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Government, Politics & Issues

St. Louis Board of Aldermen Passes Pandemic Aid Bill After Weekslong Delay

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Nat Thomas
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St. Louis Public Radio
Mayor Tishaura Jones and Aldermanic President Lewis Reed ended a weekslong stalemate on Friday over a pandemic aid bill. The Board of Estimate and Apportionment unanimously approved the bill, but Jones worries the city may have to pay back some of the federal money.

Updated Aug. 11 with a final vote from the St. Louis Board of Aldermen

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen voted Wednesday in a special meeting to pass a $168 million pandemic aid spending bill after nearly a month’s delay. Twenty-one aldermen voted in favor, and four voted present. The board then adjourned for a summer recess until Sept. 17.

The bill now heads to Mayor Tishaura Jones, who is expected to sign it.

Original story from Aug. 6:

After weeks of disagreement, members of St. Louis’ top fiscal body unanimously approved a bill on Friday that allocates $168 million of federal pandemic relief money. It includes $500 cash payments to qualifying residents, among other things.

The move ends a stalemate between Mayor Tishaura Jones and Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, who sponsored the bill. Jones and Comptroller Darlene Green, the third member of the board, previously voted against the bill because of concerns regarding a $33 million provision for economic development along four major corridors in north St. Louis.

The city’s attorney has said that general economic development programs don’t fall within spending guidelines for the federal money. Jones proposed alternative language to fix the issue, but last week Reed dug in his heels on his plan, citing a new legal opinion from attorney Elkin Kistner, who is not contracted with the city. He said Reed’s bill is “completely lawful.”

But during the meeting Friday, a federal lobbyist for the city, Jim Brown, said including the provision goes against U.S. Treasury guidelines and could end up costing the city.

“In my judgment it would be very foolish to challenge the U.S. Treasury at this point with their guidance and their rulemaking,” he said. “And if this stays in this bill I think we are inviting an audit.”

Brown said the city could be ordered to pay back the money in question over the next few years.

Jones said she voted to pass the bill because residents need immediate relief from the pandemic.

“We couldn’t waste another day. As we know the delta variant is spreading like wildfire across the state, and somebody had to show leadership in order to move this bill forward,” she said.

Jones said that she’s still concerned about how the provision on economic development is framed, but that she’ll work with the comptroller to determine how to handle what happens next.

The bill now goes back to the Board of Aldermen for final passage. The board, which previously voted 27-1 in favor of the bill, is expected to move the bill over the finish line.

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

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