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Houston Mayor Turner, AARP Texas Discuss Coronavirus Recovery and the American Rescue Plan Act

A federal law enacted this year is bringing hope to a city battered by the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on public health and access to affordable housing, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said Monday during an AARP-sponsored telephone town hall.

The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) is a $1.9 trillion law that includes $350 billion in direct, flexible aid to states, counties, cities, and tribal governments and represents a once in a generation chance for local leaders to engage residents and make investments that can strengthen communities so they are great places for all. As part of AARP’s efforts to connect older adults and local leaders on these investments, AARP has been hosting tele-town halls with local leaders across the country.

High Angle View Of Highways In City

Turner said the City of Houston has been allocated a total of $606 million from ARPA funds, one- half received this year and the other to be received in 2022. Without these funds, he said, Houston would have experienced a $200 million budget shortfall and would have had to lay off about 2,000 employees.

“We hope to turn the corner but the virus is still very much prevalent in our city,” Turner said. He later added: “We’ll get through this but I want to get through it without losing one more life.”

To help alleviate the problem of area hospitals nearing capacity due to COVID-19, the Houston mayor has a three-pronged advice for Houstonians: get vaccinated, wear a mask and exercise proper health protocols.

Only 58% of Houstonians who are eligible for COVID-19 vaccines are now fully vaccinated. But the news is better for those over age 60, where 77% have had both shots.

In response to a poll question, AARP members indicated that their top priorities in recovery from the pandemic in Houston included: ensuring affordable and safe housing (41%),  supporting the public health response (33%), and improving transportation options (27%).

Hosted by AARP Texas State Director Tina Tran, the call included health and housing officials from the City of Houston as well as the participation of AARP’s Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer, Nancy LeaMond.

LeaMond said AARP is disappointed by U.S. Supreme Court ruling last week that effectively ends a moratorium on housing evictions, but signaled hope that local governments may be able to use ARPA funding to alleviate the situation.

“Unfortunately, 90 percent of that money has not been distributed,” she said.

The mayor of the country’s fourth largest city pointed out that Houston has “one of the best if not the best” rental assistance program in the country. Ray Miller, assistant director of the Houston Housing and Community Development Department, said the city has collaborated with Harris County to set up a one-stop portal for low-to-moderate income households to apply for assistance.

Money is available, Miller said, and residents in need can visit or call a hotline, 832-402-7568. Questions are answered in English or Spanish.

COVID-19 and the problem of evictions and homelessness can result in a powerful one-two punch to vulnerable Houstonians. One caller asked the mayor about what the city is doing about COVID shots for the homeless. Turner responded the city is working closely with homeless shelters, adding, “our approach is to not leave anyone behind and that includes our homeless.”

To learn more about how communities can tap into ARPA funds, download the free new resource from AARP, The American Rescue Plan Act and Older Adults: Opportunities and Resources for Local Leaders.

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