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St. Louis officials spar on how to spend federal COVID relief funds

Mayor Jones and Aldermanic President Reed disagree on $500 payments to some city residents

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis leaders are working out how to spend federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Mayor Tishaura Jones and Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed are at odds over $500 COVID relief payments, which could go to as many as $10,000 families in St. Louis.

“This money would go directly into the pockets of St. Louisans who need it the most,” Jones said at a press conference Monday.

Jones said $5-million in assistance to thousands of St. Louis residents in the form of one-time $500 payments was not included in Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed’s plan, which he brought before the board Friday.

“People need to be able to buy groceries, to pay their car payments, to have the chance to get back on their feet,” Jones said.

Jones invited St. Louis workers who might benefit from the payments to speak to the media at her news conference.

Nikki Rush works at Crab Kingz on Delmar.

“So right now, I live with my sister, my brother and my two kids in a two-bedroom apartment because I can’t afford my own place,” Rush said. “This extra $500 would help out tremendously.”

Kamille Bolden, a St. Louis Public Schools instructional care aid, lost her mother during the pandemic.

“After she passed this last October, the bills that have come from that have been astronomical,” Bolden said.

Aldermanic President Reed said he’s not necessarily opposed to the $500 payments, but he needs more information.

“How do you process 10,000 applications in the next month and a half?” said Reed. “We need to understand, number one – who it’s going to go to, how people apply, what’s the cost for approving 10,000 applications and what communities, ultimately, will it help?”

Reed questioned whether the administrative costs of processing 10,000 applications was included in that $5-million.

Mayor Jones was asked how officials will determine who qualifies for the $500. She cited some of the criteria.

“It’s unpaid time off, inability to work due to lack or loss of child care, increase in child care expenses, funeral expenses due to COVID, unplanned out-of-pocket medical expenses due to COVID,” said Jones.

Eighth Ward Alderwoman Annie Rice attended Jones’ news conference, as well.

“We have an incredible, transformative opportunity to get cash to the people who need it and to trust them with how to spend it,” said Rice.

Mayor Jones and President Reed were met to discuss the issue Monday afternoon.

In a statement, Reed's office said his position hadn't changed after the meeting.

"The current proposal for the $5M to be sent to the Treasurer’s Office for cash assistance lacks detail. It would only support a small amount of the population – less than 3 percent or less than 10,000 people. For example under the current plan, if you were unemployed before COVID, you would not qualify.  A married couple earning $13 per hour each at a full time job would not qualify, which is less than a livable wage of $15 per hour. There are also no details on how the plan will be administered and there are no funds set aside to assist in processing the applications. Until we get those items ironed out to ensure the most equitable delivery and ample transparency of the program, we can’t move forward with the proposal."

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