The City of San Antonio is introducing more than a dozen proposed programs to boost economic recovery during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The city’s Community Resiliency and Recovery plan focuses on four pillars: workforce development, housing security, small business support and digital inclusion. It’s funded through federal coronavirus relief efforts like the CARES Act and the city’s general fund.
The city council was briefed on the proposals Thursday, which still need to be formally approved next week. The introduction of the plan comes as the state continues staggered reopening of businesses as COVID-19 cases continue to climb.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the federal money used to fund this is not an insurance claim.
“A majority of people have been affected by this economic crisis and they’re teetering on the edge, they need action, they need relief, and these funds are certainly supposed to do that,” he said.
The plans are split with varying amounts of support:
- Workforce Development: $80 million
- Housing Security: $50.3 million
- Small Business Support: $33.1 million
- Digital Inclusion: $27.3 Million
Each pillar has its own initiatives. For instance, under Workforce Development the city plans to provide training services to benefit 10,000 people in high demand jobs that can withstand the pandemic. That is expected to cost about $70 million.
Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger says part of that would be providing support to people undergoing the training.
“They will receive a living subsidy so they have income coming in and can afford to pay their rent and buy their groceries,” Bridger said.
It also offers three months of temporary childcare support for families who can no longer afford it — that’s expected to assist about 4,000 children.
Under Housing Security, the city is proposing to provide rental and mortgage assistance, financial counseling services, leasing more than 300 rooms to provide shelter for people experiencing homelessness, and expanding its existing domestic violence prevention efforts.
Small Businesses Support would provide access to grants ranging from $10,000 to $75,000 based on the number of employees; about $2.6 million is dedicated to small businesses related to the arts.
Bridger noted the arts funding would be available to a sole proprietor artist or a non-profit arts organization.
Through proposed Digital Inclusion measures, the city would try to bridge the gap of internet access and boost the capacities of distance learning. There would be a focus on 50 neighborhoods. Twenty-four of those neighborhoods would be in the San Antonio Independent School District; eight are in Edgewood ISD; nine in Harlandale ISD, two in South San Antonio ISD, three in Southwest ISD; nine in Judson ISD, one in Northeast ISD, and three in Northside ISD.
The funding would be used to create fiber connections to students, giving them greater access to school resources.
Several council members praised the efforts being highlighted, and others wanted a deeper focus elsewhere. District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry said there was not enough emphasis on providing support to small businesses.
“There’s something fundamentally wrong in my eyes with this entire plan, we’re not focusing on getting this economy back on its feet, and stimulating those small businesses who hire the people that are struggling to pay their rents, food, gas and that kind of thing,” Perry said asking staff to reevaluate and pull more money into the small business portion.
The funding for the resiliency plan comes from two primary sources: the federal government’s coronavirus relief fund – that’s about $72 million and the city’s general fund, which is about $94 million. The rest is covered by several federal grants.
“Any city money you see dedicated to the resiliency and recovery plan all assumes that we’re going to balance our own budget using our own resources,” Walsh said.
The city itself is facing a massive budget crunch. It’s projected revenue loss from the COVID-19 crisis now stands at $198 million. The revenue decline stems from reduced sales and hotel tax revenue, lack of conventions, fewer airport trips, declining CPS Energy revenues and other areas.
Walsh said adjustments to this fiscal year’s budget — ending in October — have been made.
“I think that there’s still a lot of uncertainty, but I think it’s important to note that our budget this year is balanced. We made the cuts in our budget in order to stay balanced, I think we’re all going to keep an eye on fiscal year 2021,” said Walsh.
The city has offset some of this year’s budget crunch using the CARES Act and other grants like one targeted for airports. The city has also trimmed some of its budget by furloughing employees in multiple departments and suspending programs.
In total, the city received $270 million in coronavirus relief funds and could potentially get more depending on congressional action. The federal money can only be used for coronavirus response and can’t be used for other means like the tax revenue losses experienced by the city. What hasn’t been used for the resiliency plan is being used for response costs like payroll for first responders and testing
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