Dallas Extends Disaster Declaration, Approves Several COVID-19 Relief Measures

As state and local conversations turn to opening the economy – and when to do so – it can be difficult to keep track of who issued what order, and what the latest decisions mean for your community. Here are the bullet points for today:

  • Dallas extends disaster declaration, approves several COVID-19 relief measures
  • Abbott clarifies (somewhat) his plans to lift the shelter-in-place restrictions
  • Work-study students will receive assistance after state waiver
  • Clayton and Ellen Kershaw announce drive to support beneficiaries during the pandemic
Dallas Extends Disaster Declaration, Approves Several COVID-19 Relief Measures

The Dallas City Council didn’t talk about how best to begin reopening businesses, but council members did vote to align its extension of Mayor Eric Johnson’s disaster declaration with the state’s timeline.

The council also approved several measures aimed at helping struggling small businesses and tenants and landlords faced with evictions.

Councilmember Jennifer Gates proposed the amendment tying the city’s declaration to the state’s declaration and automatically extending the city’s declaration beyond May 12 as well if the state extends its deadline past that date in hopes of eliminating confusion.

Any extension of the stay-at-home order or other emergency orders that have been issued by Johnson will be taken up at later dates – the disaster declaration only gives the city the agility to make decisions during an emergency situation, but each of those decisions requires its own emergency order.

Johnson said any extension of public health orders will have to be done by either the city manager or himself.

“Everybody up here would like to see things get to normal as quickly as possible, we want to get back to work, we want to re-open our economy…but we want to do that responsibly,” he said.

The council voted to provide more than $18 million in aid recommended by the two new ad hoc COVID-19 committees. The aid includes a mortgage and rental assistance program that will offer $6.1 million in rental and mortgage aid that, when combined with services and programs that already exist, will ultimately mean $13.7 million is available.

The assistance will provide up to $1,500 for a maximum of three months per eligible household, and applicants must go through a pre-screening process, and must be Dallas residents who lost their jobs or were furloughed because of COVID-19.  The program is a collaboration between the city’s Office of Community Care and Office of Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization, and will likely open the first week in May.

“COVID-19 has created an unprecedented challenge for our economy, putting a strain on many of Dallas’ working families and small business owners, all of whom are struggling just to make ends meet,” said Dr. Eric Anthony Johnson, Chief of Economic Development and Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization. “We are invested in the City of Dallas, its residents, and businesses, and remain committed to the recovery long-term. While this stimulus support will not eliminate all of the hurdles that lie ahead, we hope it will provide some relief for those affected most by this pandemic.”

The council also passed a COVID Landlord-Tenant Notice Ordinance that requires residential landlords to issue a special “COVID Notice of Possible Eviction,” that gives tenants access to information about rental assistance, and also allows them at least 21 days to negotiate a lease payment agreement. If tenants can provide proof of financial hardship due to the pandemic, then the proposed ordinance allows them to have up to 60 days before being evicted.

The ordinance goes into effect immediately.

“Thanks to the input of external stakeholders and the transparent and comprehensive Committee review process, today we passed balanced policies that provide needed relief for our neighbors,” said Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Adam McGough, who chairs the COVID-19 Ad Hoc Committee on Human Recovery and Social Assistance. “While this action is a step to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our communities, it is just that, a step. Much work remains to be done as we pave the way towards long-term recovery.”

Small businesses that are struggling are also going to be eligible for assistance as well. The Office of Economic Development is launching a $5 million Small Business Continuity Fund that will provide up to $10,000 in grants and up to $50,000 in low-cost loans to small businesses that have been impacted by the novel coronavirus.

To be eligible, businesses must be able to prove they were operational for at least six months prior to March 16 and must be low-to-moderate income microbusiness owners and/or businesses that employ (or previously employed) at least 51% low-to-moderate income workers. The goal, city leaders said, is to make sure the companies can continue to operate and keep their current employees. The application will likely be available in May, and loans will begin in June.

“We want to send a message to every business owner in Dallas that we are concerned and we will put our money where our mouth is,” said District 3 Council Member Casey Thomas, who chaired the Ad Hoc COVID-19 Committee Economic Recovery and Assistance.

“We’ve been hearing from our small businesses and how bad they’re hurting – and we feel their pain,” said Johnson in a press conference after the meeting. “Small businesses are the lifeblood of the Dallas economy.”

But even though things are in turmoil currently, Johnson said he was confident that the city would bounce back.

“Dallas is a resilient city. Dallas has always been a resilient city,” he said.

Johnson also called for another public celebration of healthcare workers, first responders, and those providing essential services. Today, Dallas residents are encouraged to participate in Thank You Thursdays, and give ovations at 7 p.m., as well as share prepared graphics on social media in English and Spanish. in  Learn more here.

