By Texas State Senator Robert S. Nichols, Senate District 3
Things are picking up at the Capitol this week. Senate Finance has begun hearing testimony about the budget and Senate Redistricting is continuing to hear testimony from across the state about the redistricting process. We have a few weeks before the bill filing deadline on March 12, but we are certainly busy.
Here are five things happening around your state:
- Senate Finance Committee hearings begin
This month the Senate Finance committee began meeting to discuss the budget for the next biennium. Though this work is long and takes several weeks, it is one of the most important processes we engage in as a legislative body. The fifteen-member committee hears from every state agency about their budget requests and priorities. The committee has the opportunity to ask questions of the agency and the Legislative Budget Board, or LBB.
LBB puts together detailed information about state agencies and their budgets to give members a complete picture of the state’s financial situation. The budget is organized into eleven articles. Each article pertains to a different subject matter, like Business and Economic Development, Education, and Public Safety. Our responsibility is to find greater efficiencies in our state budget, ensuring we get the most out of every state dollar.
- TDHCA Emergency Rental Assistance fund to start accepting applications Feb. 15
The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs has launched the Texas Rent Relief program. This is a statewide rent and utility assistance program for qualifying households. The program can help renters with up to 11 months of past due, current, and up to 3 months of expected rent costs, utility and home energy expenses, and up to 3 months of additional assistance if funds are still available. The state received $1.3 billion from the federal government in the latest COVID-19 relief bill for this program.
TDHCA will begin accepting applications for the program on February 15. To qualify, households must be at or below 80% of the area median income as well as meet other qualifications found online. TDHCA will prioritize applications for households at or below 50 percent of area median income level where one or more members are currently unemployed and have been for at least 90 days. Landlords are encouraged to apply on behalf of tenants, who must co-sign the application. Please go online to TexasRentRelief.com for more information. To apply, starting February 15 you can visit that website or call 1-833-9TX-RENT Monday – Friday, 8am – 6 pm.
- Texans can use Google Search function to find COVID-19 vaccine information
Texas is one of the first states in the nation to have COVID-19 vaccine sites updated on both Google Search and Google Maps. Last week, Google launched the program. The platform has been populated with validated information from the Texas Department of State Health Services, major national grocery chains, and pharmacies. It is an easy way to find vaccine locations near you along with appointment requirements, hours, locations, and contact information.
- Texas to receive more than 400k doses of vaccine this week
The state of Texas will receive over 400,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from the federal government this week. Those doses will be shipped to 358 providers in 135 counties across the state. Of those providers, 85 are hub providers that focus on broader community vaccination efforts, including the hardest hit populations and areas.
The other 273 providers will receive doses that focus on those that serve older adults, like health departments, pharmacies, health centers, community and rural clinics, and medical practices that specialize in care for older adults. The Department of State Health Services is encouraging providers to prioritize people 75 and older who are at the highest risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19. Importantly, this does not change or restrict groups already eligible for vaccination.
- Walmart to start COVID-19 vaccination in Texas, 21 other states
Last week, Walmart announced that Walmart and Sam’s Club pharmacies will start a vaccination program in Texas and 21 other states. More than 1,000 locations across those states will receive vaccine allocations from the federal government. There will be an emphasis on locations that reach customers in underserved communities with limited access to health care. The vaccine supply is still limited and will vary by location. You can schedule a vaccine appointment directly through the Walmart and Sam’s Club websites. A Sam’s Club membership is not required to make an appointment. There are several locations in East Texas. For a list of locations and more information on how to sign up, visit https://corporate.walmart.com/covid-vaccine.