Community groups eager for shot at federal recovery dollars

Details for funding youth, mental health, small business and more still being worked out

SAN ANTONIO – The $326.9 million from the American Rescue Plan Act has hit the city’s financial books, but it hasn’t yet made its way to the dozens of community organizations eagerly waiting for a piece of the singular financial windfall.

The San Antonio city council is still determining how to spend $87.8 million designated for areas like arts, seniors, digital inclusion, mental health, and small business. Though the council has separated the money among the different buckets, several council subcommittees are tasked with deciding how exactly to dole it out.

They are expected to finish that work by fall 2022, though the spending plans for the different areas will be put forward as they finish.

“It’s our big shot at transformational change. We have to get this right,” District 6 Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda said at a Tuesday council meeting.

In the meantime, there’s a clear appetite from community groups to get a slice of the pie. The city has received more than $345 million worth of funding requests, though it hasn’t solicited applications.

Requests for Morgan’s Wonderland, Texas Biomedical Research Institute, and an early childcare facility have been funded, but most were not as city officials decide what the best use of the money will be.

As council members discussed their priorities on Tuesday ahead of the committees taking over, supporters of various organizations filled the audience to watch

A group in purple tee-shirts showed their silent support for the East Side-based non-profit SAGE - or “San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside,” which is focused on growing the area’s economy, specifically for small business.

SAGE has not submitted any proposals yet, but President and CEO Robert Melvin said it planned to try for several of the funding buckets.

“I was impatient before ARPA was even a thing. I was impatient when COVID - before COVID,” Melvin said. “Our communities are so far behind that there is no time to wait, think and come up with another plan, another study.”

The city was allocated nearly $327 million for fiscal recovery from ARPA, which President Biden signed into law in March 2021, and received half of it in May 2021. It expects to receive the second half this May.

Council members have already agreed to spend $97.5 million on covering budget shortfalls and cover what the city called “immediate community needs,” and put $30 million toward helping pay off residents’ overdue utility bills.

They voted in February on how to spend the remaining $199.4 million, along with $13.3 million left over from the Recovery and Resiliency Program. The resulting $212.5 “spending framework” included money for infrastructure, emergency housing, and responding to future COVID-19 outbreaks.

City staff's proposal for spending the $199.4 million in ARPA funds and $13.1 million in leftover money from the city's Recovery and Resiliency plan. Council passed a similar version with $1.5 million taken from digital access and $2.5 million from the small business and non-profit section to create a new, $4 million bucket of money specifically for social service non-profits.

It also included the $87.8 million worth of spending that will be discussed in three council committees: Community Health, Environment and Culture; Economic and Workforce Development; and Public Safety.

Three city council committees will discuss how exactly to use $87.8 million allocated for seven different areas. The goal is to finish their plans by fall. (City of San Antonio)

Jon Hinojosa, president of the arts organization SAY Sí and a member of the Culture and Arts United for San Antonio (CAUSA) steering committee, was also in the audience Tuesday.

CAUSA, which is made up of local arts organizations, wants the city to split the $5 million set aside for art into $4 million for arts agencies and $1 million for individual artists, he said, and hopes the city does it quickly, rather than over multiple years.

“It’s called the American Recovery Act,” Hinojosa said. “It’s about recovery. It’s not for the future. It’s about recovering from this last two years of our pandemic. As we move to a post-pandemic world, these agencies and organizations need these monies and dollars now.”

City officials also pointed out that Bexar County received its own, even larger, allocation of recovery dollars through ARPA, which can be used for similar purposes.

And though staff said the city is not yet looking for applications to get a chunk of the ARPA money, they urged interested groups to stay engaged in the process.

Melvin said his group certainly plans to do that.

We are going to be involved in this process until it’s completed, until those funds have been dispersed,” he said.

About the Authors

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.

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