CoronavirusNewsPoliticsThe SouthSider

In marathon meeting, aldermen give preliminary OK for American Rescue Plan spending

CITY HALL – After a 10-hour slog, the Board of Aldermen gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a $168 million federally funded COVID-19 relief package. But differences still remained between Mayor Tishaura Jones and Aldermanic President Lewis Reed.

Jones won a major victory in the American Rescue Plan Act allocations when the Board of Aldermen voted to put back $5 million for direct payments of $500 for the financially strapped. The bill included almost everything Jones had sought in an $80 million proposal for an initial round of spending of the about $500 million in American Rescue Plan Act money. But the bill also included $53 million in development projects that Interim City Counselor Matt Moak warned weren’t allowed by the American Rescue Plan Act.

The Board of Aldermen is expected to consider the bill at a meeting at 10 a.m. Friday, the last meeting before the start of the summer break. The Board of Estimate and Apportionment, which consists of Jones, Reed and Comptroller Darlene Green, also must approve it. 

The Board of Aldermen is expected to work on spending more of the federal allocation when it returns from the summer break in the fall. 

“This is just the beginning,” Jones said in a video news conference on Wednesday. “We have hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank from Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act to transform our city. An equitable recovery from this crisis leaves no one behind.”

“We can’t go back to normal, because normal doesn’t work,” Jones added.

In that news conference, Jones said people around City Hall didn’t recall a Board of Aldermen meeting as long as Tuesday’s.

Terry Kennedy, who is clerk of the Board of Aldermen, recalled that a lengthy meeting was held about the expansion of the Convention Center and building the Dome.

“It had to be adjourned and reconvened the next day,” Kennedy said in an email. Kennedy served on the Board of Aldermen from 1989 until 2019, when he became aldermanic clerk.

One of the major efforts, providing direct cash payments of $500, came in spite of Reed’s opposition.

“This could provide a gap for some people who do not have access to funds,” 15th Ward Alderwoman Megan E. Green said.

But 22nd Ward Alderman Jeffrey Boyd said that amount wouldn’t make or break anybody. 

“This is a feel-good payment,” he argued. “It’s a government giveaway, and it’s not right.”

However, 12th Ward Alderman Bill Stephans said that he had been homeless twice, and that payments of $500 would have helped him at that time.

“The Mayor’s proposal on targeted cash assistance was too open-ended and would not have helped those most in need,” Reed said in a statement. “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,”

Twenty-First Ward Alderman John Collins-Muhammad worked with Jones’ and Reed’s office to correct differences in the bills. 

Another measure allocated $1.25 million for debit cards to be used as incentives to be vaccinated. And $5 million was provided to the Board of Elections to support and implement “Anywhere Voting” systems. A total of $2 million went to the St. Louis Area Agency on Aging for home repair, as well as $1.5 million for direct support care workers. 

Still another change increases the amount in the Cops and Clinicians program and similar programs to $5 million from $2.25 million. That program would send social workers and mental health workers with police in calls to people who might need their services.

Also, the bill contains: 

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

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com 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 www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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