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St. Louis County Sets Up Relief Fund For Small Businesses Hurt By Coronavirus

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announces the formation of a small business relief fund on May 1, 2020.
David Kovaluk I St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis County Executive Sam Page announces the formation of a small business relief fund on Friday.

St. Louis County Executive Sam Page is rolling out a federally funded program aimed at helping small businesses hurt by the COVID-19 economic crisis.

At a press conference on Friday, Page said he’s establishing a $17.5 million fund from the federal CARES Act responding to the coronavirus pandemic. That money is a small part of $173.5 million the federal government gave St. Louis County to fight COVID-19.

Page told reporters on Friday that businesses of 50 people or fewer could receive up to $15,000 worth of grants. Each of the seven county council districts will get $2.5 million for grants.

“This grant can be used to pay the cost of business interruption, or reopening costs to become in compliance with new social distancing guidelines to get these businesses open again and contributing to our economy,” he said.

Page said that each member of the St. Louis County Council will help direct where the money goes. He also said that mayors of municipalities will inform the process by recommending businesses for the grants.

“And those will be reported to an independent accounting firm who will make a summary of these recommendations and will certify that they're in compliance with the grant programming,” Page said. “The accounting firm’s recommendations will be reported to the county executive's office, through our process, and also to the County Council's Oversight Committee.”

Council members will have until June 1 to turn in recommendations. Page said he didn't think that timeline is too long. “This is about as fast as we can respond to allow people to apply, to give the council members time to thoughtfully review these applications, and to give mayors of cities to thoughtfully review these applications.” 

Council members respond

Several members of the St. Louis County Council were bullish about Page’s announcement.

Councilwoman Rita Days, D-Bel Nor, said the money could be a boost to a slew of struggling businesses in her district, which takes in cities like University City, Normandy and Ferguson.

“I'm extremely excited about this,” Days said. “I know that my area has quite a few small businesses. And, with the shutdown, you know, they're just barely hanging on.”

Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray, D-Blackjack, said she could see the money going to help beauticians and barbers whose businesses have dried up over the past few weeks. She also liked that council members will be involved in the process of directing where the money goes.

“I knew Sam would do the right thing by including us,” Walton Gray said. 

The establishment of the small business fund comes amid a contentious split on the county councilabout oversight for $173.5 million of federal coronavirus money. The three Republicans on the council voted against a bill giving Page power to direct the CARES Act money. The four Democrats on the council voted for it, contending that Page’s administration needed flexibility to distribute the money quickly to combat COVID-19.

For his part, Councilman Mark Harder, R-Ballwin, said he was pleased to see the council and municipal leaders involved in the process.

“I think it's a good step forward involving us in this money decision process,” Harder said. “And I'll take all the little wins we can take at this point. So I look forward to working with the county executive on how this money should be spent.”

In the meantime, St. Louis County’s restrictions on businesses and gatherings are still in place. Page said he’ll have more to say on the future of the stay-at-home order next week.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

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Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.