Page announces $17.5 million in small business relief grants

CLAYTON — St. Louis County Executive Sam Page on Friday announced a $17.5 million small business relief program and said he would release more information next week about a timeline for allowing businesses to reopen.

He acknowledged the stress that appears to be building in the community as the county remains under a stay-at-home order with no end date, while most of the state will begin to reopen starting on Monday. But he said St. Louis and St. Louis County had 60% of the state’s coronavirus cases and were not ready to start relaxing restrictions on movement and commerce.

Page said each of the seven County Council districts would receive a portion of the relief fund, or $2.5 million, based on recommendations from council members and mayors of the county’s 88 municipalities. The grants make up about 10% of the $173.5 million in federal relief funds the county received from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

A business is eligible for a grant if its principal place of business is within the county and it had 50 or fewer full-time employees on March 1, and was closed during the stay-at-home order, Page said. For-profits and nonprofits are eligible.

Companies that already received financial benefit from a federal COVID-19 program, such as the Paycheck Protection Program, are not eligible.

The program will award a one-time grant of $15,000 or less to a qualifying business. No business may receive a grant if the business employs an elected or appointed official of St. Louis County or a municipality, or one of their family members.

Any business that did not comply with the stay-at-home order or retaliated against someone who reported violations to the county will be disqualified, under the program rules.

Each county council member will submit a recommendation for grant recipients in their district by June 1, Page said. An independent accounting will review the submissions before the grants are selected by the Page administration. The grants will be listed on the county’s transparency portal tracking expenses related to the pandemic relief, a Page spokesman said.

“We’ve been talking about this for a couple of weeks since the federal CARES Act was passed in Congress,” Page said. “I asked my staff immediately to look at what sort of relief we could have for small businesses. And this was one of the recommendations.”

Council members Lisa Clancy, D-5th District, and Ernie Trakas, R-6th District, said they were looking forward to meeting with stakeholders to gather recommendations.

Tim Fitch, R-3rd District, tweeted it was “a political bone” to council members and mayors who had been critical of the council’s action earlier this week to give the Page administration full control of the CARES Act relief. “Who still doesn’t think this … will be used for political purposes?”

Page said it was “just an expression of the frustration of the stay-at-home orders and it’s expressed in many different ways in our community. I think he’s speaking up for his unique situation … this is a city that is in two counties.

“I think the most important thing is, is that we find a path forward and focus less on our differences of opinion.”

Eureka expanded last year into Jefferson County when it annexed the Windswept Farms subdivision and two commercial properties.