San Antonians say mental health, housing, and infrastructure among best ways to spend pandemic relief money

SA has $199.4M more in ARPA money to spend; council supportive of bonus pay for city workers who worked through pandemic

The City of San Antonio has $199 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to spend. But where that money goes is up for debate.

SAN ANTONIO – As the San Antonio City Council decides how to spend the remaining $199.4 million of unallocated money from the American Rescue Plan Act, community members have made their wishes known.

In a Thursday presentation to council members, city staff showed the results of the various surveys, town hall meetings, and meetings with the Small Business Advocacy Commission from the previous months. Housing, infrastructure, and economic development topped community members’ priorities for immediate spending, while they said mental health, housing, and quality child care were among their preferred long-term investments.

The SBAC listed priorities like access to capital, like grants or loans; capacity building through job training and financial literacy; and supporting the arts and tourism.

The city was allocated $326.9 million in ARPA dollars, of which it has received half already. It expects to get the other half in May 2022.

The city is allowed to use the 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.

The city has already set aside $97.5 million to help plug budget holes from revenue loss over three fiscal years. Council also set aside $30 million to help people behind on their power and water bills.

On Thursday, city staff recommended setting aside $35 million for the city’s COVID-19 response, $35.95 million for “immediate” community needs, and $128.45 million for “impactful investments.”

POSSIBLE BONUS FOR CITY WORKERS

City staff put forward two possibilities for “premium pay” for city workers, for which several council members had asked.

Depending on their annual income, the first plan would pay employees up to a $3,000 bonus if they worked on-site during the 12 months between March 2020 and March 2021.

That plan would cost $10 million and cover 5,920 eligible employees.

City Manager Erik Walsh, though, had staff run a second plan that would cover all employees -- 11,760 of them -- and pay up to $2,000, depending on their hire date and annual income. That plan would cost $14.3 million.

“But from my perspective, I think we ought to be treating everybody the same from an employee standpoint,” Walsh said.

While not all of the city employees would meet the ARPA guidelines for premium pay, which is meant for people who had to work in-person during the pandemic, city staff say they could justify it through the category of “revenue replacement.”

Some council members asked for a third option that would still cover all 11,760 employees but provide a relatively higher bonus for the 5,920 who had to come into work.

City staff noted that none of the other large Texas cities had chosen so far to use ARPA money for bonuses.

NEXT STEPS

City council still needs to approve the overall framework for spending the money. That’s expected to happen in a Feb. 3 vote after city council makes adjustments based on Thursday’s discussion.

After that, the council members will help determine what programs the ARPA money will fund through various subcommittees.


About the Authors:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.