St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones ended opposition to $33 million for neighborhood developments and voted to approve a total of $168 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds.
“We had to move the process forward,” Jones said after voting with Comptroller Darlene Green and Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed – the three members of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment – to unanimously pass the bill for a final vote by the Board this week. “We couldn’t waste another day as we know the delta variant is spreading like wildfire across the state.”
Jones and her staff worked remotely during the committee meeting and a press briefing as a vaccinated member of her staff on Thursday tested positive for COVID-19. Staff were advised to work remotely and get tested under the recommendations of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In June, Jones revealed a plan to distribute $84 million of the estimated $500 million in federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. It included direct cash payments of $500 to approximately 10,000 city residents with incomes not exceeding 80% of the area’s median income (AMI) and who were negatively impacted by the pandemic. (For instance, the 80% AMI threshold for a four-person household is $66,300.)
Reed, who unsuccessfully ran against Jones in the 2021 mayoral primary, added $33 million to the plan for four economic development funds devoted to areas on the city’s north side. He added $5 million for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to balance a budget cut by Jones.
Jones opposed Reed’s plan for the neighborhood development districts and the bill stalled in the Board of Estimate and Apportionment. On July 9, Matt Moak, the city’s interim counselor, said the U.S. Treasury’s guidance for pandemic relief funds excludes general economic development.
James Brown, president of the consulting and lobbying firm Bracy Tucker Brown in Washington, D.C., told the committee on Friday there will be audits to ensure to proper spending of federal funds and, if not, will seek repayment.
“I have worked with a lot of federal agencies and I want to tell you there’s one agency you do not want to mess with and that’s Treasury,” Brown said. “There will be audits and the one thing the city does not want to trigger is a claw back. And there have been claw backs many times on different programs in all different federal agencies. And if they did a claw back after an audit, where are you going to find money? You’re going to have to go pull it back from something else or take it from general revenues.”
Reed disagreed with Brown’s view and cited the city’s transparency in the bill process.
“That is one of the most outrageous statements I’ve ever heard,” Reed said. “So you’re saying the federal government would claw back funds based on your intent and not what you finally spent the funds on, the process, the authorization and the reviews that happened during that process?”
After voting to move the bill to the Board on Friday, Jones emphasized her spending plan directly impacts those affected by the pandemic.
“Compounded by an unprecedented pandemic and an economic recession, we need to make bold investments designed to lift up communities that lay the foundation for equitable growth,” Jones said. “Instead of doing what the city has always done – subsidizing developers – we’re going to invest in workforce development, affordable housing, public transit, roads, street lights, demolitions, neighborhood planning, and local anchors like schools and community centers.”
Here are the allocations for various city departments in the 43-page funding bill:
Dept. of Health: $15.75 million Dept. of Human Services: $43.82 million Affordable Housing Commission: $5.6 million St. Louis Development Corp.: $62 million Community Development Administration: $18.5 million St. Louis agency on Training and Employment: $5.35 million Parks, Recreation & Forestry: $1.71 million Board of Public Services: $2.5 million Information Technology Services Agency: $762,050 Planning and Urban Design Agency: $1 million Police Dept.: $5 million Comptroller’s Office: $550,000 Mayor’s Office: $312,500 Criminal Justice Coordinating Council: $370,000 Board of Elections: $5 million