SAN ANTONIO – The City of San Antonio will host a series of community meetings to get public input on how it should spend $229.4 million in federal dollars it is receiving through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
During a city council briefing on the subject Wednesday, council members had various ideas of their own, ranging from support for small businesses, money for street maintenance, helping children in foster care and paying extra money to city employees who had to work through the pandemic.
There are few hard plans for the federal money at the moment, though, as city staff recommended first hosting meetings to get community input on priorities for the money.
Under that timeline, the community input and staff recommendations would then go to the council for further discussion in December, and council members would consider a final plan in January.
City staff had originally planned for eight community input meetings beginning next week and running through mid-November. However, some council members asked for another meeting on a weekend, which staff said they would work on organizing.
So the final, nine-meeting schedule is still to be determined.
In all, San Antonio will receive $465.5 million from ARPA through various programs. The vast majority of it, though, will be the $326.9 million meant for fiscal recovery, of which it has already received half. The other half will arrive by May 2022.
The city is allowed to use the fiscal recovery money for a variety purposes, including: making up for budget short falls; paying for the public health response to the pandemic; premium pay for essential workers; and water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure work.
As the city council has already decided to use $97.5 million of it to help make up for lost revenue in the 2021, 2022, and 2023 fiscal years, that leaves $229.4 million it still needs to decide how to use.
The money has to be allocated by December 2024 and spent by December 2026.
City staff has already recommended the city set aside another $50 million of the money to cover the response costs of a “worst case” COVID-19 response scenario, which assumes two additional spikes in cases. Of that, $10 million would be for unforeseen contingencies.
The rest of the money, city staff have suggested be split between community needs - things like utility assistance, arts, and small business - and what they called “impactful investments” in areas like mental health, domestic violence, homelessness, and infrastructure.
City staff say they have not solicited outside agencies or nonprofits for ideas on how to spend the money, but some have submitted suggestions anyways.
Numerous council members suggested extra pay for city employees who had to keep working through the pandemic.
While he didn’t say so during the council conversation, City Manager Erik Walsh had told reporters he was against using one-time federal dollars to pay city employees and that the city needed to pay for any raises on its own, as it had in the budget.
“It doesn’t make a lot of financial sense to me to use federal money that was intended to recover communities and provide financial stability to to use just on our employees. That was not the intention,” Walsh said.
According to city staff’s presentation on Wednesday, there’s another $1.4 billion in fiscal recovery funds in the Bexar County area, between schools, the county, other cities, and VIA Metropolitan Transit.
As the city makes plans to use its share of the ARPA money, staff said it’s important to leverage any partnerships to make sure the city maximizes its funds.
Apart from the fiscal recovery dollars, the city is also receiving through ARPA:
- $49.7 million for rental assistance
- $20 million for HOME Investment Partnership Program Grant
- $38.3 million for the airport
- $26.6 million for health disparities
- $4 million for Head Start
City Council has already allowed for the rental assistance money to be put towards the city’s Emergency Housing Assistance Program (EHAP), which is expected to last until December.
The city staff is also recommending the HOME grant be used to purchase a hotel and operate it for two years as well as for rapid rehousing of domestic violence victims.
The city has also previously received money through the CARES Act, which it put toward small business grants, rent assistance, buying PPE, and meeting city payroll, among other things.
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