San Antonio – Under a plan to leverage federal Coronavirus Relief Fund money to help struggling San Antonio residents, 10,000 people could get workforce training and support, 10,000 families could get help with their rent or mortgage, and 1,000 businesses could get grants to help them keep operating.
The “COVID-19 Community Recovery and Resiliency Plan" city staff presented to council members on Thursday centers around four major areas, or “pillars":
- $80 million for workforce development
- $50.5 million for housing security
- $33.1 million for small business support
- $27.3 million for digital inclusion
The plan stems from council members’ directions on how they wanted to spend some of the $270 million in CRF money the city received from the federal CARES Act.
To Mayor Ron Nirenberg, the federal dollars offer an opportunity to do more than just patch up the economic damage from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If we’re doing our jobs right, we’re understanding a majority of people have been affected by this economic crisis and they’re teetering on the edge. They want action,” Nirenberg said.
Within the four areas are various strategies to help struggling residents, some of which would run through December, while others would run through September 2021.
Workforce development, in particular, holds a prominent role in the plan, as city leaders have said they expect some jobs to no longer be around after the pandemic finishes.
The $70 million set aside for workforce development training has a focus on high-demand jobs and includes $48 million worth of subsidies to help support residents as they complete training. An additional $10 million would provide child care services for 4,000 children as their parents pursue training or workforce opportunities.
The plan would also provide an additional $25 million to the city’s COVID-19 Emergency Housing Assistance Program, which helps families pay their rent, mortgage, and utilities.
Another strategy would provide grants worth between $10,000 and $75,000 to “micro businesses” with 20 or fewer employees. Artists and art organizations would also be able to get similar grants.
Other plan highlights included a strategy to transition up to 500 homeless people into hotels and then permanent housing in order to make more room in shelters, extending in-home Internet access to students in 50 neighborhoods to help with distance learning, and pumping more money into various domestic violence prevention and intervention programs.
Though CRF money and other federal grants would provide $96.2 million toward the total cost, the city would still have to kick in about $94.2 million between this fiscal year and the next.
While the city faces a $198.6 million hole in its current budget, staff say they have made changes to offset the expected revenue shortfall. And the city is also able to use $114.6 million of the CRF money on payroll expenses for employees who have been responding to the pandemic, such as firefighters and health workers, which frees up money for the city to use on the recovery and resiliency plan.
City Manager Erik Walsh, though, said the plan assumes the city balances its budget for fiscal 2021, which begins in October.
The CRF funds also have a Dec. 30 deadline by which they need to be used, whereas other federal grants and city money could be spent on programs past that point.
The city is using the rest of the CRF money for things like testing, contact tracing, personal protective equipment, and safety supplies.
Council discussion on Thursday included multiple comments about where money might be better allocated within the plan, but Nirenberg said he did not expect much to change before the council takes it up for a vote on June 4.