Eligible small businesses, nonprofits and arts/cultural organizations in Bexar County will be able to apply for grants funded by $25 million in federal COVID-19 relief money thanks to county commissioners’ action Sept. 6.

Commissioners Court approved setting aside $20 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to help select nonprofits and small businesses adversely affected by the pandemic.

According to local officials, the county is making available $10 million for nonprofits that fulfill the following criteria:

  • Been operational since July 1, 2017;

  • Have 20 or fewer full-time employees;

  • Have at least one Bexar County location; and

  • Provided public health services to affected populations.

Maximum award amounts are based on a nonprofit’s operating expenses, county officials said.

The county is setting aside $10 million for small businesses that fulfill the following criteria:

  • Have 500 or fewer employees

  • Have annual gross revenues of at least $10,000 and no more than $3 million

  • Located in Bexar County

  • Saw a drop in gross sales between 2019 and 2020, or 2019 and 2021

  • Were operational before Jan. 1, 2020

County officials said grant awards will range $15,000 to $35,000, based on the business’s annual net revenue reduction.

County officials said they will work with local organization LiftFund to administer ARPA grants to local nonprofits and small businesses.

While the county staff’s plan to award ARPA grants to local nonprofits and small businesses, Pct. 4 Commissioner Tommy Calvert said, based on the county’s history, he thinks the county is not doing enough to give more consideration to micro-nonprofits and businesses, especially those owned and operated by women and people of color.

“I think we need to get back to what moves the paradigm forward on projects. I am extremely concerned that small and minority nonprofits will get left behind significantly,” Calvert said.

Thomas Guevara, chief of staff to the county manager, said Bexar County will prioritize businesses and nonprofits in suburbs and unincorporated areas. He also said the county will look at how applicants performed with Paycheck Protection Program loans.

In a separate motion, Commissioners Court approved allocating $5 million in ARPA money to assist Bexar County-based arts and cultural organizations and institutions as well as individual artists that have been hurt by the pandemic’s effects.

County officials said qualifications include:

  • Holding nonprofit status

  • Demonstrating a loss of earned revenue between the periods of March 2019-March 2020 and March 2020-March 2021

  • Being open to visitors and producing arts and cultural work

County officials said grant award amounts will be based on the average of the last three years of total expenses reported on the individual or organization’s income tax form.

Witte Museum President/CEO Marine McDermott and leaders of three other local arts nonprofits addressed commissioners at their Sept. 6 meeting. McDermott said the Witte can serve as the fiscal agent to help with disbursement of approved grants.

McDermott also said the Witte and more than 40 other local arts and cultural groups have gathered and formed Culture and Arts United for San Antonio, a new nonprofit dedicated to collectively demonstrating the value of San Antonio’s arts and culture.

McDermott said the Witte and many local arts organizations and venues have been significantly affected by pandemic-induced closures, capacity limits and other outcomes.

“Our first task was to recover from a catastrophic [pandemic] where we had no audiences. We are in the gathering business, and we had nobody there [at the Witte or other art or cultural institutions],” McDermott said.

According to the SABER Research Institute, San Antonio’s creative economy job loss during the pandemic was 18%, and estimated losses for local nonprofits were $71 million as of January 2021.

“This [funding] request is to move us from recovery to normalcy, to allow us to rehire, hire new people, sustain the staff that we have, as well as our contractors and artists, and to make sure we serve San Antonio and Bexar County in fruitful ways,” McDermott said.

Jon Hinojosa, president and innovation director of the organization SAY Sí and CAUSA chair, said CAUSA is designed to be an alliance for local arts and cultural groups and to show how those groups benefit San Antonio in many ways. He added CAUSA is made up of major local cultural and artistic institutions as well as smaller organizations.

“It’s such a diverse group. The importance of that is as we grow in this city and county, the arts are an economic generator. They bring in a lot of money, and we are all part of that collective work,” Hinojosa said.

In addition to approving the $5 million in COVID-19 grants for arts groups and artists, commissioners directed county staff to return with recommendations for a potential administrator to oversee the distribution of arts funding.

The county’s moves to set aside ARPA relief funds are separate from the city of San Antonio’s recent decisions to direct their own allocation of ARPA money to aid local nonprofits, small businesses and arts groups.