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St. Louis Board of Aldermen advances COVID relief funds bill with amendment for $5M in direct payments

An amendment added by Ward 21 Alderman John Collins-Muhammad included $5M in direct cash payments

ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Board of Aldermen Tuesday advanced the city’s COVID-19 relief package funding.

On Tuesday night, the board gave initial approval to Board Bill 2, the American Recovery Act funding bill, putting it one vote away from final passage. 

Mayor Tishaura Jones wanted $5 million, a relatively small portion of the funding, to go to up to 10,000 families who qualify for assistance. Aldermanic President Lewis Reed pushed back on the idea in his initial plan, but the bill that passed Tuesday included an amendment for direct payments.

The plan includes:

  • $20M to establish a Citywide Affordable Housing Development Fund 
  • $33M to establish Economic Empowerment Funds in north St. Louis
  • $5M for Small Business Grant Fund for $5,000 grants to small businesses
  • $15M to the Healthy Home Repair Fund to reduce the backlog of applicants
  • $500,000 additional for expanding broadband and public wifi
  • $450,000 for job training in software development, data management and analytics
  • $5M for uniformed police officer overtime

The approval of the bill came after 10 hours of debate by the board.

Tuesday morning, Jones’ administration raised a red flag, with an opinion from the city attorney saying Reed’s plan does not meet federal guidelines for ARPA, the American Rescue Plan Act.

“The city counselor can send us opinions all he wants to about whether this is illegal, or not," Ward 1 Alderwoman Sharon Tyus said. "Unless he actually goes and files a lawsuit, which he doesn’t do. If I’m the mayor if I think something is illegal, I’m going to veto this bill.”

“I do want to stress that issue, Mr. President," Ward 21 Alderman John Collins-Muhammad said. "The board of aldermen is following the protocol and the procedure set forth by the U.S. Dept. of Treasury.”

Board members discussed Jones’ desire to include up to $5 million in one-time $500 payments to as many as 10,000 St. Louis residents.

“We have a city of close to 300,000, as you pointed out — 280,000," Ward 20 Alderwoman Cara Spencer said. "Twenty-two percent are estimated to live at or below poverty, which would put us at about 60,000 or 65,000 people who could be eligible for these funds.”

There was also discussion about who would process the applications, whether 10,000 is enough, and who is going to pay for the application process.

“Are we going to just do this for free, then, or are the banking institutions and the distribution channels without cost to the city?” Spencer said.

Collins-Muhammad responded.

“Well, it will be handled through the department of human services,” he said. “If there is any ongoing cost, the department of human services is already budgeted to handle this particular program.”

There is also a discussion about making a part of the COVID relief funding available to the unhoused population and how to go about helping homeless people apply.

Collins-Muhammad championed the amendment to add direct payments to the board bill. Reed's office said the amendment is an improvement over the mayor's plan, but still doesn't address the total need in the community.

“The Mayor’s proposal on targeted cash assistance was too open ended and would not have helped those most in need. This doesn’t even come close to covering the amount of need there is, but it was brought forth as a form of compromise with the Mayor’s Office to move this overall pandemic bill forward in the City,” said Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed.

The mayor's office released the following statement in response to the advancement of the bill:

“I’m proud that the St. Louis Board of Aldermen passed my American Rescue Plan Act direct relief proposal to boost vaccination rates, keep families in their homes and improve public safety by addressing the root causes of crime,” said Mayor Tishaura O. Jones. “I was grateful to work with Alderman John Collins-Muhammad and many others to restore $5 million in direct financial assistance to thousands of St. Louis residents, which will help families help put food on the table and get them back on their feet.”

The bill still has a few steps to go. It is set to go before the Board of Estimate and Apportionment at a special meeting on Thursday before final passage at the Board of Aldermen Friday.

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