Published Aug 21, 2020 by Sophia Guevara
The City of Houston and Harris County Chief Recovery and Relief Czars, Marvin Odum and State Representative Armando Walle, respectively, virtually met with members of the Greater Houston Partnership on August 14 to discuss COVID-19 response. The meeting was part of the Partnership's Future of Texas series. Odum and Representative Walle discussed their efforts at the City and County to identify, prioritize and resource recovery projects.
Response to COVID-19
"Setting the priorities and allocating the resources is a very important part of what we are doing," said Odum.
He discussed the city's priorities for resourcing the COVID-19 recovery, including protecting vulnerable communities, building long-term resiliency, and coordination.
"It is going to take all of us responding in a coordinated fashion to address it."
Representative Walle laid out the importance of the county's efforts in engaging in specific, multi-channel communications strategies to reach Houston's diverse communities, including the Latinx community.
"Trusted parties in a particular community that have been trained with the right type of information that are then conveying that information in some cases in a door-to-door fashion, maybe at a church or civic center, but also door-to-door so that people can get the information very directly," he said.
Representative Walle described Harris County's plan for reopening public schools safely.
"What was announced on Wednesday was two-phased based on the threat assessment and existing data," he said.
To reopen schools, Odum suggested supporting the organization of a local strike team of people who could look at the school's physical layout and help make strong, actionable recommendations about how to make the learning environment as safe as possible. Odum also discussed creating a community call center where educators could call in with questions and receive expert advice about key concerns related to COVID-19 safety.
Representative Walle touched on the digital divide for students, which Houston-area educators have attempted to close in preparation for the 2020-21 school year. Representative Walle discussed a study in partnership with Comp-U-Dopt that found 135,000 households in Harris County lacked a device. The county recently invested $32 million to improve digital access.
"The role of business is so incredibly helpful in solving this problem," said Odum.
CARES Act Funding
The City received approximately $405 million from the federal government in response to COVID-19.
"We filled out that need with nearly 200 specific projects and activities, and we had to reject over $250 million in projects," said Odum.
Odum said about 60 percent of projects went to immediate health-related activities, including testing, contact tracing, isolation and staffing needs. Odum said that the other 40 percent has addressed improving virtual working and safer work environments, rent relief, housing stability and small business relief.
Federal Funding - Phase Four
Odum also touched on considering Houston's needs versus the resources available.
"There is no question in my mind that another [federal] appropriation is very important to the county and to our area," he said.
The current federal COVID-19 funding only goes through the end of the year.
"Being able to continue these health-related programs past December is obviously going to be a need, and that is going to require more funding. We need more funding to bridge these small businesses," said Odum. "There is more in the rent relief and housing stability space. Municipalities do need some money to fill the gap that has come from a lack of revenue in Texas."
Representative Walle echoed Odum's comments on rent relief and housing stability. He also highlighted other key priorities in Harris County.
"Childcare assistance is a huge issue," said Walle, particularly as teachers return to school.
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