After a nearly year-long process, San Antonio City Council will vote next week on how to spend the last large batch of federal coronavirus pandemic relief funds.

On Thursday, two council members voiced disapproval of the proposed list of agencies recommended to receive those funds, for two very different reasons.

At issue is just over $40 million from the city’s portion of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money, which is slated to go toward social services.

Ninety-seven agencies, mostly nonprofits, applied for funding, with proposals totaling $145.6 million — more than three times what was available. City staff recommended funding 59 agencies — most at levels lower than what the agencies requested.

Ultimately, the final allocation will be up to a City Council vote slated for Thursday.

A majority of the council was receptive to the recommendations, which were made based on a set of priorities and subsequent implementation plans approved last year by the council.

The bulk of the money, $26 million, has been earmarked for mental health. Of the remainder, $10 million is to be spent on youth services, $5 million for senior services and $2.5 million on “nonprofit social services,” which includes infrastructure needs for nonprofits impacted by the pandemic.

Almost $4 million remains unallocated, and staff recommended re-issuing a request for proposals or convening stakeholders for additional feedback.

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.

Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) expressed concern that several East Side agencies didn’t make the cut, while Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) rejected the entire list because none of the agencies’ proposals were directed toward domestic violence programs.

McKee-Rodriguez, who noted that very few of the agencies that made the list are headquartered in the historically underserved East Side, was somewhat assuaged by City Manager Erik Walsh’s promise to provide a map of the areas that those who receive funding will serve.

Those areas were both disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and are historically disadvantaged.

This "equity atlas" is used to identify areas most in need of social services.
This “equity atlas” was used to identify areas most in need of social services as the city chooses where to spend remaining ARPA money. Credit: Courtesy / City of San Antonio

Pelaez, on the other hand, said he wouldn’t vote for the recommended list of funding recipients “at all, unless there’s a real serious investment in domestic violence.”

He suggested taking away ARPA funding from other recommended recipients, such as the University of Texas at San Antonio and UT Health Science Center, to instead fund a domestic violence program.

“These are the richest organizations in all of Texas who don’t need [the city’s ARPA] money,” he said.

UTSA plans on using a nearly $472,000 ARPA grant toward providing current or former foster care youth attending high school with a tutor and emergency financial assistance. The $985,000 for UT Health would expand its NOW Junior Clinic, which serves youth struggling with mental health issues.

  • This chart shows the agencies recommended by city staff to receive ARPA funding.
  • This chart shows the agencies recommended by city staff to receive ARPA funding.
  • This chart shows the agencies recommended by city staff to receive ARPA funding.

Pelaez did not mention that Family Violence Prevention Services, of which his mother, Marta Pelaez, is CEO, requested $500,000 from the nonprofit social services funding category. He did bring up requests made by two other nonprofits, For Her and Childsafe, which work with domestic violence survivors.

None of the three were recommended for funding by city staff.

  • This chart shows the agencies that were not recommended by city staff to receive ARPA funding.
  • This chart shows the agencies that were not recommended by city staff to receive ARPA funding.

The city has invested ARPA money on domestic violence in previous funding rounds, specifically $16.4 million to sustain and expand existing programs. The city’s annual budget in recent years has increased funding as well. And several programs recommended for this round of ARPA funding will likely serve domestic abuse survivors.

Pelaez’s remarks earned rebuke from outgoing Councilwoman Ana Sandoval, who called them a “tantrum.”

She noted that funding wasn’t allocated for domestic violence programs from this pot of ARPA money because that was not one of the priorities the council agreed upon.

If any member of the council wanted domestic violence prevention to be a priority for this round of funding, she pointed out, anyone on any of the three council committees — one of which Pelaez chairs — could have advocated for its inclusion at any time over the past year.

The agencies whose requests were recommended for funding fit the implementation plans approved by the council, she said.

” … And someone’s going to come here, throw a tantrum, because everybody followed the rules?” said Sandoval, whose last day on council is Tuesday.

Pelaez, however, had left the meeting before hearing Sandoval speak.

On Thursday morning, Pelaez pushed back when asked why he didn’t advocate for domestic violence earlier in the process.

“Do we really need to articulate domestic violence for funding in order for it to get funded?” he said. “Domestic violence is the intersection where all of these issues meet.”

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Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. Contact her at