San Antonio City Council reviewed a $191 million proposal Thursday that would use some of the City’s federal coronavirus relief money to fund 14 new and existing programs aimed at helping residents and businesses withstand and recover from the economic impact of the pandemic.

The proposal is funded with $79.2 million from the $270 million federal coronavirus relief fund allocated to the City. Federal and local funding will be used for training and education programs for workers in the post-pandemic economy, housing assistance, grants for small businesses, and the expansion of internet access to assist distance learning. Meanwhile, the City is managing its way through a nearly $200 million revenue shortfall for this year.

“I think we’re all going to have to tighten our belt a little bit,”  City Manager Erik Walsh said during a City Council meeting Thursday.

City officials proposed spending $80 million for workforce development, $50.5 million for housing security, $33.1 million for small-business support, and nearly $27.3 million for digital inclusion.

Some Council members, including Rebecca Viagran (D3), John Courage (D9), and Clayton Perry (D10), suggested that the City should put more money towards small-business loans and grants.

“Our small businesses are the backbone of this community,” Perry said.

Council is slated to vote on the plan next Thursday. Click here to read a summary of the plan.

“We’ll probably see some tweaks,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg told reporters after the meeting. “There’s very strong consensus that these are the major pillars of a resiliency plan. … I think the [City] staff did a really good job of finding the sweet spot that I think addresses all our concerns.”

As proposed, the COVID-19 Community Recovery and Resiliency Plan allocates $27 million in grants for an estimated 1,000 businesses with 20 or fewer employees. The grants would range from $10,000 to $75,000. Of that money, $2.6 million would be set aside for private and nonprofit arts-related businesses.

The plan calls for $70 million dedicated to workforce training, focusing on high-demand jobs, and support services for 10,000 people as well as $10 million for temporary child care for working families – enough for an estimated 4,000 children.

The bulk of the housing security funding will go directly to about 10,000 residents, according to the plan. Nearly $28 million would be for rental and mortgage payment assistance and housing counseling to connect program participants with other resources. Another $4 million would go to the Family Independence Initiative that gives qualifying families cash for necessities.

Another $3.3 million in the housing bucket would expand domestic violence prevention and intervention programs.

Two virtual and brick-and-mortar hubs were proposed to serve as a one-stop shop that would coordinate the financial recovery resources for residents and businesses.

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The City plans to widen internet access for distance learners in phases by using existing municipal broadband fiber and establishing private networks for students.

Infrastructure costs associated with this initiative will be an estimated $4 million, network access and wireless mesh about $17 million, and physically connecting students at home with the right technology another $6 million, Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger said.

This graphic shows how the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund will be used in San Antonio.
This graphic shows how the federal coronavirus relief fund would be used in San Antonio (pending City Council approval). The Watch, Expand, Assure plan includes the City’s coronavirus testing and tracking initiatives. Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio

Federal money will be used to cover $114.6 million in payroll expenses as much of the City’s workforce has shifted its focus on combatting the virus, $54.5 million for testing and contact tracing, and nearly $21 million in protective equipment and sanitation supplies.

Because the federal funds must be spent before the end of this year, the housing security and small-business elements of the recovery plan are largely funded with that money. Workforce development and digital inclusion are longer-term issues that will continue to need funding into 2021, Walsh said.

“[We’ll be] monitoring whether or not we’re hitting our outcomes so that we don’t find ourselves in October or November and there’s still a fair amount of [federal] money there,” he told Council.

The City will use more than $94 million from its general fund budget, which was previously budgeted for health and public safety payroll, to cover most of the workforce development and all of the digital inclusion elements of the plan.

“[The federal coronavirus relief fund] allows us to recover some of our payroll expenses that are substantially dedicated to respond” to the pandemic, Deputy City Manager María Villagómez told reporters after the meeting. That includes first responders, health department employees, and others.

This table shows how the COVID-19 Community Recovery and Resiliency Plan would be funded (pending City Council approval).
This table shows how the COVID-19 Community Recovery and Resiliency Plan would be funded (pending City Council approval). Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio

City revenues – through sales taxes, hotel occupancy taxes, and other fees – will take an estimated $198.6 million hit this fiscal year. To combat that shortfall, Walsh paused $82 million in street maintenance and other spending, implemented a hiring freeze, furloughed 270 employees, and ceased arts contracts.

Cuts will likely extend into next year, but Walsh said it was too early to guess what that budget will look like. “We have a lot of reconciliation to do.”

For the first time, the City will produce a trial budget that will be presented to City Council on June 18. It will give Council an overview of possible cuts, service adjustments, and estimated revenue, he said. Council will then provide input on that budget during a work session scheduled for late June.

“That way they’re seeing what a balanced budget looks like,” he said. “We’re really kinda moving it up sooner so that we can get real input on the reality of our financial conditions.”

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com