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City of St. Louis spends fraction of pandemic relief funds

More than $135 million has been approved, but just $3.4 million has been spent

ST. LOUIS — St Louis City has spent just 2% of available American Relief Plan Act, or ARPA, funds.

In August 2021, the Board of Aldermen passed a bill appropriating around $135 million dollars of federal pandemic relief. The money came to the city as part of ARPA.  This is just the first slice of relief funds, with St Louis city set to receive a total of $498 million.  

Since Board Bill 2 was passed last year, the city has spent just $3.4 million of the available money. That is only about 2% of the money the Board of Aldermen approved.

The mayor’s office shared this information during Tuesday’s Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee meeting. Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed is curious why such a small amount of money has been spent.

"There are families in the city of St. Louis, there are kids in the city of St. Louis, there are small businesses in the city of St. Louis, all of which are hurting right now, all of which need those funds right now. It would transform their lives right now, today," Reed said.

There are two deadlines that the city must meet in order to keep all the relief funds. First, all funds must be obligated to a project by the end of 2024. Second, all funds must be spent by the end of 2026 or they could be taken back.

The mayor’s office counters that they are moving quickly and blame the delay on the steps they must take to responsibly spend the money.

“The City of St. Louis is moving as quickly as possible, under its existing procurement processes, federal guidelines, as well as the guidelines set in the legislation by the Board of Aldermen,” said a spokesman for Mayor Jones.

Mayor Jones made direct cash assistance a priority, and city has processed more than 3,800 applications for help. The mayor's office says, nearly $2 million dollars of the $5 million available for cash payments has been paid out.

The program to give gift cards to residents who get COVID vaccines has also been spending the available funds. The Department of Health purchased more than $725,000 in gift cards to distribute; however, the presentation indicates that thousands of gift cards have not yet been distributed. Sixty-five percent of the city’s population has gotten at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, which is above the state figure of 62.8%.  

The funding for many projects remains underutilized, or in some cases, completely untouched.

"We need to be alarmed right now," Reed added.

Community Violence Interruption Programs have $5.5 million set aside, but all the money remains uncommitted. In the presentation from the mayor’s office, they note that Cure Violence still has about $2.7 million from their current budget left to spend. The mayor plans to open a Request for Proposal, or RFP, to get applications from violence reduction programs for the available ARPA money.

Here are some other programs where none, or almost none, of the available money, has been committed:

Citywide Housing Development Fund

Purpose: Increase housing of unhoused people and decrease evictions in the city.
Status: RFP was issued in December and a developer should be selected in February.
Appropriated: $20,000,000
Spent: $0

Healthy Home Repair Program

Purpose: Increase home repairs for needy families and speed up payouts of home repair funds.
Status: RFP issued and Mission St. Louis selected for the program.
Appropriated: $15,000,000
Spent: $0

Tiny Homes

Purpose: Reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness
Status: Plans are underway to build 50 units for the Veterans Community Project and another 25-30 unit project planned at Jefferson and Cass.
Approved: $2,000,000
Spent: $689.50

In addition to the $3.4 million the city has spent, they have obligated another $9.6 million to other projects.

While the city continues to work to spend the money already approved, more relief funds still must be spent. The city will work this year to allocate another $115 million of ARPA funds.

What Mayor Tishaura Jones' office says:

"The City of St. Louis is moving as quickly as possible, under its existing procurement processes, federal guidelines, as well as the guidelines set in the legislation by the Board of Aldermen -- all of which the President of the Board understands.

We have already moved millions of dollars into the pockets of St. Louis families, boosted our vaccination rates, and supported programs to keep our youth engaged.

The City is committed to taking full advantage of this once in a generation investment, and Mayor Jones looks forward to working with the Board of Aldermen on future ARPA allocations, including the $108 million we still have in the bank."

What Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed says:

“The Board of Aldermen worked diligently to get these funds allocated as quickly as possible. We called in extra meetings, including a meeting for 12 hours to get the bill out as soon as possible.

It’s disappointing that now, more than six months later and amongst another surge of COVID, the omicron variant, only 2% of those funds have been put to work to bring much-needed relief to the people of St. Louis. Millions of dollars in needed relief remaining unspent. Time is of the essence.

These dollars are a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with a short timeframe and a deadline for them to be utilized or they have to be returned.

Over the next few weeks, the Board of Aldermen will look into why the funds haven’t been processed by the Mayor’s Office and offer to lend any assistance we can to expedite the release of these critical funds.

Many of our most vulnerable residents and struggling small businesses are in desperate need of help right now.”

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