Community dollars help San Antonio residents affected by COVID-19 create post-pandemic work plan

About $7 million out of the $75 million for the program has been used so far

SAN ANTONIO – Laurie Luna is excited about starting the city’s three-month training program to become an administrative assistant. She just finished her GED at Restore Education and she’s already busy preparing for job interviews.

“So I’ve already been on my own, you know, just looking at job descriptions. You know what to expect because like I said, this is a whole new line of work for me,” she said.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, underlying health issues forced her out of her job.

“I struggled during the beginning of the pandemic, and I felt like I needed a change in career,” she explains. She started exploring her options at Restore Education and the COVID-19 Workforce Recovery Program she said was a godsend.

It’s a program funded by the city and CARES Act funds in partnership with Workforce Solutions Alamo, Alamo Colleges, Project Quest, Restore Education, Family Service, Chrysalis Ministries, and SA Works to train people left jobless by the pandemic and help transfer them into new careers.

Bexar County also has a similar program and applicants receive a stipend while they train.

“People can get paid to learn to improve their lives. Like why not do it?,” she said.

Alex Lopez, director of the City of San Antonio Economic Development Department, said 4,000 people expressed interest in the pilot program that started in the fall.

A total of 3,000 or so signed up, and about half of those are in training program. The other half, she said, are getting support to get started on the program, like getting their GED. Lopez said there’s been a high interest in long-term training certificates.

“All our partners are being very intentional about making sure we ultimately connect them not just to training but a career, that many of them are being forced to consider,” she said.

Given that this was a pilot program, there were a lot of hiccups early on when the program was launched, Lopez said. Digital access has also been an issue by some students, as has child care.

Many people have never been through formal interview processes, so case workers are helping them prepare for those. High interest also flooded the phones and staff early on. Some issues with paperwork and data processing were also worked through to improve information, Lopez explains.

Since there were so many agencies involved, “some streamlining would have been helpful for some participants at the end of the day,” she explains. All issues that are helping them build a better program in the upcoming Ready to Work program, which is a similar plan with similar goals, is funded through the voter-approved 1/8th cent sales tax.

Lopez said the goal is to ensure that people aren’t forced into a cookie cutter system, but that time is invested to make sure they make the best choice.

“It’s not just about putting as many people through this pipeline. It’s about truly understanding what the best opportunity is for that individual to take advantage of the program and that they make that meaningful shift,” Lopez said.

About $7 million out of the $75 million for the program has been used so far. More slots are available, and residents should call 311 to apply.

RELATED: Here are the acronyms and terms you need to know to get unemployment benefits in Texas

About the Authors:

Patty Santos joined the KSAT 12 News team in July 2017. She has a proven track record of reporting on hard-hitting news that affects the community.

Before starting KSAT in 2017, Lee was a photojournalist at KENS 5, where he won a Lone Star Emmy in 2014 for Best Weather Segment. In 2009 and 2010 Lee garnered first-place awards with the Texas Association of Broadcasters for Best Investigative Series in College Station, as well as winning first place for Staff Photojournalism in 2011 at KBTX.