San Antonio City Council to decide on social, arts and business spending for $87M in federal COVID-19 recovery money
The plan to spend tens of millions of dollars in emergency aid from the American Rescue Plan Act is now in the hands of the San Antonio City Council.
In January, the city council approved a framework for using more than $326 million in APRA dollars — much of which had already been decided in previous council votes and administrative city decisions. Now $87 million remains. The city has a general idea of where it needs to be used but how is now up to the mayor and 10 members of city council.
The seven sectors it would benefit are nonprofit social services, arts, mental health, youth, small businesses, digital inclusion and seniors.
San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said part of choosing how to spend it is understanding the trauma of the last two years.
“COVID, racial reckoning, economic crisis, winter storms, there has been a lot on the minds, on the hearts of everyone in this community,” Nirenberg said. “Unless we give ourselves a grace to talk about it and to remove the stigma for doing so, we’re not even gonna be able to get to the next step of responding to it.”
The city has allocated $26 million for mental health, $30 million for small businesses, $10 million for youth, $6.9 million for digital inclusion, $5 million for arts, $5 million for seniors and $4 million for social services.
Each of the sectors has to target a problem that’s been made worse by COVID-19, according to the federal guidelines related to ARPA. Deputy City Manager María Villagómez said the council members will have to determine the impact COVID had in that sector and then create a potential program or idea in response to it.
“That’s how the plan is going to be developed, ensuring that we have equitable incomes for those individuals that were impacted,” she said.
Once the council decides what programs it wants to create or what existing ideas should be supported, nonprofits and other agencies can apply for the money to fill the gap that council members feel needs to be addressed.
Some of the initial ideas proposed include commercial rental assistance or funding for the hospitality industry, a reduction in isolation for senior citizens, support for youth aging out of the foster care system, immigration services assistance or suicide prevention.
Before coming back to a full council decision, the charge of lining out the potential programs will go to three council subcommittees: Community Health, Environment, and Culture (CHEC); Public Safety; and Economic and Workforce Development.
During a council meeting on Tuesday, members of the city council began laying out their priorities. District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval, who chairs the CHEC committee, said she was pleased to see immigration listed as a priority noting that the city doesn’t have an immigration category in its annual budgeting for delegate agency support.
“That’s why it’s so important that we consider this … and especially some of the small immigrant nonprofits,” she said. “We are not only a country of immigrants but also a big immigrant community in San Antonio.”
District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez, the chair of the economic development committee, said the need for all of San Antonio is far eclipsed by the financial resources provided and that not everyone may be happy with the council’s decisions.
“Our job is gonna have to pick winners and losers and there’s a lot of folks out there in the audience and, you know, other organizations are watching us streaming live right now, and some of you are gonna be really unhappy with our decision,” he said.
Public safety committee chair, District 6 Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda, said the pandemic had presented the city with opportunities to improve the city in areas that have been underfunded.
“It’s our big shot at transformational change,” she said. “We have to get this right. That means the process has to be fair, accessible and, of course, has to be accountable.”
The city has to tell the U.S. Department of the Treasury how it plans to spend the entire $320 million by 2024. It has until 2026 to use it.