Despite flood of applications, San Antonio leaves 15% of ARPA money for mental health on the table

Council approved $36.4M in awards for mental health, youth, seniors, and non-profits; an additional $3.7M - most of it for mental health - was not awarded

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio City Council awarded $36.4 million in federal pandemic relief money Thursday for mental health, youth, seniors and assisting nonprofits

But despite another $109 million worth of unfunded requests, the city left another $3.7 million on the table, planning to divvy it up at a later date instead.

Most of the leftover money, $3.4 million, came from the budge for mental health programs, which works out to 15% of the budgeted amount.

Thursday’s vote was the latest stage of the city’s ongoing use of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money, for which the city council approved a spending framework in February 2022.

City staff reported there were $145.6 million worth of requests, vying for a little less than $40.2 million budgeted over four different areas:

  • $22.75M - Mental Health
  • $9.9M - Youth
  • $5M - Seniors
  • $2.5M - Non-Profit Social Services

However, city staff only recommended awarding $36.4 million of that money. That left $3.7 million on the table, despite another $109.2 million worth of requests.

  • $19.3M - Mental Health ($3,436,244 not awarded)
  • $9.7M - Youth ($240,836 not awarded)
  • $4.9M - Seniors ($72,661 not awarded)
  • $2.5M - Non-Profit Social Services (full amount awarded)

According to city staff, 38 different agencies with $69.8 million worth of requests didn’t receive any funding. Even the 59 agencies that were awarded funds didn’t always get their full requests, which accounts for the other $39.4 million of unfunded requests.

Staff say the $40.2 million had been set aside for specific purposes within the four categories. The agencies that missed out on the money typically scored too low to get any money or there wasn’t enough left in that category.

A smaller number had proposals that staff say didn’t fit within the scope of what the city wanted.

“It’s not about good or bad, but there were some proposals that didn’t address what we had asked them to address,” said Jessie Higgins, the chief mental health officer for the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District.

The funds that weren’t awarded will be kicked back to city council committees, which will decide how to spend them.

“I don’t doubt that we’re going to be back here in maybe four weeks or so, and we’re going to have the same conversation about disappointment that some organizations are not being funded because the list is long,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg.


That disappointment over who got funded or didn’t was behind a failed attempt by District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez’s to shuffle the funding recommendations from the dais.

Pelaez proposed taking $100,000 each away from what UT Health San Antonio, UTSA, and Communities in Schools of San Antonio were slated to receive and split the money between two agencies dealing with domestic violence — For Her and ChildSafe.

The North Side councilman called UT Health San Antonio and UTSA “multi-billion dollar organizations” and said the $133.5 million donation Communities in Schools had received from billionaire philanthropist Mackenzie Scott made it “maybe the third-wealthiest of all the organizations are applying.”

However, ChildSafe’s president and CEO said she didn’t want to take money from anyone else, and Pelaez’s fellow council members shot down the idea.

District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez called it in “poor taste,” and District 1 Councilman Mario Bravo said it “doesn’t feel sincere.”

“We’re here talking about equity, and that’s not equitable to essentially, you know, ignore the other applicants who did not receive that funding and then select a couple,” said District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo.

Pelaez also asked whether UT Health San Antonio and UTSA would voluntarily give up $75,000 from each of their awards so it could be given to For Her, but representatives from both UTSA and UT Health San Antonio indicated they didn’t have authority to commit to that.

Although Pelaez ended up withdrawing his motion, he ended up as the lone dissenting vote on the majority of the awards.

He did, however, vote in favor of grants to Older Adults Technology Services and Communities in Schools, which were subject to separate votes because of other council members needing to recuse themselves.

He recused himself for a vote specifically on an award to Child Advocates San Antonio (CASA).

About the Authors

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Recommended Videos