Bexar County and the City of San Antonio are both on track to spend the millions of federal coronavirus relief funds it received toward the beginning of the pandemic by the end of the year, but now the rules are set to change.

Bexar County was allocated $79.6 million while the City received $270 million in the first stimulus package passed by Congress in May. The money came with guidelines: Not only would it have to be used on coronavirus related expenditures, but it would also have to be fully spent by Dec. 30.

A new $900 billion stimulus package from Congress changes that deadline. The new package includes expanded unemployment benefits, small business assistance, rental assistance, and transportation industry relief. It also extends the spending deadline for federal coronavirus dollars from Dec. 30 of this year to Dec. 30, 2021. It does not provide more direct funding for state and local governments, however.

The new spending deadline puts less pressure on the state of Texas to finish distributing the $8 billion it received from the federal government for coronavirus relief. The state had $2 billion still unspent earlier this month, according to the Texas Tribune.

How the new deadline will affect the County’s federal coronavirus fund spending plan is unclear, spokeswoman Monica Ramos said Monday.

“We haven’t received any official notice yet,” she said. “We would have to receive notice from the Treasury Department officially as to what their guidelines would be.”

As of last week, Bexar County was on track to spend all $79.6 million it received from the federal government by Dec. 30, but not how it was first conceived. Bexar County commissioners approved a budget transfer of $36.96 million from federal coronavirus funding to general fund expenditures at their Dec. 15 meeting in order to make sure that money was used by the deadline. Those funds will now pay for law enforcement expenses, Assistant County Manager Tina Smith-Dean said. Because law enforcement personnel respond to COVID-19-related calls, federal coronavirus dollars can be used to pay for their salaries, Smith-Dean said. In fiscal year 2020, the County had budgeted a total of $70.75 million to pay for salaries and benefits of County law enforcement staff.

The County had not finalized its detailed federal coronavirus relief expenditure report by Monday. But David Marquez, executive director of the County’s Economic Development Department, gave county commissioners an update on spending progress on Dec. 15. The largest allocations of federal dollars went toward small businesses ($13 million), business and nonprofit support grants ($10.4 million), suburban cities ($9 million) within Bexar County, household stabilization and support ($8.8 million) such as rental and relocation assistance, County facility modifications for coronavirus response ($7.9 million), and tech and digital access ($7.5 million). 

While the County has fully spent budgeted dollars on some items – for example, the County has distributed all $4 million allocated toward temporary rental assistance – some funding simply wasn’t needed where it had originally been directed, Marquez said. There was still $4.6 million left intended to help Bexar County’s 26 suburban cities, as well as $2.4 million that was supposed to pay for election-related expenses. That money was redirected toward things such as coronavirus testing and restaurant and bar grants.

The rest of the County’s federal coronavirus dollars covered expenses including small business relief, rental and housing assistance, and free coronavirus testing at area schools.

The City of San Antonio still plans to forge ahead with its plan to finish spending the federal dollars by end of the year, spokeswoman Laura Mayes said Monday.

“The priority is to spend the funds because there are current needs,” Mayes said. “However, the flexibility is helpful in the event there are any funds left as we close out expenses.”

As of Nov. 30, the City had $19.3 million in federal coronavirus dollars left unspent, according to Ana Bradshaw, the City’s COVID-19 financial and performance liaison.

Determining the exact use of federal dollars in the City’s coronavirus response efforts is somewhat tricky as the City budgeted a total of $562.6 million by combining federal coronavirus relief funds, the general fund, the San Antonio Housing Trust, tax increment reinvestment zone (TIRZ) revenue, and other federal grants for its COVID-19 Recovery and Resiliency Plan. As of Nov. 30, the City had spent $322.4 million, with $251.4 million coming from the federal coronavirus relief funding pot. Find the financial report here.

Essentially all of the City’s emergency response expenses – which include payroll, protective equipment, and solid waste from emergency response – is being covered by federal coronavirus relief dollars, Bradshaw said. The City budgeted $172.8 million for that purpose and spent $162.5 million by the end of November. Another $14.2 million in federal coronavirus relief money was budgeted for Metro Health, $1.6 million for fire response, $10 million toward housing security, and another $35 million was allocated for emergency housing assistance, Bradshaw said. 

Bradshaw said the original Dec. 30 deadline made planning “definitely different” than the typical budget process.

“We received the funding notification [in May] but that automatically started the clock,” she said. “And so to be able to develop a plan, to be able to implement the plan, and make sure that on the back end that we’re doing those financial things to get the money out the door, it’s been a different process, but I think at the end of the day, the need was there, so it’s worked out OK.”

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.