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Direct pandemic cash assistance helped St. Louis residents meet basic needs

Qristyl Frazier holds up a photo of her mother, Rosetta, at a press conference on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022, touting the success of St. Louis's direct cash assistance program.
Rachel Lippmann
St. Louis Public Radio
Qristyl Frazier had to leave her job as a fashion designer to care for her mother Rosetta (pictured) after she had a serious stroke in January 2021. On Wednesday, she called the $500 in direct cash assistance a blessing.

St. Louis residents who received $500 in cash pandemic assistance most often spent the money on food and utilities.

“There aren’t too many problems money can’t fix,” Mayor Tishaura Jones said Wednesday as she announced the findings of an early analysis of the program. “Investing money directly in working families, and trusting them to make the right decisions for themselves, works.”

With the support of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, Jones used $5 million from the city’s American Rescue Plan allocation to fund the assistance. Residents making no more than 80% of the median income were eligible – about $68,000 for a family of four. About 9,100 households eventually received assistance.

Qristyl Frazier was among them. She gave up a career in clothing design to care for her mother, Rosetta, full time after Rosetta suffered a serious stroke in January 2021.

The family’s savings, plus Qristyl’s meager pay as a caregiver, were not enough to cover all the household expenses. She said she “dropped to her knees” when she received the gift card.

“I took care of bills, I got groceries, paid car insurance. I did whatever I could to make that money stretch,” Frazier said. “I knew that would make my mother proud of me.”

Online applications for the program opened in December 2021, with the city also hosting several in-person events. More than 10,000 people initially applied, but nearly 20% of those applications were incomplete.

The United Way, which helped the city evaluate the applications, said the issue was with getting required documentation, not with the application itself.

The treasurer’s office partnered with MoCaFi, an online company that works to provide financial services to those without a bank account, to do the initial analysis. It found that the median income of the households that received assistance was about $1,100 a month. The 63106 ZIP code, which takes in parts of the Carr Square, Old North, Columbus Square, Jeff VanderLou and St. Louis Place neighborhoods, had the highest use.

With the program complete, Jones said that her administration is exploring a possible universal basic income, but that the work is still in the very early stages.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.