Guaranteed Basic Income Bill Wins Approval From St. Louis Board of Aldermen

Over 400 St. Louis Public Schools families in need could receive $500 a month for 18 months

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Only St. Louis Public Schools families who make less than 170 percent of the federal poverty level would be eligible to receive the monthly cash assistance.

A bill to give $500 in monthly payments to about 440 St. Louis households received its final OK  from the St. Louis Board of Aldermen today. The bill backed by Mayor Tishaura Jones now heads to her desk for her final approval.

Based on the bill’s plan, $5 million in pandemic relief funds would be distributed to families in poverty-stricken households for 18 months.

Over 30 U.S. cities have launched similar guaranteed basic income programs, including Chicago and Atlanta. The funds are usually tailored to benefit specific populations, such as new mothers or recently incarcerated people. St. Louis’ program will target families with children in St. Louis Public Schools who make less than 170 percent of the federal poverty level.

A large portion of St. Louis Public Schools families live in unstable housing conditions, Mayoral Chief of Staff Jared Boyd explained at a committee meeting last week. Schools are spending lots of resources to stabilize these families, Boyd said. Offering cash assistance would alleviate the school’s burden and provide stability to families who struggle to keep their affairs in order.

“It is a lot easier to focus on either making your child’s doctor appointment or applying for a job when you don’t have to think about the immediate needs of where your next meal is coming from or how you’ll prevent a utility from getting cutting off or how you’ll get to a job if your car isn’t working,” Boyd said.

Throughout the debate over this bill, the mayor’s office has contended the direct cash assistance program the city passed last year was successful, claiming that providing recipients a one-time payment of $500 increased their opportunities for employment, with a majority of recipients putting the funds toward groceries, utilities and gas.

Some aldermen weren’t convinced. Ward 3 Alderman Brandon Bosley thought the bill should outline how families could spend the funds. At today’s Board of Aldermen meeting, Alderman Joe Vaccaro said he disagreed with how the bill would only benefit a few hundred families in need when there are several thousand in St. Louis.

Ward 19 Alderwoman Marlene Davis questioned the effectiveness of providing families $500 when several community organizations and support systems already provided services for needy families.

“You’re putting a band-aid on something that don’t even need a band-aid,” Davis said.

But guaranteed basic income is only a small part of the bill. Overall, the bill proposes allocating $52.2 million in American Rescue Plan Funds to various community investments.

The largest appropriation — $19.86 million — would go to the Department of Human Services to provide housing stabilization, senior services and emergency rental assistance, and the guaranteed basic income proposal.

Other appropriations include $13 million to federally qualified health centers for them to develop and expand. The St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment would receive $6 million to bolster year-round jobs for youth.

For the most part, aldermen opposed to the guaranteed basic income portion of the bill ended up voting in favor of the bill anyway.

The bill received 21 yes votes and one no. Alderwoman Lisa Middlebrook voted present and Alderman James Lappe abstained.

“We rose collectively to the occasion today,” Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard, who sponsored the bill, said in a statement. “I’m proud to have played a role in passing a bill that will directly impact working families in our beloved city of St. Louis.”

The bill does not set forth a timeline on when eligible St. Louisans could apply for assistance from the guaranteed basic income program. The mayor's office has not announced a timeline yet.

"We will take lessons learned from other direct payment pilot programs across the country and take the time to make sure any application process is fair and equitable," spokesman Nick Desideri said.

This story has been updated to include comment from Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard and the mayor's office.

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About The Author

Monica Obradovic

Monica Obradovic is a staff writer for the Riverfront Times.
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