The city of St. Paul will provide $2,000 grants to poor families and $7,500 to small businesses struggling during the coronavirus pandemic, Mayor Melvin Carter announced Wednesday.
In a presentation to the City Council conducted by video conference, Carter outlined a plan for a $3.25 million "bridge fund" to get cash assistance to the city's neediest residents and small businesses within the coming weeks.
"We have no way of knowing how long this will last, nor predicting the full scope of impacts on our local community," Carter said. "But one thing is obvious: We must take every action we can right now to mitigate its harmful effects."
Families who have experienced a loss of income because of COVID-19, have at least one child in St. Paul Public Schools and earn 40% or less of the area median income — $40,000 a year for a family of four — will be eligible for $2,000 to help pay their rent or mortgage.
Businesses that have 20 or fewer employees, gross revenue of $2 million or less and have been operating in St. Paul for the past six months will be eligible for $7,500 to cover costs including rent, payroll, employee health benefits and payments to suppliers.
The program, which council members are scheduled to vote on April 1, would be funded through the city's Housing and Redevelopment Authority budget and private philanthropy, including from the St. Paul and Minnesota Foundation and Ecolab Foundation.
Council members, speaking through headsets from their homes, expressed support for Carter's plan and noted the growing need among their constituents.
"Until we find the magical pause button that pauses everyone's mortgage and everything, there's going to have to be a conversation about straight cash supporting people," said Council Member Mitra Jalali. "And that's politically difficult, but I think it's necessary, and so I appreciate us being willing to go there."
Council Member Jane Prince raised concerns that, given the amount of money available, not enough people will get the help they need.
Carter acknowledged that the $3.25 million from the city, even combined with resources from the state and federal governments, "still will likely be inadequate to meet the full need that we're seeing in our communities right now." City officials are considering other ways to help residents, he said, including property tax relief and assistance for low-income artists.
Carter declared a state of local emergency on March 15, closing libraries and parks and recreation facilities and stopping the issuance of new permits involving gatherings of 50 or more people. In the time since, city employees who are able to work remotely have started doing so, and social distancing measures have been implemented for those who cannot.
City workers will get 80 hours of emergency pandemic leave to be used if they are sick or caring for a sick relative. The council will vote to approve an agreement between the city and unions that represent city workers next week.
The mayor and council members repeatedly emphasized Wednesday that quick action is needed to support city employees and residents as the pandemic evolves.
During Carter's presentation, Council President Amy Brendmoen said a small-business owner sent her a text message that said, "I'm freaking out and I'm going to need some help to survive. What do you suggest?"
"I'm really grateful that we're going to be able to say, 'We can help you,' " Brendmoen said.
Emma Nelson • 612-673-4509