UPDATE 9/30/21: Texas A&M gave the following reply about who won their grant application. “We received an overwhelming number of applicants and decisions are still ongoing. A press release will be issued once all awards have been made.”
Texas A&M University recently appealed to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for permission to hide applications they received for a grant they’re helping manage, which is worth millions of federal tax dollars. The grant’s purpose is to push people to get a COVID-19 vaccine, and a citizen group encourages Texans to ask Paxton to have the records released.
On July 28, the Texas Dept. of State Health Services (DSHS) announced it would be giving away $10 million of federal taxpayers’ money to “local organizations working to promote COVID-19 vaccinations in Texas.” The funds cannot be used for injecting vaccines, only marketing them.
Those encouraged to apply were educational and government agencies, faith-based organizations, associations, community coalitions, and nonprofits. Priority would be given to parts of the state with a vaccination rate lower than 50 percent, as well as organizations targeting “communities of color, Texans with disabilities, and rural communities.” Those awarded these funds will receive up to $150,000 per project, and organizations can file multiple applications for different projects.
DSHS is working with Texas A&M University in managing the application process for “The Texas Vaccine Outreach and Education Grant,” which is funded using federal money.
On August 23, Texas Scorecard sent an open records request to Texas A&M asking for “all application materials” they received. Texas A&M asked if we would agree to redactions, and we said yes. The university then replied they were “withholding the requested information under section 552.104 of the Texas Government Code,” and Texas Scorecard received nothing.
On September 7, we sent another open records request asking for the same records, as well as all communications the university had regarding our original request. Texas A&M again asked if we would agree to redactions. We refused.
They then appealed to Paxton, arguing state law says they can keep some of the records hidden because releasing them would give an advantage to bidders. “We contend that the release of the requested records would interfere with the bidding process and harm the university’s ability to negotiate a final agreement with terms most favorable to the university,” they wrote.
Sarah J. Fields of Texas Freedom Coalition, “a grassroots Texas citizens lobbying group,” believes citizens have a right to the records regardless. Fields also believes that Paxton will agree with her stance.
“We believe the public has a compelling interest in knowing which institutions are applying for the Texas Vaccine Outreach and Education Grant Program and how the money will be used prior to it even being granted,” she told Texas Scorecard. “Texas A&M should be forthcoming, as the compelling interest of the public and its right to information certainly supersede the desire of Texas A&M to keep this information private.”
Fields believes citizens should contact Paxton and ask that the records be released.
There’s still the question of which organizations have won funding. Texas A&M’s appeal was dated September 22. The grant application deadline was August 20. The project timeline, listed as “subject to change,” said award agreements were to be finalized from August 30 to September 10. The “anticipated project implementation start date” was September 13.
Texas Scorecard asked Texas A&M University who the grant winners were. The answer was not provided before publication.