Travis County commissioners voted Tuesday to set aside $10 million from a federal coronavirus relief package to aid small businesses outside Austin city limits but within the county.
"We’re trying to get people who have fallen through the cracks of the bigger business loan programs," said Diana Ramirez, the county’s director of economic development and strategic investments.
Travis County received a $61 million boost from a federal relief package last week. The infusion of funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act will help launch a small-business grant program that could be open to applicants in about 10 days, Ramirez said. Eligible businesses must earn less than $1 million in annual revenue to receive grants of up to $40,000.
Keeping businesses’ doors open, saving jobs, and helping establishments adjust how they operate are among the program’s key areas of focus, Ramirez said. Funds can be used for needs such as paying rent and purchasing personal protective equipment.
CORONAVIRUS IN TEXAS: What we know, latest updates
Following a recent national outcry from small restaurants over the disbursement of small business loans to large establishments like Shake Shack and Ruth’s Chris Steak House, several commissioners advised applying lessons learned from that process.
"We need to make sure that we look at this through an equity lens," said Commissioner Jeff Travillion, adding that tracking geographic locations, gender, business type and ethnicity will be vital — not just for the one-time grant but for connecting businesses with future resources.
Ramirez said she wants the county to avoid mistakes other cities and counties have made, such as making these funds available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
"We need to make sure we get the right mix of diverse, small and vulnerable businesses in line for receiving these grants," she said.
Travis County must disperse all $61 million in relief funds before the end of the year. Officials expect more specific federal guidelines on how exactly the money can be spent in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, the county plans to work with a consultant to help determine where it has the greatest needs, like bolstering health and human services and making funds available to prepare facilities to reopen.