The City of San Antonio received 2,762 applications from small businesses for a grant program designed to help them through the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Now it will be up to the City to decide how to allocate $27 million in federal relief funding.

The applications far exceeded the amount of grant money available, amounting to $107.7 million worth of requests, according to information presented by City staff to Council on Tuesday. Most of the applications came from downtown and Northside council districts. Nearly 52 percent of businesses operate in the service, retail, or food industry sectors.

Businesses in District 1, which includes downtown and the near North Side accounted for slightly more than 20 percent (568) of the applications the City received. Districts 8 and 9 on the North Side made up 13.8 percent (382) and District 10 made up 10.5 percent.

Although the bulk of the businesses applying came from parts of San Antonio with higher income, higher education attainment, and more resources, District 2 – which has some of the most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in the City – represented 10.2 percent of the applications, just slightly behind District 10.

“Clearly, there’s a disparity of applications depending on what district you’re in, but one of the foundational principles of our recovery and resiliency program is equity and making sure that the distribution of resources is done in an equitable manner, ” Mayor Nirenberg said.

Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4) expressed disappointment that her district had the fewest number of applications.

“District 4 is dead last,” she said, noting that the City’s door-to-door awareness efforts and engagement with businesses was paused for some time in July as coronavirus cases surged. Applications opened in mid-July.

In allocating the grants, City staff will be looking at the impact to the business’s revenue, size of the business, and equitable distribution geographically and by owner demographics, Nirenberg said. However, there’s no quota for grants based on council districts.

The City expects that the first grants will be awarded on Aug. 26 and the final grants by Sept. 30.

The City will score the applications based on the “equity matrix” that measures several factors, including the concentration of poverty and people of color, in the census tracts where the business is located, said Assistant City Manager Carlos Contreras. “It’ll also take into consideration ownership by gender and veteran status and whether those businesses have received prior funding [from state or federal sources].”

The businesses and nonprofits eligible for the grant must have 20 employees or fewer. In addition, the entities must have revenue or budgets less than $2 million and have suffered a revenue decrease or budget cut of 15 percent or more. Businesses who receive funding are required to develop and implement a recovery plan. Just over 37 percent of the businesses, or 1,029, have between one and five employees while 27.5 percent are self-employed or sole proprietors.

Nearly half (47.1 percent) of the businesses that applied are Hispanic-owned, while 13.4 percent of the owners are Asian, and 7.7 percent are Black. Percentages for other races/ethnicities were not immediately available, a City spokeswoman said. Nearly 44 percent are women-owned.

The presentation Tuesday was part of regular updates on programs associated with nearly $500 million in mostly federal funding dedicated to recovery.

Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) said he understands the need to distribute the small business grants equitably, but asked staff to show Council a map of where these grants end up. He called the grant program a more direct way to help business owners, in contrast to spending millions on the workforce development programs being put in place.

“This program will get people to work faster and quicker [than workforce development funding] … and give the direct access to employers to hire and train people,” he said. “I’m very disappointed that we’re putting a lot more of our eggs in the basket of long-term solutions [like workforce development] versus short-term solutions” such as grants.

The city’s recovery plan included $75 million for workforce development programs and Council will on Thursday vote on putting $150 million more towards that over the next four years on the November ballot.

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to reflect the accurate grant distribution period.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org