Low-income families in St. Louis will soon see some financial relief as monthly checks of $500 start arriving from the city’s government. The new guaranteed basic income policy aims to reduce poverty, fight crime, and promote the development of the city.

‘A financial floor to empower families’

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura O. Jones launched the STL Guaranteed Basic Income Pilot Program on Oct. 10, announcing that the city will soon begin sending monthly payments of $500 to hundreds of low-income families. Jones, who signed the program into law last December, declared the St. Louis program part of a larger trend of cities providing income guarantees to citizens. “St. Louis is joining more than 30 municipalities across the country in trying this new, exciting way to financially empower families and lift them out of poverty,” Jones said as she launched the program, according to KMOV.

As explained on the city’s website, those who are accepted into the program will receive monthly checks for a period of 18 months. This new guaranteed basic income program “is not seen as a replacement for work,” explains the website, but is instead intended to provide “a financial floor to empower families who need stability to get back on their feet and into the workforce.” The program is also expected to prevent crime in the city by lessening poverty as a root cause of criminal activity.

COVID relief funds and a $1 million donation

The program is primarily being funded through an allocation of $5 million in funds provided to the city through the American Rescue Plan Act, which was enacted as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This program builds off of previous pandemic-era policies such as extended federal child tax credits and local one-time payments of $500 made to St. Louis families in 2021 and in 2022. Data from these past efforts show that such payments help keep children and families out of poverty, provide for essentials like groceries, and help job-seekers find employment.

The new St. Louis program also has the backing of Jack Dorsey, co-founder of the social media platform formerly known as Twitter and co-founder of Square. Dorsey is a St. Louis native, and his #startsmall philanthropic initiative, with operational support from Deaconess Foundation, has donated $1 million toward the St. Louis effort. In a tweet, Jones explained that the initiative’s donation allowed the city to add 100 extra families to the program, bringing the total number of households to 540.

Enrolling eligible families through Nov. 1

Eligible families that would like to be notified when the application process begins can provide their contact information using a portal set up by the city. Eligible residents can then apply for the program between Oct. 23 and Nov. 1 . To qualify, households must have a child or dependent under 18 in a St. Louis public school  or public charter school and a household income below 170% of the federal poverty line. Families must also have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic; such impact could include loss or decrease of work, child care costs or other financial hardships.

St. Louis Treasurer Adam Layne, who will administer the minimum basic income program, has stated that his office will spend the rest of October working with community actors to provide civic education for the initiative and to assist families signing up for the program. “We understand the importance of a collective effort in making this program known and accessible to everyone who needs it,” Layne said, according to the city’s website. Given the results of past examples in St. Louis and elsewhere, hopes are high that this new pilot program will provide significant benefits to those who enroll.