Using sales tax for San Antonio worker training program could improve health conditions in areas hit hardest by the novel coronavirus – San Antonio…

Posted: September 12, 2020 at 3:53 am


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A plan to use city sales tax dollars to train 40,000 San Antonio residents for higher-paying jobs not only could improve their livelihoods but could be a literal life-saver, the plans backers said Tuesday.

The coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated many of the citys existing problems, namely its entrenched poverty and economic segregation, officials say.

COVID-19 has hit hardest on the West and South Sides, parts of town that are poorer and overwhelmingly Hispanic and that have seen higher death rates from the virus than in any other part of the city.

City leaders and experts have pointed to low rates of health care access and high rates of chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease in those parts of town as reasons why death rates there have been so high.

The thinking goes that equipping residents with the skills needed for jobs in higher-paying fields such as health care, advanced manufacturing and financial services that also come with health care benefits will lead to less death in the event of a future pandemic and better health outcomes in general.

The next time that something like this happens, maybe we wont have such a loss of life, District 4 Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia, who represents the citys Southwest Side, told the Express-News editorial board.

On ExpressNews.com: San Antonio launches program to help those who lost jobs because of coronavirus pandemic

Passing the sales tax proposal known as Prop B in November would go a long way toward undoing decades of economic segregation, particularly on the citys East, West and South sides, officials said Tuesday.

This is our opportunity to change the trajectory of the growing income segregation in one of the largest cities in the country, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said.

Nirenberg, Garcia and District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran are asking voters to approve using a 1/8-cent sales tax to fund job training and college degree programs for those who lost their jobs because of the pandemic and for the citys poorest residents over four years, to the tune of $154 million.

This is an opportunity for San Antonians displaced by COVID to enter a career with a future, not just a job to cover next weeks bills, Nirenberg said.

Business leaders and city officials have long bemoaned the citys low rates of educational attainment, a phrase that refers to a persons highest level of education completed a fact that has already cost the city.

We know that there are some major headquarters that we missed out on landing here in San Antonio because of the educational attainment rate, said Viagran, who chairs the councils Economic and Workforce Development Committee.

The program funded by the sales tax would be on top of the $75 million the City Council pumped into job training as part of a $191 million economic relief package in early June. Those dollars are intended to help about 10,000 residents get back to work.

More than half of that amount $45 million is budgeted for stipends to help participants pay expenses such as rent and groceries so they can focus on completing their training and education. Those who qualify for those stipends will receive $15 an hour with the potential to receive up to $450 a week. Participants must spend at least six hours a week in an approved training program to get a stipend.

But the sales tax proposal would differ from that program in that it would not set aside funds for stipends, Nirenberg said, because its expected more people will be back to work by the time the program would kick in in fall 2021.

The proposal before the voters would still pay for wraparound services such as child care as well as emergency funding assistance for participants.

On ExpressNews.com: San Antonio mayor calling in heavy hitters for campaign to win voter approval of coronavirus economic recovery tax plan

Still unsettled is the fate of the Edwards Aquifer Protection Program, currently funded by the 1/8-cent sales tax that would be redirected for use on the workforce development plan.

The protection program, which buys land that feeds into the Edwards Aquifer to prevent development and protect the citys source of clean drinking water, has consistently been popular with voters since they first approved the program in 2000. However, renewing the tax that pays for the program will not be on the November ballot.

City officials have landed on a proposal to continue the program at about half the current funding, using other city money an option that has made supporters of the current program anxious. The city would use $100 million over a decade out of money it already receives from the San Antonio Water System and from bonds.

City Council will get a briefing on the proposal Thursday and is expected to vote on the proposal this month.

To Nirenberg, the city proposal is an improvement.

Its no longer on an expiring volatile regressive form of revenue that is getting very hard to justify when our citys income gap continues to grow wider and wider and the poor in this community are getting poorer, Nirenberg said. Weve rolled out a solution now that allows us to accomplish the aquifer protection program as well as make a historic investment in the disruption of poverty in our community and get San Antonians back to work post-pandemic.

The tax also currently pays for the construction of linear creeks and parkways, which Bexar County has pledged to continue. Nirenberg has floated the idea of including trails in future voter-approved bond programs.

Joshua Fechter is a staff writer covering San Antonio government and politics. To read more from Joshua, become a subscriber. jfechter@express-news.net | Twitter: @JFreports

Joshua Fechter is a reporter covering City Hall and San Antonio politics for the Express-News. He previously covered real estate, economic development, retail and tourism. Upon graduating from Moody College of Communication at the University of Texas at Austin in 2014, Joshua joined the Express-News in 2014 as a breaking news reporter for mySA.com.

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Using sales tax for San Antonio worker training program could improve health conditions in areas hit hardest by the novel coronavirus - San Antonio...

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September 12th, 2020 at 3:53 am

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