San Antonio City Council allocated the last large batch of a federal coronavirus pandemic grant Thursday, approving a total of $36.4 million in contracts for programs that provide services for mental health, seniors, youth and other social services.
But $3.7 million — mostly in the mental health category — hasn’t been allocated yet, despite a flood of funding applications. The council sent that money back to its Governance Committee for further discussion on Feb. 15.
Agencies and elected officials are already eyeing that money. Council members Manny Pelaez (D8) and Phyllis Viagran (D3) advocated for sizable investment in domestic violence prevention and survivor services.
Citing a lack of that direct investment in the list of programs receiving money Thursday, and keeping a promise he made last week, Pelaez cast the lone vote against a vast majority of the funding package.
Ninety-seven agencies, mostly nonprofits, applied for funding; their proposals added up to $145.6 million — more than three times what was available. Ultimately, 59 agencies and 85 different programs were funded — most at levels lower than what the agencies requested.
The money will be dispersed over the next two years. Federal rules say pandemic relief funds must be allocated by Dec. 31, 2024, and spent by the end of 2026.
More than $19 million was allocated to programs supporting mental health, $9.6 million for youth, nearly $5 million for seniors and $2.5 million for nonprofit social services such as emergency financial assistance and food pantries.
A lengthy process
Several representatives from agencies who were not recommended for funding urged City Council to rethink its allocations. Those whose organizations received funding expressed frustration about the extended approval process, given the approach of the third anniversary of the pandemic in the U.S.
The city developed a framework for how to spend its American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money one year ago, but funding for these types of social services went through a lengthier committee process.
“Distribute these funds as soon as possible,” said Asia Ciaravino, president and CEO of the Children’s Shelter of San Antonio, which will receive nearly $1.8 million to enhance access to trauma treatment and supportive services for youth.
“Equity delayed is equity denied,” Ciaravino said, a phrase that was echoed by several other nonprofit representatives who had met together ahead of the council vote.
“Delaying the distribution of these funds will only harm the very people they’re intended to support,” said Nikisha Baker, president and CEO of SAMMinistries, which provides services for homeless people.
The city anticipates that more than 57,000 residents across the city will be served by the agencies receiving funding. Districts 2, 4 and 5 — which include some of the poorest parts of the city — will see the largest portion of residents served. There will be fewer residents served by these programs in Districts 8, 9 and 10, on the city’s more affluent North Side.
The largest recommended grant was $2.5 million for Bexar County’s Center for Health Care Services’ collaboration with Family Service of San Antonio, Rise Recovery and Clarity Child Guidance Center to expand mental health services for youth.
The city received nearly $327 million in ARPA funding in the wake of the pandemic. The first batch of funding largely went to rebalance the city’s annual budget and address emergency pandemic needs, including rental and mortgage assistance. The second portion, which included Thursday’s allocations, also went to support small businesses and artists.
In addition to the $3.7 million remaining from this round of allocations, Walsh said, “we will have leftover money in those [other] buckets and we’re probably talking about more than $3.7 million.”
City Council will receive an overview of ARPA spending overall on Feb. 8 and will let city staff know how it wants to spend the remaining funds, he said. The Governance Committee will then further refine how to proceed. The committee, chaired by the mayor, could decide to repeat the process and initiate another round of contract bidding.
A last-minute motion
Pelaez submitted but ultimately withdrew a motion that would have stripped $100,000 each from UTSA’s foster child housing program, UT Health San Antonio’s mental health clinic and Communities in Schools of San Antonio’s coaching and counseling services.
“Domestic violence and intimate partner violence is the common denominator, it is not a bucket,” Pelaez said. “It’s mental health, it is youth, it is seniors.”
His proposal would have then allocated $150,000 each to Childsafe, which provides child abuse prevention and treatment services, and For Her, which provides services for women including teen mothers, foster youth aging out of the system, LGBTQ individuals, migrants, women who fall below the poverty line, survivors of intimate partner and sexual violence, and formerly incarcerated women.
Childsafe had requested $2 million and For Her requested about $166,000, but did not receive funding.
That led to tense interactions between Pelaez and representatives from UTSA, Childsafe and other council members who wanted to respect the long, bureaucratic application and scoring process that each agency went through.
Kim Abernethy, ChildSafe president and CEO, said she appreciated the gesture, but also did not support Pelaez’s proposal.
“I don’t want to take money from somebody,” Abernethy told Pelaez. “I want to get some money some other way. But this is not the way to do it.”
The city has previously invested ARPA money on domestic violence services in previous funding rounds, specifically $16.4 million to sustain and expand existing programs, Councilwoman Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6) said.
“It’s a drop in the bucket when it comes to domestic violence,” she said, “But … I don’t think it’s equitable to handpick two organizations without getting the rest of these organizations a chance to [receive] these funds.”
Mayor Ron Nirenberg said there were a number of programs, including For Her, that he would have liked to have seen funded.
“Organizations like that, that I think deserve a second look — we are going to have that opportunity,” Nirenberg said. “That said, I don’t doubt that we’re going to be back here in maybe four weeks or so and we’re going to have the same conversation about disappointment that some organizations are not being funded because the list is long. … Unfortunately, in our community, there’s not enough resources to match the need.”