The St. Louis Board of Aldermen on Tuesday gave final approval to a $5 million universal basic income program by a 21-1 vote, with one member voting present and one abstaining. About 440 families will receive $500 a month for 18 months.
The program was part of a bill allocating another $52.2 million of the city’s remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds.
“When you look at the allocations, and the departments they’re going in, the work they’re already doing and the way this is going to build capacity, it’s hard to not get excited,” said 26th Ward Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard, who was the bill’s sponsor.
The lone no vote, by Alderwoman Sharon Tyus of the 1st Ward, said she wanted to see a clear accounting of how the city had spent previous ARPA appropriations before she could support authorizing any more money.
In addition to the cash assistance, the measure also contains $13 million for federally qualified health centers, $6 million for court diversion programs and $4 million to the region’s job training agency to support youth employment year-round.
The treasurer’s office, which administered a smaller direct cash assistance program in 2021, will also handle the universal basic income program. Eligible residents must be the parent or legal guardian of a child in a city public school, “have had a negative financial impact due to the COVID-19 Pandemic” and make less than 170% of the federal poverty line, or about $47,000 for a family of four.
After giving the payments of $500 a month for 18 months, the remaining $1 million would be used to provide benefits counseling and help the treasurer’s office with administrative costs.
“Too many workers are caught in places of economic peril, lacking the economic security necessary to invest in themselves in job training, furthering education, or perhaps striking out on their own as an entrepreneur,” he said. “A guaranteed basic income would relieve this anxiety and allow all workers the opportunity to think about the future and not just the day-to-day struggle.”
While Alderman Joe Vaccaro of the 23rd Ward ultimately voted for the measure, he was curious about how helpful the universal basic income would truly be.
“When you’ve got the last census showing we have 57,400 families in the city of St. Louis under poverty, how are you going to pick the 500?” he said.
The legislation did not spell out the process the treasurer’s office would use to select eligible families. The smaller one-time assistance program included an application process — a review found that 20% of those applications were incomplete, mostly because of difficulties finding needed paperwork.