A born-and-raised Texan, I’ve found Texans to be an especially resilient people who weather hardship and come out stronger on the other side. But the COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for Austin and many lives and businesses are at risk. This could’ve been prevented. It can still be curbed. Let’s take action now to protect our city, while also learning a valuable lesson from this experience to better prepare for the future.
The economic impact of the pandemic has only just begun. Each passing month of closures means lost income, loss of health insurance, loss of housing and security. In June, Austin’s leisure and hospitality sector alone saw a 38% decline in employment from a year ago. Soon 48% of Texas renters, around 1.0 million people, are at risk for eviction. And while Austin has extended its moratorium until the end of September, 55% of our city’s residents, who are all renters, have little to nothing protecting them from losing their homes.
We need to prioritize public health and community services now in order to get our economy back on the right path as quickly as is safely possible. In the short term I would
- Work with closely the Public Health Department and
- Follow their guidance on how to effectively prevent the spread of disease (including masks, social distancing policy, etc.)
- Provide free COVID-19 testing to everyone
- Prioritize the health and safety of our essential workers
- Develop a comprehensive school reopening plan that prioritizes health and safety of educators, parents, and children — and also ensures equal access to quality education for all students
- Ensure hospitals are continuously equipped and able to treat COVID-19 patients
- Continue investment in the RISE fund to provide financial relief to people and small businesses
- Continue and expand the current Healthy Streets program
- Prevent a homelessness crisis in Austin by freezing eviction proceedings for the duration of the pandemic
Let’s learn from this experience. Austin also needs a comprehensive, equitable response plan that ensures the well-being and economic security of all residents, right now and for the future.
We must be both proactive and responsive in preparing for the next crisis. With the right preparations in place, we can maintain a healthy balance between reducing public health risk and minimizing economic impact — especially for Austin’s vulnerable communities, essential workers, and small businesses. And to stave off irrevocable damage to the businesses that make Austin the Live Music Capital of the World, our creative industries need immediate and sustained stimulus from public investment. As councilwoman, my long-term, proactive preparation for the next pandemic would include
- Increased investment in the Public Health Department
- Fight to implement a sick leave ordinance
- Strengthen tenant protections for 55% of Austin residents who are renters, so they cannot be evicted during crises
- Stockpile PPE, testing equipment, and other essential supplies to prevent shortages and protect our healthcare workers
- Develop a crisis preparedness plan, including a robust contact tracing strategy
- Establish the Coronavirus Relief Fund as a permanent fund, setting aside relief funding for residents and small businesses in natural disasters or public health crises
- Establish daycare programs at city recreational centers
- Expand free testing and other public health services to all areas of the city, and broaden public health education and awareness programs
- Expand the Healthy Streets network into Safe Streets to create permanent spaces for safe outdoor physical activity