Congolese migrants walk from Travis Park Church to the Resource Center.
Congolese migrants walk from Travis Park Church to the Migrant Resource Center on the morning of June 6. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The City of San Antonio will receive $280,200 from the federal government as reimbursement for migrant aid-related expenses, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Laredo) said Thursday. 

The reimbursement funding came from a $30 million measure that was included in an emergency funding package. The $30 million was divided into $25 million for governments and organizations in the border states, and $5 million for the rest of the country. The Emergency Food and Shelter National Board Program, an arm of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), processed applications for migrant aid-related reimbursement.

Of the $30 million appropriated, $7.8 million has been awarded, and that amount may increase, according to a new release Friday from Cuellar’s office. A second round of applications for reimbursement as well as a review process for previous applications could result in additional reimbursement, the news release said.

Catholic Charities, Archdiocese of San Antonio was allocated $361,000, the largest sum of all local organizations that applied for federal reimbursement. The San Antonio Food Bank will get $62,500, while United Way of San Antonio will get $12,900. The City and other organizations were informed of their reimbursement by Cuellar’s office on Thursday.

Cuellar thanked staff and leaders from the City, United Way, Catholic Charities, and the food bank for providing assistance to asylum seekers that passed through San Antonio after crossing the United States-Mexico border. As of last Thursday, the City of San Antonio had served more than 32,000 migrants since March.

“The surge of migrants strained our cities and nonprofits to the breaking point, so securing this reimbursement funding was at the top of my priority list,” Cuellar said in a news release Thursday.

The federal dollars went toward expenses incurred between Jan. 1 and June 30. San Antonio Food Bank President and CEO Eric Cooper said the food bank had applied for around $150,000 in reimbursement funds, but any financial support is helpful.

“Every dollar counts,” he said. “We’re just very grateful and hope that there might be some additional support coming.”

Cooper estimated that the food bank had provided around 50,000 meals to asylum seekers from March to the end of June, and that it had provided another 50,000 cumulatively in July, August, and September. The influx of migrants crossing the southern border seems to have slowed, he said.

“Currently, we’re not seeing a lot of traffic,” Cooper said. “I don’t know that any of us know what the future holds. But I think we’re prepared to continue to work to meet those needs along with the needs of residents that are struggling.”

Melody Woosley, director of the City’s human services department, confirmed that the flow of asylum seekers has significantly decreased in recent weeks.

“We’re monitoring that to understand whether it’s seasonal,” she said. “It’s pretty normal for … the trend in [asylum seeker] population to go down during the hot months of the summer and hurricane season. We’re monitoring to see if it’s a result of that or of policy, but right now, it’s gone down quite a bit.”

Woosley said the City had originally requested $540,544 in reimbursement, which covered the City’s expenses with the Migrant Resource Center. The City has been running its Migrant Resource Center since March, providing a central location for volunteers to help migrants move to their next destination, have access to legal counsel, and a place to rest during the day. City Council also allocated $141,000 in May from its emergency fund to help with migrant-related costs.

City Manager Erik Walsh thanked Cuellar, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), and the rest of San Antonio’s delegation in Washington, D.C. for working on bringing federal dollars back to communities who needed the money.

“We will continue to work with our delegation to ensure that the remaining expenses are reimbursed and that San Antonio taxpayers are made whole,” Walsh said in a statement.

San Antonio will continue pursuing full reimbursement from the federal government in the second round of funding, Woosley said. She said she is not aware of any changes in the application process or eligibility requirements in the second round, which will cover costs incurred through the end of the fiscal year between July 1 and Sept. 30. She also didn’t know what specific expenses were covered in this round of funding.

“We haven’t received anything in writing [from FEMA] saying, ‘Here’s what you asked for and here’s what you got and here’s why,’” she said. 

Between March and July, the City, Travis Park Church, Catholic Charities, and San Antonio Food Bank spent more than $1.3 million assisting asylum seekers, according to a document provided by the City. The City originally planned to file a single application for costs incurred by all partnering nonprofit organizations but were instructed to submit separate applications instead.

More than 22,000 asylum seekers had spent the night at Travis Park Church between March 30 and Oct. 3. The church did not apply for federal reimbursement as it was contracted for its services, Woosley said.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.