San Antonio leaders discuss options to fund migrant care if federal dollars run out, including borrowing from city’s general fund

Councilman Marc Whyte made his position clear in regards to using general fund money: “No, no, no.”

SAN ANTONIO — Millions in federal funding have been spent caring for hundreds of thousands of migrants who have arrived in San Antonio over the last three years.

Right now, however, that money is running out since the federal government hasn’t passed a federal budget for 2024

On Thursday, San Antonio City Council discussed alternative ways to potentially fund migrant care if federal dollars run out.

“There is a real threat that the federal government is not going to continue paying for us to absorb the consequences of their inability to get anything done,” District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez said. 

During Thursday’s meeting, the council was briefed on city operations regarding caring for migrants being sent from the border. They also were briefed on the cost. 

Since January 2021, more than $100 million has been spent caring for migrants. Since then, 600,000 migrants have come to San Antonio.

Currently, federal dollars are on hold since no legislation or budget has passed.

“We’re being asked and we’re being warned and they are telegraphing it: ‘Hey guys, we may not have the money, so good luck with that,'” Pelaez said. “You should be mad. If you’re hearing it in my voice, I’m mad.” 

Currently, the city says it has  $10.5 million left in federal funds to continue operations. But officials predicted the funds could start running out as soon as August.  

They are now looking at other options, including using city funds. Marc Whyte, council member for District 10, made his stance on that possibility clear. 

“The answer to that to me is very clear: No, no, no.” 

Other council members said, however, that dipping into the general fund may be their only option.  

“But if the federal money dries up, it’s up to us to deal with it,” said District 9 Councilman John Courage. “That may very well mean taxpayer dollars.” 

Other options include reducing operations at the Migrant Resource Center and airport, which city officials are already doing by reducing positions.  

Another option would be canceling and reallocating funds from the American Rescue Plan Act for programs and projects.  

A third option would be pulling funding from FEMA reserves, which currently sits at $14 million, but the city is reserving those funds for unreimbursed responses to Winter Storm Uri and from the COVID-19 pandemic.

District 2 Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez pointed out that asylum-seekers would continue to arrive if the Migrant Resource Center weren’t funded at all.

“If we sat here twiddling our thumbs, (if) those hundreds of thousands of people – human beings with nowhere to go – arrived and we did nothing, the issue would still exist,” McKee-Rodriguez said. “People would be here and they would be sleeping in the airports, in the streets, in the cold and in the heat. 

“The question would be: What are we going to do about it?” he continued. “The question would be what are we going to do about it? The question our constituents, every single one of your constituents, would be asking: What are you going to do about it?” 

He supports funding the Migrant Resource Center, even if that includes using federal dollars.

“We do not eliminate the problem by removing the center, or ceasing our relationship with the partners helping to provide those resources and services alongside us,” he said. “We would be dropping the ball in such an egregious way.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the item on the city agenda was meant to only be a briefing.  No action was taken during Thursday’s meeting.

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