Abbott Clarifies (Somewhat) His Plans to Lift the Shelter-in-Place Restrictions

Gov. Greg Abbott may announce as early as Friday new orders that will allow some businesses to re-open – but it is unknown for sure how that will impact Dallas County’s recent extension of its shelter-in-place orders, which will now be up for an extension on May 15.

Abbott indicated Wednesday that he may be issuing orders to reopen certain businesses, including barbershops and salons, movie theaters, and restaurants.

“We’re going to be making an announcement opening so many different types of businesses, where you’re going to be able to go to a hair salon … go to any type of retail establishment you want to go to, different things like that, with a structure in place that will ensure that we slow the spread of the coronavirus,” Abbott said, according to a Dallas Morning News story about the governor’s remarks to two different radio stations.

“This is going to be happening in the first couple of days in May, where you’re going to be able to go back and go dining under safe standards, you’re going to be able to get a haircut, you’re going to be able to go to a hair salon, you’re going to be able to start doing some things that people have been long wanting to do,” Abbott said to Dallas station WBAP.

Abbott said that he may be revising substantially his shelter in place order Friday or Monday, but also seemed to issue a caveat – counties with scant case counts will get more freedom to re-open than “let’s say the Dallas counties of the world.”

He also said that those expecting him to open the floodgates and open everything will probably be disappointed – Texas “is not going to be like it was before.”

Abbott also said that the state is prepared for some expansion of the spread of the virus as businesses re-open.

“We can handle that, as long as the expansion is very minimal,” he said.

Work-Study Students Will Receive Assistance After State Waiver

Students who are part of the Texas College Work-Study program will be able to get financial aid from programs that do not have a work-study requirement during the pandemic, Gov. Greg Abbott said this week.

Abbot temporarily waived certain restrictions to allow Texas higher education institutions to transfer all unexpended student financial aid funds from the work-study program to other financial aid programs that do not have a work-study requirement to ensure students will continue receiving financial assistance.

Those programs include the TEXAS Grant program, the Texas Educational Opportunity Grant program, and the Tuition Equalization Grant program. The waiver will help students who rely on work-study programs to continue their education.

“With reduced campus operations due to COVID-19, many Texas students are unable to participate in the work-study programs they depend on to pay their tuition and other expenses,” said Abbott. “This waiver allows colleges and universities to put TCWS funds toward other forms of assistance—providing a financial lifeline to students in need.”

Clayton and Ellen Kershaw Announce Drive to Support Beneficiaries During Pandemic

Kershaw’s Challenge, and its founders Clayton and Ellen Kershaw, announced an initiative to support their beneficiaries most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in the cities the couple calls their hometowns – Los Angeles and Dallas.

Kershaw’s Challenge has partnered with Behind Every Door in Dallas and the Dream Center in Los Angeles for some time.

Behind Every Door is providing “Love Your Neighbor” boxes to families living in the communities BED serves. These boxes provide the basic food essentials that families need during this crisis. Boxes are distributed directly to families in need. Each box costs about $50.

The two-week fundraising campaign will be matched dollar for dollar by the Kershaws, and the funds will be disbursed immediately upon the conclusion of the campaign. Donors who contribute more than $50 will be entered to win a random drawing and a chance to participate in one of five Zoom chats with the Kershaws. The first 10 donors who contribute $5,000 or more will automatically win a Zoom chat as well.

“These are difficult times for so many people in our beloved hometowns of Dallas and Los Angeles,” said the couple, “and we want to help these wonderful organizations continue to make an impact in their community as soon as possible.”

Donations can be made at the Kershaw’s Challenge website: https://www.kershawschallenge.com/covid19

Kershaw has been a pitcher for the LA Dodgers since 2008, and is an eight-time All-Star, three-time National League Cy Young Award winner, and the 2014 NL Most Valuable Player. He has been honored with the Roberto Clemente Award and the Branch Rickey Award for his humanitarian work. He is a graduate of Highland Park High School, where he played baseball and football.


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Bethany Erickson

Bethany Erickson, Digital Editor at People Newspapers, cut her teeth on community journalism, starting in Arkansas. Recently, she's taken home a few awards for her writing, including first place for her tornado coverage from the National Newspapers Association's 2020 Better Newspaper Contest, a Gold award for Best Series at the 2018 National Association of Real Estate Editors journalism awards, a 2018 Hugh Aynesworth Award for Editorial Opinion from the Dallas Press Club, and a 2019 award from NAREE for a piece linking Medicaid expansion with housing insecurity. She is a member of the Education Writers Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Real Estate Editors, the News Leaders Association, the News Product Alliance, and the Online News Association. She doesn't like lima beans, black licorice or the word synergy. You can reach her at bethany.erickson@peoplenewspapers.com.

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