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This is how Harris County will be distributing its $30 million COVID-19 relief fund

HOUSTON – The public application period for Harris County’s $30 million COVID-19 relief fund started Tuesday and much like the Powerball and the NBA Draft, recipients will be chosen by lottery.

“Hopefully somebody will be able to help me,” said Amanda Ward, a resident who is struggling to pay her bills while battling stage-one cervical cancer. “With that money, I would pay my rent again, I would get my water bill under control, my light bill under control.”

Phase One

The relief money is being distributed in two, $15 million phases. The first phase, launched in May, identified 44 nonprofits that would distribute funds to their established clients and others that applied for it. One of those nonprofits, Jewish Family Services, has already processed nearly 200 applications.

“We’re very lucky to be granted $1 million to be able to serve about 700 clients in the Harris County area,” said Morgan Zeringue with JFS. “The volume of calls already has been very high over the last week, so we’ve set up multiple lines to respond.”

Phase Two

The second phase, during which the other $15 million will be distributed to the public, continues through Wednesday night. People must meet certain income requirements to be eligible and can apply either online or via phone.

“It’s unprecedented but we’re doing it,” said Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia. “It may not be a Rembrandt at the end of the day but I think the people who will be helped from it will be people who we can accept as people needing the help.”

Garcia, who is a key architect of the relief fund, understands that with more than 277,000 county residents filing for unemployment since March, and only 20,000 checks available through this fund, it’s a numbers game.

“We know we’re not going to be able to do it for everybody,” he said.

“The best we can do is to make sure that the funds are awarded fairly,” said Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo.

But those in more dire financial situations will have an advantage.

“Those who are more vulnerable will be prioritized, they will have more entries in the randomized drawing,” she said.

Challenges post-Harvey

The county’s COVID-19 relief fund comes at a time when memories of the Harvey relief fund still linger. In March, the Texas General Land Office, unhappy with the recovery progress, came to an agreement with the county on the rebuilding of single-family homes.

The state was not satisfied with the recovery progress.

“Considering what we saw during Harvey,” said Garcia, “there are many people out there that are still struggling and they are saying how is the county truly looking out for me if I’m still not even made whole from Harvey.”