St. Paul will provide emergency cash assistance for up to 1,000 families and 300 small businesses that have lost income because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to allocate $3.3 million from the Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) budget to the St. Paul Bridge Fund, which will provide $1,000 grants to families and $7,500 grants to businesses. Local foundations and corporations are contributing an additional $600,000.

Interim Planning and Economic Development Director Kristin Guild told council members Wednesday that city estimates show up to 1,000 businesses and about 8,000 families will qualify for the grants.

"We know that this bridge fund will not meet all of the needs," she said, "but we've designed the program to balance serving as many as we possibly can with a meaningful amount."

Applications will be available online and by phone, and are expected to open April 8 and close April 19, Guild said. Recipients will be chosen through a lottery, she said, and funds will be disbursed in late April or early May.

When Mayor Melvin Carter presented the bridge fund idea to council members March 25, his proposal included $2,000 grants for low-income families with children in St. Paul Public Schools. After community feedback about eligibility for families with children in private or charter schools and the passage of a federal aid package, city officials decided to provide smaller grants to more families.

"We've really been working on it and then amending it based on what we're seeing from the state and the feds, who are also working hard on this," Council Member Chris Tolbert said in an interview. "Both people and these small businesses that employ so many need some help so that they can come out of this and be vibrant again."

Families who have at least one minor child living in their household and earn 40% or less of the area median income — $40,000 a year for a family of four — will be eligible for $1,000. Though the amount is sized to help with rent or mortgage payments, Guild said, it's not restricted to those uses.

Businesses that have a gross revenue of less than $2 million and have been operating in St. Paul for at least three months will be eligible for $7,500 to cover costs including rent, payroll, employee health benefits and payments to suppliers.

Council Member Rebecca Noecker said in an interview that she's gotten mostly positive feedback about the bridge fund, along with questions about "why certain lines are being drawn" to determine which businesses qualify for help.

Noecker introduced an amendment Wednesday that eliminated a 20-employee cap and shortened the amount of time that qualifying businesses have been open in St. Paul from six months to three.

"I want to make sure we're targeting it to businesses that are neighborhood stabilizers, that are presences in the community and that also, ideally, employ a lot of people so that the benefits can be spread out among not just the business, but the employees, too," she said.

For more information about the bridge fund, visit or call 651-266-6565.

Emma Nelson • 612-673-4509