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AUSTIN — Why give COVID relief money to struggling citizens you don’t know when you can give it to your friends?

That’s seemingly the reasoning of Austin’s local officials, as the all-Democrat Austin City Council took nearly $400,000 from the publicly funded COVID relief cash pool and handed it not to local small-business owners and citizens languishing under government-ordered shutdowns, but to a special interest group well connected with city hall.

Indeed, according to the City of Austin’s finance website, city officials since May have handed over $398,000 of taxpayer money to the Workers Defense Project, under the guise of “COVID-19 relief.”

The WDP, a controversial lobbyist organization that operates primarily in the construction industry, has close ties with city hall and local government. Current Austin City Councilman and self-proclaimed socialist Greg Casar was the former policy director for the organization, and recently elected Travis County District Attorney José Garza—also endorsed by the local Democratic Socialists—was the former executive director for the group.

WDP also co-ops with city hall on a recent operation called the “Better Builder Program,” where they require builders to complete their certain training and standards in exchange for having construction permit approval fast-tracked “from months to hours.”

The WDP was recently hit with an official U.S. Department of Labor complaint, filed by the Alliance for Economic Freedom, which argued the organization is illegally functioning as a labor union instead of a nonprofit.

Meanwhile, government officials’ shutdowns over the last several months forced at least 132,000 Austinites out of work, numerous iconic local businesses to permanently shut their doors, and a majority of local culture-defining live music venues to the brink of extinction—yet Austin officials during that time gave taxpayer relief money to the WDP.

“Why does everyone refuse to touch the blatant crimes by City Council!? How can COVID money go to Workers Defense Project / Union!?” wrote one citizen on Twitter.

Concerned citizens are encouraged to contact the Austin City Council, and Austinites who have stories of difficulties with city hall during the shutdowns can contact [email protected].