Houston: COVID Relief Program Reaches Only 1 Percent of Population

Photo credit: Houston Chronicle

By Helen Milne

The Houston City Council recently approved a $30 million dollar COVID relief package to be distributed in the form of $1200 checks to approximately 24,000 people. This amounts to a little more than 1% of Houston’s population of 2 million people.

Houston’s economy has taken a major hit during the current crisis. While the city was able to weather the 2008 recession better than the majority of US cities, it has not been spared in the New Great Depression. Houston has a larger unemployment rate than the national average. The oil and gas industry makes up roughly 30% of Houston’s economy, and earlier this year oil was selling for less than one dollar a gallon. In the past, the city government would not be inclined to such relief measures, but they are left with little choice in times of crisis.

The funds will not be distributed directly by the city. Instead, the funds will be given to Baker Ripley, a local NGO, to distribute. Baker Ripley already has a poor reputation among the people of Houston following the NGO’s bungled Hurricane Harvey efforts. One former volunteer told Tribune of the People, “I was blown away at how unprepared an organization that is supposedly dedicated to disaster relief was. In the first few days following the flooding there were lots of volunteers trying to help and there was barely ever Baker Ripley staff around to give direction to volunteers or to give people the things they need.”

When the ruling class is occasionally forced to shell out these pittances it is done with bureaucratic sluggishness, whether from NGOs or local governments directly. Distribution of aid is stalled on a national level as Congress continues to fail to pass further relief measures. If the gridlock continues, Congress risks a government shutdown, causing city governments such as Houston to act.

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