About 9,300 St. Louis residents on Saturday can apply for $500 in direct cash assistance.

The program is funded by $135 million from the American Rescue Plan, the federal COVID-19 assistance program for states and municipalities.

“There aren’t too many problems that money can’t fix, whether it is paying a water bill or for childcare,” St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones said during a webinar with reporters. “Investing money directly and helping working families yields dividends for all of us. I hope this isn’t the last time we try a program like this.”

Jones said Los Angeles, St. Paul and Cook County implemented similar programs. She said evaluations of similar programs in California found families overwhelmingly used the funds on essentials and 1% was spent on tobacco or alcohol.

The program is designed to help city residents who lost income due to COVID-19. To qualify for a direct payment, you must be a city resident, earn at or under 80% of the Area Median Income, and suffered a loss of income. (For a household of four, 80% of the Area Median Income is $67,900, according to the city’s website.) Applicants also must verify their residency and show proof of their income level.

The United Way of Greater St. Louis is holding an event on Saturday at a community college to help residents complete applications.

Christina Keitt Chaney, a representative of Mobility Capital Finance, said the United Way’s reputation for serving the community will help recipients with her company's technology, new for some receiving payments.

“They know the clients and they’re bringing a new platform, a new player and product to them,” Chaney said. “But the trust is there because they know the staff and the team members at the United way. They can help with wrap-around services… and help with the financial service.”

Chaney said once recipients receive notice of their payment through a smartphone app, receipt of their card number or an actual card in the mail, they can begin accessing the funds.

The $500 cash payments, totaling about $5 million, was the signature piece of Jones’ $135 million relief package. It also included:

  • $8 million for public health infrastructure.
  • $49 million in housing and utility assistance, support for those without housing, legal assistance, and support to connect residents with services;
  • $11.5 million for violence intervention, youth and jobs programs;
  • $30 million to increase jobs and business opportunities, small business loans, workforce development and expanding broadband and public wireless internet access.

Creation of the programs was influenced by public comments received from about 2,500 people, including many during community meetings.

“This is one of the ways we will try to right historic wrongs in our city, as well as meet people where they are and try to give them the things that they need to thrive in their neighborhoods,” Jones said.

Alderman Jeffrey Boyd argued against the $500 payments when the program came before the Board of Aldermen in July.

“This is not right on so many levels,” Boyd said during the July 13 meeting. “I don't know what kind of bonus somebody is going get, what kind of heroic awards you're going get by shoving and pushing this through, but it's not right. It's not responsible on so many levels.”

Boyd said numerous public and private programs are available for people who need assistance.

“This $500 giveaway is not going to make or break anybody because, the same people – the majority of the people you help with this $500 check if you gave it to them tomorrow – are going to be in the same situation next month. So how many times are we going reappropriate these funds?”

In a media release announcing Saturday’s opening of applications, it mentioned studies on “direct cash assistance and similar universal basic income programs lift families out of poverty. The expanded federal Child Tax Credit, implemented in July, has lifted 10 million children out of poverty.”