Austin Resiliency: A Conversation With City Council Member Greg Casar

Monday, May 11th 2020

Judy Maggio talks with Austin City Council Member Greg Casar about how the city is helping those most profoundly impacted by the pandemic and why Austin and Texas differ so greatly on when and how to reopen the economy.

Interview Highlights

On the importance of staying home

I know it's really confusing to hear different things coming from different leaders. But I really tried and I think we really tried to stay focused on public health and not just public perception. And to do that it means you have to tell people the truth. And the truth is that the virus is just as dangerous and contagious today as it was a few weeks ago. And while we are somewhat better prepared now than we were a few weeks ago, we have not hit the benchmarks and don't have the protections in place to take care of everyone... so we're really asking folks to still stay at a social distance, to telework if you can and to stay at home as much as you can. And then we'll be alerting people if we start seeing those hospital beds fill. We'll start alerting people that they really need to hunker down.

On what the city is doing to help those affected by the pandemic

We've seen just huge lines of hundreds of cars at food banks and food distributions. And so this last week, alongside Council Member Tovo, I co-sponsored an item to help fund AISD's meals because the federal government was letting schools pass out meals to students but wasn't giving enough meals or food or budget for the caregivers and other family members to receive food. And so we were hearing stories of parents and kids splitting their kids' meals. And so we went and filled that budget gap. But even still with that, that's still just barely touching the surface of the need.

And so we created something called the RISE Fund, which is a $15 million fund to help people all over the city. And we're helping thousands of people through that fund. We're helping them pay the mortgage. We're helping them not lose their car. We're helping them pay their rent, helping people pay for their groceries. And that has helped a lot of folks as a bridge while they get on unemployment. Because we know the unemployment's phone lines have been so jammed. It's helping those folks who don't qualify for unemployment for a variety of reasons. A lot of our unemployment laws discriminate against groups of people, be you a person who's a recent immigrant or for some other reason can't get on unemployment insurance. And so we're just trying to make sure that everybody's basic needs are met where we know the needs are huge.

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