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Bexar County commissioners voted Thursday to allocate $39.5 million of federal coronavirus funding to workforce retraining efforts.
That money made up half of the $79 million that the federal government gave to Bexar County under the national coronavirus relief package. The County received some direction on how to use that funding, but not very much, said Melissa Shannon, director of governmental relations.
“[The U.S.] Treasury isn’t answering phone calls, they’re not answering emails,” she said. “It’s been quite frustrating, but we will get there; I have confidence. I think we’ve gotten just about all the guidance we’re going to get from the treasury on the coronavirus relief fund.”
The funding cannot be used for lost revenue and must be spent by Dec. 31, Shannon said.
County commissioners will discuss more in detail how funding will be used in a work session next week, but approved Thursday a general distribution framework. $15.8 million of the county’s coronavirus relief funding will go toward household stabilization and support, $7.9 million toward addressing the digital divide and technology, $7.9 million for small business support, $5.4 million toward modifying county facilities for a post-coronavirus environment, and $2.4 million for elections.
Commissioner Tommy Calvert said he was concerned about what “workforce retraining efforts” would include for the community.
“At this time we have to be somewhat nimble,” he said. “It worries me – where will the jobs be? Who will hire? And … if we have restrictions where you can only have 25 percent in restaurants or hotels, that means for many … they can’t actually operate at all, because their break-even point was based on a 60 percent occupancy or 70 percent occupancy 80 percent occupancy of the restaurant or hotel. Those jobs don’t actually come back.”
Pinpointing workforce priorities would be critical, Calvert said.
“Too much money for job training on a job that doesn’t exist is not money well spent,” Calvert said.
Mike Phillips, a leader with community coalition COPS Metro Alliance, urged county commissioners to put “the lion’s share” of federal funding toward workforce training.
“COPS Metro is asking for up to 80 percent of County [coronavirus relief] funds to be spent on workforce-related programs,” he said. “The alternative is the community fault lines that existed before the pandemic will be even more sharply defined.”
David Marquez, who serves as executive director of the Bexar County Economic and Community Development Department, said he and his team would work with the private sector to find the best job and loan opportunities for people out of work. He cautioned that federal funding would not be a cure-all for the local economy.
“The need is much greater than the money we have,” he said. “That’s true for everything we heard today. We’re not able to depend on the federal government to subsidize many COVID-19 expenses.”
Commissioners will bolster the county’s rental assistance program with coronavirus relief funding, though money under “household stabilization and support” can also be used to help people with other things such as utilities and buying food, Marquez said. His department will present a detailed proposal on how to allocate funding for workforce-related training and household stabilization next week.
Commissioners voted Thursday to use $700,000 of its federal coronavirus relief funding to purchase personal protective equipment to give to small businesses with 25 employees or fewer in unincorporated Bexar County, similar to a measure taken by the City of San Antonio.
Commissioners also approved the use of extra funding from different federal departments. Money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Community Development Block Grant program will support the county’s temporary rental assistance program to the tune of $1.4 million. The Bureau of Justice Assistance allocated $137,462 from its Justice Assistance Grant program to purchase personal protective equipment for the sheriff’s office, while $696,854 from HUD Emergency Solutions Grant program will go toward addressing homelessness.
Commissioners will vote on exactly how to use coronavirus relief funding next week.