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Stimulus Package

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones

There’s something about tax dollars that many working people feel disconnected from. It’s like once it leaves their hands, they feel like they lose total ownership. Nothing is further from the truth. It’s still our money. We’re trusting it to people to spend it for the greater good. The American Rescue Act is about to return millions of our money—in some cases billions—back to us again. We need a plan.

We let these politicians milk us for taxes on three different levels, then basically let them spend it however they please. This is a phenomenon that I’ve been writing and talking about for years. These are our hard-earned dollars and we don’t fight hard enough for transparency or accountability.

Funds from the American Rescue Plan are coming to a city or county near you. We need to have something to show for it after this $2 trillion is spent.

The CARES Act of 2020 sent $2 trillion to states to deal with Covid-19. Granted, most of us were in survival mode most of that year, reeling from the effects of the deadly pandemic. Money was flowing but was it spent wisely and equitably?

Funds from the American Rescue Plan are coming to a city or county near you. We need to have something to show for it after this $2 trillion is spent.

The Biden Administration did something different from the first round of money. They used a formula based on the unemployment rate of each state at the end of 2020 instead of the overall population of the state. A tad bit more equitable.

Detroit will get nearly $800 million. Milwaukee will get $406 million. Atlanta will get $165 million. Chicago will get $2 billion (yes, that’s with a “b”).

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St. Louis will receive $500 million. We saw how the first pot of money went and learned a few hard lessons. We have some ideas of where we want the dollars to go. Our new mayor agrees with us.

Tishaura Jones, the city’s first African-American female mayor, is setting up a process for citizen input on how to best use the stimulus funds. Jones has a website for such and she’s also doing a series of webinars. It’s a hybrid model of participatory budgeting.

Participatory budgeting (PB) has its roots in Porte Alegre, Brazil in 1989. There are thousands of such projects around the world now. The basic idea is to take people through a process and give them the power to decide how to spend public money based on the needs of their neighborhood or city.

PB is rich in civic lessons. You learn about budgets, which city departments do what, how to make assessments, how to appreciate other points of view, how to vote or reach consensus. Those who are engaged get a realistic glimpse of what it means to govern. It’s democracy in action.

A half-billion dollars sound like a lot of money but it's a drop in the bottomless bucket of needs. Cities like St. Louis, Milwaukee, Chicago and Detroit are not only recovering from a pandemic, they're recovering from decades of neglect and poor public policy steeped in institutional racism.

jamala rogers 210

I urge you to get involved in the local distribution of the Rescue funds. We have to put some serious dollars down in a way that will impact lives in a real-world way.

After all, this is our money. It’s changing hands but we have to make sure the funds bring about a change. There must be something tangible that we can point to once $4 trillion dollars is gone.

Jamala Rogers