The City of San Antonio expects to receive $326 million in federal coronavirus recovery funds from the American Rescue Plan, a $1.9 trillion stimulus package that President Joe Biden signed in March.

Those funds can be used to offset the City’s pandemic-related revenue loss, which is an estimated $247.5 million over the course of fiscal years 2020 and 2021, Deputy City Manager María Villagómez told City Council members Thursday.

Villagómez addressed the council in chambers, where they met for the first time since late 2020. After shifting meetings online in August, City Council briefly resumed in-person meetings last fall but went back to virtual meetings in November. Council members Roberto Treviño (D1), Melissa Cabello Havrda (D6), and Manny Pelaez (D8) attended remotely.

Though the U.S. Treasury has not yet given detailed guidelines on how the federal funding can be used, the bill laid out broad applicable categories, said Ana Bradshaw, the city official responsible for overseeing coronavirus relief funds. Those categories include making up for local governments’ lost revenue; coronavirus expenditures; assistance to small businesses, households, and hard-hit agencies; investments in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure; and support for essential workers.

The funding from this stimulus bill expires in December 2024, giving the City more flexibility than it had in spending previous federal relief dollars. It also allows San Antonio to allocate resources more broadly, as previous relief money only applied to coronavirus-related expenses such as vaccination efforts and small business grants

To leverage the funding most efficiently, San Antonio should focus on rebuilding its financial stability and avoid creating new programs that require ongoing payments, Bradshaw said.

San Antonio also should spread out the spending of these federal recovery dollars as much as possible, Bradshaw said. She added that credit agencies would be examining how the City used its federal funding in the future.

“This is an opportunity to be really thoughtful in how we use these funds,” she said. 

The City’s estimated revenue loss of $247.5 million comes from projected losses in the general fund, the Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) fund, and other restricted funds including the City’s parking fund and municipal court fines and fees, Bradshaw said. It does not include the San Antonio International Airport’s revenue loss, which was estimated at $179.1 million. There is separate funding from the American Rescue Plan expected to be allocated for the airport.

The City also expects to receive assistance from other funding streams outlined in the American Rescue Plan that dedicate resources to issues such as transportation, public safety, and homelessness, Bradshaw said. 

“Some of that funding will come to the City,” Bradshaw said. “We anticipate the emergency rental assistance will come straight to the City, just like it did in the December stimulus, but we know some of it will go to the County, partner agencies, to VIA [Metropolitan Transit]. We’re really trying to understand the full extent of it and where it will be going.”

Bexar County expects to receive $388 million in federal coronavirus recovery dollars from the most recent stimulus bill. 

As City staff members prepare recommendations on how to use the federal funding, they plan on engaging the community in some way, City Manager Erik Walsh said.

“That could be through partners, [we could] target sectors of the community that have been impacted,” Walsh said. “But beyond initial conversations we’ve done no planning. We just wanted to put it on your radar this morning.”

City Manager Erik Walsh speaks during a City Council special meeting on Thursday. The council convened in person for the first time since November when they suspended in-person meetings as Covid-19 cases spiked.
City Manager Erik Walsh speaks during a City Council special meeting on Thursday. The council convened in person for the first time since November. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

The first portion of the federal funding is expected to arrive by mid-May, Bradshaw said, as the American Rescue Plan directed funding to be distributed within 60 days of its signing. Officials are waiting for more guidance, however. 

The next portion is expected in May 2022, Bradshaw said.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg said he was thankful to have resources so the City government does not suffer a “generational economic impact as a result of the pandemic.”

“This gives us an opportunity now to change the trajectory of our economy for the better in a more equitable and resilient manner,” Nirenberg said. “That’s an opportunity provided by the [federal] recovery plan that every city can now harness.”

Meanwhile, Walsh said Thursday that many of the City of San Antonio’s services that have been closed or restricted to the public would reopen or resume Monday. That includes library access, most senior centers, the financial empowerment center, and the ability to make reservations for park pavilions. All these places will have coronavirus prevention methods in place, such as capacity limits and requirements for face coverings, Walsh said.

Nirenberg said he thinks it is the right time to reopen City services to the public as long as public health guidelines are followed.

“We can control our destiny and we can be mindful of what the medical professionals are telling us,” he said. 

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.