The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District proposed a budget on Tuesday that would include money needed to add a domestic violence division within the health department and increase access to healthy foods throughout the city. 

While the $76.3 million proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 is significantly higher than the more than $42 million reported by Metro Health in 2020, a large majority of that requested funding is coming from coronavirus relief funds provided by the federal government, said Interim Metro Health Director and Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger.

Metro Health’s proposed 2021 operating budget without coronavirus relief funds is $44.8 million, Bridger said.

The proposed budget increase would offset a $1.7 million reduction in federal grants for community-based health programs, but it would provide $8.9 million needed to create a domestic violence division within the health department, and $120,000 that would be used to expand the City’s Healthy Corner Stores initiative into City Council Districts 1, 2, 4, and 7. 

Additional funding will come from Síclovia, the bi-annual event organized by the YMCA of Greater San Antonio. The event, which closes most downtown streets and welcomes tens of thousands of people to exercise and play in them, will be downsized because of COVID-19 concerns and reintroduced as Nueva Síclovia, a neighborhood-based event that allows for people to follow social distancing guidelines and safety protocols. Much of the $95,000 typically provided to the YMCA to coordinate the event will be reallocated, Bridger said.

Metro Health’s budget also outlines an equity-based approach to San Antonio’s COVID-19 response in order to prioritize the most marginalized populations. 

Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2) said City officials heard requests from the community for this budget cycle to be evaluated with an equity-based approach and racism viewed as a public health crisis.

San Antonio, which was influenced by local community activists, joined several other cities throughout the U.S. who adopted resolutions to declare racism a public health crisis, Andrews-Sullivan said. “This is the first step of many steps that City Council will be taking to address this monster that is in the room.”

The City’s Health and Human Services Department budget proposal also listed equity as a focus, said Director Melody Woosley, and coronavirus relief funds would help expand programming and services for San Antonio’s most vulnerable populations. 

More than $9 million will go toward improving and increasing access to resources for the growing homeless population that continues to be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, Woosley said.

A $1.17 million increase in funding will bring the total number of homeless outreach teams to 11. These teams connect homeless people to basic human needs, including transportation and mental health care. That money also will expand the program’s reach to all 10 City Council Districts.

Another $500,000 will go toward creating and improving programs to rehabilitate those with mental health concerns, Woosley said. 

Council members will have the opportunity to ask additional questions and make suggestions at City Council B Session on Sept. 26. Budgets then will be given full Council consideration the following Thursday, Bridger said. 

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.