April 23, 2021
By Susan M. Redford, TAC Executive Director
Ordinarily at this time of every odd-numbered year, we would all be mostly if not wholly focused on what is happening in the Texas Legislature. However, this spring, the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which President Joe Biden signed into law last month, now pulls part of our focus to the federal level. The ARP is historic in nature, as it provides an estimated $5.6 billion in direct aid for Texas counties — part of the $65.1 billion the act sets aside for all counties nationwide. Yes, you read this correctly; each county in Texas will receive funds directly from the federal government to assist with COVID-19 recovery efforts.
At this time, we are working closely with the National Association of Counties (NACo) to receive further guidance from the U.S. Treasury Department on how these funds can be used. Another looming question is how the expenditures will be tracked. While we wait for clarification, we are working to assemble as much information as we can to answer your questions. As a part of this effort, we have created an American Rescue Plan resource webpage on www.county.org that collects currently available information about the act, including allocation estimates for individual Texas counties.
We are keeping our eye on developments and will keep you to up to date as additional details about the American Rescue Plan are available. Once we have more details, we will be hosting a series of webinars and regional discussions. TAC is also working with the Texas Association of Regional Councils and the V.G. Young Institute for County Government in this effort. We are proud to partner with both entities and plan to assemble success stories for the use of these funds to share with legislators on the state and federal level — demonstrating why local government is a critical piece of the puzzle.
In Texas, the Legislature is closer than it ever has been to expanding broadband internet access after the House unanimously passed House Bill 5 on April 9, a week after the Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 5. A primary difference between the two bills is administrative: HB 5 would create a broadband development office within the comptroller's office and SB 5 would attach a similar office to the University of Texas System. The Texas Association of Counties remains optimistic that this much-needed infrastructure and support will come to fruition. We remain available to answer questions and discuss local needs and concerns as legislators work out the differences in conference.
Why is this so important? Texas is one of six states that does not have a statewide broadband plan. As the pandemic has made clear, broadband is not a luxury but a 21st century necessity. Better internet connections will enhance the delivery of county services and are critical to economic development, telemedicine delivery and public education.
Our cover story in the March-April issue of County magazine explores how Texas counties have become more reliant on broadband. I hope you'll take the time to read it.
The legislative session ends May 31. Our focus then will shift toward analyzing what happened and what it means for you. Our annual TAC Legislative Conference, set for Sept. 1-3 in Austin, is part of that effort.
Given the success of last year's virtual conference and in response to your feedback, I'm pleased to say that we've decided to turn this year's TAC Legislative Conference into a "hybrid" event. You'll have the option of joining us in person or online.
Check out our event calendar for more information about all our workshops, seminars and conferences. And continue to stay up to date with the latest at the Legislature by visiting www.county.org/legislative.
As always, stay 254 strong!