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St. Louis Pandemic Relief On Hold As City Officials Can’t Agree On Spending Plan

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones (left), Comptroller Darlene Green (center) and Aldermanic President Lewis Reed make up the city's powerful Board of Estimate and Apportionment.
Bill Greenblatt/UPI, Jason Rosenbaum and Kae Petrin / St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones (left), Comptroller Darlene Green (center) and Aldermanic President Lewis Reed make up the city's powerful Board of Estimate and Apportionment.

St. Louis will not be able to immediately spend $168 million in federal pandemic relief after the city’s top fiscal body failed Friday to approve a plan for the money.

During a Friday morning meeting of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, Aldermanic Board President Lewis Reed did not receive support for his bill, which lays out how to spend the first wave of the most recent federal pandemic aid money. The board is made up of Reed, Mayor Tishaura Jones and Comptroller Darlene Green.

Jones and Reed have clashed over a provision to earmark $53 million for economic development along four major St. Louis corridors and to repair dilapidated housing.

Interim City Counselor Matt Moak issued a memo earlier this week saying that provision likely does not fall within federal guidelines for using the money.

During the meeting, he said, “The idea that we would legislate something that on its face doesn’t appear to meet the guidelines, I think that’s bad practice.”

Jones was unsuccessful in adding an amendment to the plan. That amendment would have redistributed the $53 million to affordable housing and to set up an economic justice fund, in which 80% of the money would be required to be spent north of Delmar Boulevard. It also would have provided contingency funds to cover any administrative costs needed by city departments rolling out programs.

But Reed said there’s nothing wrong with his bill. He said the St. Louis Development Corporation, which his bill outlines would oversee distribution of the $53 million, would ensure federal spending guidelines are met when specific programs are rolled out.

“Any changes to this board bill right now, any amendments to this board bill right now — I want to be clear — it will delay the relief money getting out,” he said. “It serves no purpose at all.”

The board adjourned without a vote after no one offered to second Reed’s bill. The Board of Aldermen gave preliminary approval to the bill Tuesday and officials were trying to get it passed before the board began its summer recess on Friday. But it had to be approved by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment first.

In a statement after the meeting, Jones said she agrees with Reed that the city needs to distribute the funds.

"Yet his refusal to fix provisions to comply with federal regulations, despite multiple attempts by my office to work with him on this issue, will hold up millions of dollars in direct relief and public health infrastructure for St. Louis families,” she said. “My administration is exploring all options to make sure St. Louisans get the support they need during this difficult and critical time.”

Green said Reed should put personal politics aside.

“The people of St. Louis city deserve much better from him,” she said in a statement. “Board members and the administration went to great lengths to help make Reed’s bill something that could benefit our city residents — but like a house built on a weak foundation, when put through a stress test it comes crashing down.”

Green suggested the Board of Aldermen advance Jones’ separate $81 million plan for spending the federal money. The Board of Estimate and Apportionment approved that plan last month. Much of it was included in Reed’s final bill that received preliminary approval from aldermen during a marathon meeting earlier this week.

Aldermen voted Friday to suspend the remainder of the meeting until Sept. 10, when they return from summer recess. Reed said aldermen “need to be kind of nimble or ready to move whatever direction we need to move” in order to get a pandemic spending bill passed soon.

"I’m at a loss for words,” he said. “But I want to keep it on a high note, and hopefully we’re going to get there."

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan

Corinne is the economic development reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.