First Nonprofits Receive RISE Funds

$5.6 million in grants to aid Austinites during COVID crisis

The $15 million Relief in a State of Emergency (RISE) fund, created to help poor Austinites during the COVID-19 crisis, is beginning to make its way to the people who need it. On Tuesday, April 21, the city announced substantial grants to four established nonprofits that deliver basic-needs services – Catholic Charities of Central Texas ($1.6 million), Asian Family Support Services ($1 million), El Buen Samaritano ($500,000) and the Austin Area Urban League (also $500,000). By Monday, each group will have money in hand to provide resources to the communities they serve.

Family Independence Initiative, a national nonprofit that has an office in Austin, will also receive $2 million to administer to “several small community-based organizations,” per the city’s announcement. One such partnership is already in place, with Go Austin/Vamos Austin, a nonprofit that primarily helps East Austin residents access healthy foods and maintain active lifestyles within their neighborhoods.

FII has also partnered with the Charles Koch-backed network of charities Stand Together to launch an online platform for direct cash transfers to people struggling during the pandemic and its economic fallout. Prior to City Council’s vote to create the RISE fund on April 9, several community groups called upon the city to facilitate direct cash payments to Austinites, but it is unclear if FII will use its Stand Together partnership to distribute the funds it has received.

Council created the RISE fund, using money from the city’s cash reserves, to help people in Austin who are ineligible for federal stimulus relief, who cannot wait for it to arrive, or who will simply need more help than Congress provides. Specifically, the city is looking for partners that serve people at or below 200% of the federal poverty level (roughly $52,000 annual income for a family of four), and those – like undocumented immigrants – who are ineligible for unemployment benefits or the $1,200 payments provided in the federal relief package. Generally, the grants will be awarded in amounts ranging between $250,000 and $2 million.

The $5.6 million in funding Austin Public Health has announced comes from its “Phase 1” allocation of 50% of the RISE fund; at a Council work session Tuesday, April 21, APH Director Stephanie Hayden said as of that day, 20 organizations had applied for some of the money, and the window for applications remained open. “Phase 2” funding will be allocated in May, although a specific date has not been identified.

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