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A North Texas county announced plans this week for distributing millions in taxpayer money from a federal relief program to directly help local families harmed by the Chinese coronavirus and related government-ordered business closures.

On Monday, the Collin County Commissioners Court adopted the Collin CARES plan, which the county will use to provide direct financial assistance to individuals for housing, utilities, and groceries, as well as funding for coronavirus testing, personal protective equipment, and cities’ virus-related costs and recovery efforts.

Collin County received more than $171 million in federal aid as part of Congress’ $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Much of the stimulus cash is being sent directly to state and local governments with few strings attached.

“Our first and foremost goal is to make sure these tax dollars that ultimately came out of our community and now are back in our community are used to help any family who has been adversely impacted because of COVID and from job losses associated with that,” County Judge Chris Hill said Wednesday in a conversation with Collin County Republican Party Chairman Mark Reid.

Hill said county officials have been very careful in determining the best way to utilize the money, which he noted is almost as much as the county’s annual budget.

“It quickly becomes a burden when you realize this is just more debt on top of the $20 trillion in [national] debt we already have,” Hill said, “and we’re not entirely sure what’s allowed.”

The money must be used to help individuals and governments recover “necessary expenditures incurred due to the public health emergency” from March 1 through the end of the year. It can’t be spent on items already included in the county’s budget.

Commissioners identified several needs in the community that fit the relief fund’s guidelines, Hill said.

The Collin CARES program will provide:

  • $3 million for COVID-19 testing for uninsured individuals
  • $5 million for personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • $45 million for housing (rent and mortgage), utilities, and food assistance
  • $5 million to help restock local food pantries
  • $50 million to cities for COVID-19 costs and recovery efforts
  • $40 million for county COVID-19 costs

Each qualifying household can receive as much as $2,500 in monthly financial assistance for up to four months.

Commissioners reserved $23 million for future costs and are working to expand testing options.

Hill said the first Collin CARES payment has already been made, to the city of Richardson.

A total of $11 billion in federal CARES Act money came to Texas to help with COVID recovery efforts as part of the stimulus bill’s $150 billion Coronavirus Relief Fund.

Cities and counties with 500,000 or more residents received cash directly from the U.S. Treasury. In the metroplex, Collin County received $171 million, Dallas County $240 million, Denton County $148 million, and Tarrant County $210 million. The cities of Dallas and Fort Worth also got direct cash payments of $234 million and $159 million, respectively.

Smaller Texas counties and cities are receiving their allocated cash and reimbursements from the state. Other government agencies will get federal tax dollars through additional aid programs.

As in Collin County, local government officials across the state are in the process of looking for ways to spend their coronavirus cash windfalls.

Additional details about the Collin CARES program will be shared on the county’s website.