The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt a damaging blow to San Antonio’s economy.

Some 160,000 San Antonio area workers have filed for unemployment since March, and the unemployment rate is almost 13 percent. That qualifies as a crisis.

Many of the lost jobs will not be coming back. And we see numerous reports about ailing industries that may be forced to make cuts in the coming months.

If we don’t take extraordinary action to address COVID-caused unemployment, we could wind up with a significant increase in homelessness as well as other problems. Demand at the San Antonio Food Bank continues at levels twice that of the pre-COVID rate. 

With so many difficulties confronting our community, I am encouraged that we have been able to develop an economic recovery framework, which was announced on Thursday.

The framework, a collaborative effort between the City of San Antonio and VIA Metropolitan Transit, would allow the city to use the one-eighth cent sales tax that becomes available next year on an economic opportunity/workforce development program as soon as the revenue stream becomes available. 

The city would use the revenue for a set period of time or until $100 million to $125 million is collected. We are working to determine the best approach. 

After that, the revenue would be permanently dedicated to the transportation system. Elections must be called respectively by City Council and the Advanced Transportation District, which is the VIA board. Separate measures would be on the Nov. 3 ballot. 

I will be encouraging my City Council colleagues to put the economic recovery initiative on the ballot. The election must be called by Aug. 17. 

With this framework, we are going to prepare San Antonians for stable, high-paying jobs of the future, and we will help them get the skills necessary to thrive in a dramatically changed economic landscape.

The COVID-spawned economic turmoil has highlighted long-lingering cracks in our city’s economic foundation that we can’t continue to ignore. Even before COVID, this city had an unacceptably large underclass, and I am not comfortable with accepting a high poverty rate as a fact of life.

The economic recovery plan will include educational and training opportunities to help San Antonians who lost their jobs because of COVID-19 retrain and gain new work skills. The program likely will provide a mixture of college degrees and certificates to provide a variety of career paths.

Child care, job placement, and other services also will be part of the recovery package. We’ll be rolling out more details as we bring the plan to City Council in the next few weeks. 

The pandemic isn’t over yet and we don’t know exactly how our economy will fare in coming months, but the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus already is upon us. 

Addressing the jobs and employment situation is the most urgent part of the recovery effort. I have always supported investing in better transit, but the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the order of priorities. Because this recovery framework allows our community to address the economic concerns created by the pandemic before shifting funds to the transit system, I am comfortable moving forward in these uncertain times.

 We have a lot of work ahead of us and many details to work out, but I am developing a way forward that advances a recovery effort including jobs and transit is an important first step. 

Ron Nirenberg

Ron Nirenberg

Ron Nirenberg is the mayor of San Antonio.