ST. LOUIS — The City of St. Louis got a massive amount of money from the federal government for COVID relief – more than $500 million or about half of the city's entire yearly budget.
In August, the city approved a plan to spend the first $135 million of that money. The plan included something pushed by Mayor Tishaura Jones – $500 checks for roughly 10,000 city households based on income and impact of COVID on finances.
"This money would go directly into the pockets of St. Louisans who need it the most," Jones said over the summer.
But more than two months after the money was approved, the city hasn't written a single check.
"We've heard from a lot of people about how far $500 can go," said Jones spokesperson Nick Dunne. "We still believe that this is very important and very urgent."
Why the delay? Dunne said unlike federal stimulus checks that landed in bank accounts shortly after they were approved, residents have to apply for the checks from the city.
And the city needs an outside contractor to process those applications. Hiring a contractor requires a minimum of three weeks, plus the time to set up the application process and hire the people to run it.
A slow down Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed predicted this past summer.
"How do you process 10,000 applications in the next month and a half?" Reed asked back in July.
"We understand the urgency and we've definitely been pushing for this process to be completed as fast as possible," said Dunne. "And that's what we'll continue to do until we're ready to announce that they are ready."
When might eligible city residents see the checks?
"We are still a few weeks out," said Dunne.
The city has hired the United Way to process the applications and, "to ensure the process is equitable but also easy to access," said Dunne.
The mayor's office admits this has been a learning experience for the new administration and revealed some of the technology upgrades the city government needs.
Dunne also said if St. Louisans are struggling with rent or mortgage payments, they shouldn’t wait for these checks.
There is money set aside specifically to help with housing that is available right now.