169,308 initial unemployment claims have been filed by county residents. That means approximately 7% of the labor force filed for unemployment over the last four weeks.
“A pandemic response that excludes any members of our communities will weaken its effectiveness,” Commissioner Ellis said. “Our community is only as healthy as our most vulnerable neighbors, including those who are undocumented immigrants. Additionally, undocumented immigrant households in Harris County pay $742 million in federal taxes and $448 million in local and state taxes.”
The hardest hit industries are the accommodation and food services; health care and social assistance; and retail trade – all among the lowest paid in the workforce.
“The Coronavirus pandemic has created both a health and a financial crisis,” Commissioner Ellis said. “Without financial assistance, those who lost their income due to the pandemic have to choose between physical or financial survival.”
This relief fund, which will follow the distribution model created for the Hurricane Harvey Recovery Fund, will be managed by the Greater Houston Community Foundation, which has the knowledge and capacity to administer and coordinate the distribution of the relief fund to all residents through its existing network of nonprofit safety providers.