(TNS) — The San Antonio, Texas, City Council pushed through a $191 million stimulus plan Thursday aimed at stemming economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and taking a bite out of the city’s deep-seated poverty.
The plan puts millions of dollars from city funds and a slice of the $270 million that San Antonio received in federal coronavirus stimulus money into measures such as job training, housing assistance, aid to small businesses and ensuring that the city’s poorest households have access to the internet.
“This is a great glimpse of the future of the city of San Antonio,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said.
Council members adopted the package by a 10-1 vote at a marathon session Thursday. District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry, who has said most of the money should go toward helping small businesses, was the lone “no” vote.
Several residents and activists had pushed the council to delay the vote, citing a lack of public input in deciding where the money would go.
“You have given the people who are most directly suffering from this economic crisis zero meaningful opportunities to tell you what they need to recover and how you should allocate this funding,” said Michelle Tremillo, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project.
Noticeably absent from the package was any mention of public transit, residents who spoke at the council meeting noted.
Earlier in the week, Nirenberg abandoned a push to reroute $40 million in sales taxes that pays to protect land over the city’s primary source of clean drinking water, the Edwards Aquifer, to fund more bus service and other transit initiatives. Instead, that money will likely go toward some initiative to fund economic recovery efforts related to the pandemic, though it probably won’t go before voters this year.
“Don’t abandon public transportation,” said James Hamilton, who lives on the Southeast Side. “We need transportation for work.”
For years, city leaders have lamented San Antonio’s endemic poverty and “digital divide” but have done little to address the problems. But the pandemic made those issues impossible to ignore as lines at the San Antonio Food Bank doubled, the region’s unemployment soared and the city’s poorest students were sent home without a way to access the internet.
The package passed Thursday is more like a budget than a detailed breakdown of how each facet will work. In the coming weeks, council committees are expected to bang out a plan to execute each part of the proposal.
The council plugged $75 million into training programs for those who lost their jobs since the pandemic began. As of April, the unemployment rate for the San Antonio metro area stood at 13.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The city estimates that about 10,000 people would get some kind of new job training at a cost of $65 million — $48 million of which would help recipients cover household costs such as rent and groceries as they get job training or go back to school. An additional $10 million would pay for three months of child care assistance for parents in workforce training programs, covering about 4,000 children.
The plan also boosts funding for efforts to keep residents in their homes or set aside housing for the city’s homeless at a total cost of $50.5 million.
Of that, the city’s primary emergency housing assistance program — geared toward helping residents with rent and mortgage payments as well as household costs such as fuel, groceries and internet access — will get $25 million, bringing the total in that fund to $50 million.
An additional $9.2 million will go toward expanded housing options for San Antonio’s homeless, including a plan to house 500 homeless residents in a hotel to make room at the Haven for Hope shelter for an expected wave of newly homeless.
The plan puts $38.1 million toward relief for San Antonio’s small businesses, including $27 million in direct grants to those with no more than 20 employees. The council allocated $5 million of that for an on-the-job training program intended to help 1,000 people, Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger said.
Efforts to help close the city’s “digital divide” — meaning the number of households without broadband access — received $27.3 million. Nearly 2 of every 5 San Antonio households, concentrated on the West and South Sides, do not have internet access, according to a Federal Reserve study.
Most of that money will go toward expanding broadband in 50 neighborhoods by expanding municipal broadband infrastructure and fiber connections, beginning with neighborhoods in San Antonio ISD and Edgewood.
About $96 million of the funds to pay for the plan comes out of federal dollars — including the $270 million in federal stimulus money the city received out of the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. The rest comes out of city funds.
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