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Panel rejects using $5 million of COVID relief for $500 payments to individuals

CITY HALL – An aldermanic committee dealt Mayor Tishaura Jones a defeat Wednesday, when it refused to reinstate $5 million for direct cash assistance in a $153 million federal COVID-19 relief package.

The Housing, Urban Development and Zoning Committee voted 9-3 to reject the motion by 25th Ward Alderman Shane Cohn to put the money back in the bill allocating money the city is receiving from the American Rescue Plan. The allocation would have given targeted one-time payments of $500 to eligible city residents. 

After reviewing a laundry list of programs getting money, the committee approved the bill and sent it to the full Board of Aldermen. Nine members voted in favor and Cohn voted “present.”

Aldermen are expected to vote on preliminary approval at their meeting on Friday and on final approval at their meeting on July 16.

Actually, the package included almost everything in an $80 million list of programs Jones sought, which the Board of Estimate and Apportionment approved last week. Jones and Comptroller Darlene Green voted for it, and Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed opposed it.

That $80 million expanded to $153 million by the time the HUDZ Committee met on Wednesday to review and vote it out. But the money for the $500 payments stayed out, which didn’t make the mayor happy.

“Our economy is starting to turn the corner after a devastating economic crash, but many families across St. Louis are still struggling to get back on their feet and thousands of evictions are still pending across our city,” said Nick Dunne, who is public information officer for the mayor.

“Even a single $500 check can make a major difference for thousands of St. Louis families, to pay their bills and put food on the table,” Dunne said. “Mayor Jones’ administration will continue to advocate for an equitable recovery, driven by data and community feedback, that helps all St. Louisans thrive.”

But Reed said that this would benefit only about 3 percent of the city’s population, and that $500 payments wouldn’t have much of an effect. 

The committee also rejected an amendment by Cohn to give the mayor’s office $1.4 million to administer and overlook the spending of the money. Opponents said individual department heads could take care of this. 

Major parts of the package are:

  • $33 million to establish funds for economic development on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, North Grand Boulevard, West Florissant Avenue and Natural Bridge Avenue. 
  • $20 million to establish a Citywide Housing Development Fund.
  • $15 million to the Healthy Home Repair Fund to cut the backlog of applicants waiting for work to be done.
  • $5 million for overtime for police officers.
  • $5 million for a Small Business Grant Fund to give $5,000 grants to small businesses. 
  • $5 million for a community violence intervention program.
  • $1 million for mobile vaccination clinics.
  • $500,000 for vaccination education and marketing.
  • $500,000 additional for expanding broadband and public WIFI
  • $450,000 to train people in software development, data management and analytics.

One portion of the measure calls for aldermen to prevent their wards from any use of federal dollars for intentional encampments by the homeless.

“We definitely have to give people the help they need, but this isn’t the way,” 21st Ward Alderman John Collins-Muhammad said.

Also, the bill includes a conflict-of-interest provision that prevents members of the Stimulus Advisory Board from using confidential information they learned on the board from influencing any governmental decision. That board helped the mayor come up with a list of recommendations about how to spend the money. 

The bill also requires the mayor’s office to report each month to the HUDZ Committee on the spending of the money.

In a statement, Reed said he was pleased with what came out of the committee.

““This bill creates economic opportunity for areas of St. Louis that have been long neglected and gives our neighborhoods a chance to be stabilized. It provides for more jobs and opportunities for our youth,” Reed said in the statement. “And it provides for greater transparency to ensure the dollars are being put to work in an effective and equitable way.”

But in an email, Dunne, the mayor’s spokesman, said, “There are some good ideas in this bill, but it’s important to ensure that these allocations are supported by the guidance provided by the U.S. Treasury.”

Jim Merkel Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit

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