Abbott, Williams announce COVID-19 grants
U.S. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, and Gov. Greg Abbott announced grants on Wednesday related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Williams announced a $69,000 grant for the Cleburne Regional Airport, which flows from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, also known as CARES. President Donald Trump signed the bill, which Williams supported, into law. It includes $10 billion in funds to be awarded as economic relief to eligible domestic airports affected by COVID-19.
“While much of our normal lives are disrupted during this crisis and air travel has taken a staggering blow to normal operations, providing funding for airports to continue their work is crucial for our nation’s economic survival,” Williams said. “Thanks to the CARES Act passed by Congress, these grants will give District 25 regional airports much-needed aid to maintain payroll and safety for their employees along with projects currently under construction.”
Cleburne City Manager Steve Polasek welcomed Wednesday’s news of the grant.
“We’re excited to be getting that and it will certainly help,” Polasek said. “Our revenues have been down at the airport because of [COVID-19] so this will be a big help.”
How the city will use the grant funds remains to be determined, Polasek said.
“Since we just learned about this we’re going to have to assess our needs at the airport and look at what the grant entails,” Polasek said.
Cleburne council members recently approved acceptance on an unrelated grant that will help fun runway and taxiway improvements. That project remains in the engineering and design phase, Polasek said, with the work scheduled to begin next year.
Mayor Scott Cain also expressed appreciation for the grant.
“One of our biggest assets is our airport,” Cain said. “So we very much appreciate Congressman Williams’ efforts to help Cleburne as we move through this crisis. Everything helps at this point and this grant will definitely help with our airport as we as a city continue to work on that and other aspects of our economy such as our small businesses and people who have lost their jobs.”
$38 million for local governments
Abbott on Wednesday announced that his Public Safety Office will provide $38 million in federal funding to Texas local governmental units. The funds originate from the Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding Program authorized by the Federal Emergency Appropriations for Coronavirus Health Response and Agency Operations Act.
“We’re already working on it,” Johnson County Judge Roger Harmon said of applying for the funds on Thursday. “Our auditor’s office is working on filling out the applications and starting the wheels rolling.”
How much of the funding Johnson County may get remains to be determined, Harmon said.
“It’s still too early in the process for any estimates of what we might get,” Harmon said. “We’re still looking at our needs as well against what is eligible through the grant.”
The funds may be used to prepare for and/or prevent the spread of COVID-19. Allowable projects and expenses include, among other things, overtime pay, equipment, supplies, training, travel expenses and addressing the medical needs of inmates in local jails and detention centers.
Commissioner Larry Woolley said he’s unsure how much Johnson County will get.
“We’re part of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, a 14-county region of most of North Texas,” Woolley said. “From what I’ve seen, their share of that $38 million is about $9.5 million. But Johnson County is also in the same pool with those bigger Metroplex counties, Tarrant, Dallas, Collin and Denton. So I really don’t know what we should expect.”
County Auditor Kirk Kirkpatrick said he’s discussed the grant with Sheriff Adam King to determine needs for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and the county jail.
Kirkpatrick and Commissioner Rick Bailey said COVID-19 expenses have yet to hit Johnson County as hard as several other Texas counties.
“Part of that’s because our numbers of positive cases have remained pretty low in the county and thank God for that,” Bailey said. “I credit a lot of that to our citizens who have, for the most part, taken ownership of this crisis and erred on the side of caution. Hopefully, this is going to peak pretty soon and we’ll start to see a slowdown in the number of new cases.”
Help may be needed for the Johnson County Jail, Woolley said, in light of the state prison system’s recent decision to temporarily suspend acceptance of inmates from county jails and other facilities.
“Any inmates we have waiting to be transferred to a state bed are our responsibility for now and we’re going to have to foot the bill for them for the time being,” Woolley said. “So I imagine we will definitely need assistance on that.”
That’s a concern, King said, but for now at least not a major problem.
“The reason is because our courts are pretty much shut down right now,” King said. “They’re still performing some functions but they’re not having trials so we’re not really getting people convicted who need to be sent on to state prison right now.
“And we didn’t have that many who were convicted and waiting to be sent to state before all this hit. But, if this goes on much longer and they open the courts back up but the state’s still not accepting inmates it can become a major problem really quick.”
King said he’s otherwise not encountered a huge increase in expenses because of COVID-19.
“To be honest we couldn’t buy a lot of stuff because a lot of it sold out before [COVID-19] hit here,” King said. “China and Europe bought out a lot of supplies from America because they were dealing with it before it made its way to America.
“One big upgrade has been in the jail’s air filtration system. We’ve installed filters that screen out bacteria and virus. Those don’t come cheap. They’re $2,300 every time we have to replace them, which is once a month or so. So I don’t know if this grant might be able to help with those costs.”
Even after the pandemic runs its course, King said he hopes to upgrade the jail’s ventilation system.
“I’m hoping to get ultraviolet lights installed at some point,” King said. “They kill bacteria, virus and mold that can get in the vent shafts. That’s about a $50,000 project. That seems like a lot. But when you consider $2,300 a month of those filters, that adds up fast.
“The point is, even after we’re done dealing with COVID-19 the ultraviolet lights would still be good to have. That’s because there’s always something going around the jail, in any jail. A few months ago, before all this COVID-19 stuff we had a flu outbreak, which we were able to identify and contain fast. But jails are like Petri dishes. There’s always something.”