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Board president advances stimulus bill without mayor's priority for direct payments

Not in the board bill is the mayor's plan to use $5 million to send direct payments to St. Louisans struggling financially because of the pandemic

ST. LOUIS — A plan to spend the first portion of more than $500 million in federal COVID-19 relief money advanced out of a St. Louis Board of Aldermen committee Wednesday. Sponsored by Board President Lewis Reed, Board Bill 2 nearly doubles the size of Mayor Tishaura Jones' plan for the first round of spending. But it does not include one of her top priorities — direct relief to St. Louisans struggling financially because of the pandemic.

Last month Mayor Jones put out a plan to spend the first $80 million of American Rescue Plan Act money based on recommendations from an advisory board she appointed and public input her office collected. 

But for the city to write a check, the Board of Aldermen has to sign off on it. 

"I'm just so excited about today," Board President Reed said Wednesday. "We were able to move the stimulus funding bill out of committee with 100% of the things that we want to see in it to address some of the systemic issues and really bring some transformational change to the city."

Among other programs, the bill includes tens of millions of dollars to help people with rent, mortgage payments and utilities. It provides grants for small businesses and money dedicated to redeveloping run-down business districts in major corridors of north St. Louis, MLK, North Grand, West Florissant and Natural Bridge. 

"That increases our tax bases that that has a direct impact on the crime rate within the neighborhoods and a direct impact on the communities that surround them," said Reed. 

Not in the board bill is the mayor's plan to use $5 million to send direct payments to St. Louisans struggling financially because of the pandemic — $500 for families of four making less than $66,000 and single people making less than $46,000.

"We presented a plan with public input with targeted cash assistance to help people get through these troubling times and the president of the Board of Aldermen decided to strip that away and give it to developers instead," Jones said of Reed's plan.

Her office said based on other criteria for the proposed direct payments, like proof of pandemic-related hardship, about 10,000 residents would qualify for the payments in the city.  

"This will help them keep food on the table... other bills that they can't pay through other recovery act funds," said Jones. 

"We are trying to make sure that this recovery is equitable," she said. 

Reed said if 10,000 people received the checks that would not be "the type of transformational change we need and it's not the type for transformational change that will make a massive difference in the lives of people."

Debate on the bill continues at the full Board of Aldermen on Friday.

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