$500 checks remain sticking point as St. Louis leaders weigh plans to spend federal relief funds

Missouri

ST. LOUIS – The city of St. Louis will soon learn how it will spend its first round of federal relief money. But not without heated debate. One of the sticking points concerns whether households should be eligible for direct, $500 stimulus checks.

“People need relief to help pay their bills, to help put food on the table,” Mayor Tishaura Jones said Wednesday.

Jones and her administration are critical of a bill that is making its way to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen. The measure, sponsored by Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, covers the vast majority of what Jones is proposing in her $80 million spending plan from American Rescue Plan Act funds.

However, it leaves out a $5 million provision to provide a one-time, $500 payment to residents who are struggling to make ends meet.

The bill passed 9-1 out of committee Wednesday evening.

Alderman Jack Coatar, representing ward 7, said he was not convinced that a $500 check is the right approach.

“We’ve got federal funds that are being given out through direct allocations. We have state unemployment benefits that I know have been cut some but are still being given out. I would support a lottery program to support vaccinations and things are I don’t know if I’m going to be supportive of direct cash payments when we have so many other critical city needs,” he said.

Reed’s bill, which comes with a price tag of $153 million, addresses many of the same issues support by Jones. It would provide small business grants, establish housing development funds, and provide job assistance training. It would also allocate $5 million for police officer overtime.

Reed issued a statement Wednesday evening.

“This bill creates economic opportunity for areas of St. Louis that have been long neglected and gives our neighborhoods a chance to be stabilized,” he said.

“It provides for more jobs and opportunities for our youth. And, it provides for greater transparency to ensure the dollars are being put to work in an effective and equitable way,” he said.

Jones said she is hopeful that city leaders appreciate the value of direct payments to households.

“Yes, the other things are important,” she said. “The direct health provisions are important. But also, money in pockets is important. As we saw with the federal government – by providing direct payments to Americans during the pandemic. And we need to do it on a local level as well.”

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