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Pittsburgh community groups want City Council to hold off on taking vote tied to American Rescue Plan

Woman holds up sign that says EQUITY

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Several organizations gathered Tuesday on the steps of the City-County Building in Downtown Pittsburgh to speak out against a preliminary vote scheduled the next day by City Council, which is considering how it planned to spend $335 million — its allocation of federal American Rescue Plan funds.

The planned vote has set off a number of objections from community members who say the process is being rushed and should be postponed until council has received more community input.

“It has been made clear that we have elected officials that do not give a damn about what people think and they think they can do whatever they choose to do because they have the power to choose,” Randall Taylor, a community activist, said. “They used to say elections matter, but I guess they don’t matter anymore in the city of Pittsburgh.”

The City Council previously held what activists called two “hastily announced” public hearings.

“Not everyone can make it to a public hearing on Zoom when it’s only announced when it’s only one week in advance and there are only two time slots and it’s not in your neighborhood,” said Jennifer Rafanan Kennedy, the executive director of Pittsburgh United, a coalition of community groups.

Tim Stevens, CEO of the Black Political Empowerment Project said if council does not pause, they are not listening.

“This process should not be rushed or even appear to be rushed,” Mr. Stevens said. “City Council should wish to be viewed as providing the citizens of Pittsburgh a wide, open opportunity for input in such a historic process.”

With plans to spend the federal funds by 2024, Mr. Stevens believes this is “all the more reason for enhanced citizen participation.”

“[There are] so many areas of need in our city, including healing the historical damage done over the years to our Black and poor communities, with regard to meeting the need for a significant explosion in creating new-quality, low to moderate income housing for residents, providing a new, creative, effective and powerful foundation for significantly expanding the possibilities and probability of success of African American-, minority- and women-owned businesses, attacking the continued challenges of climate change, more investment into community organizations, expansion of social services, anti-violence initiatives, community centers, support for more recreational opportunities,” Mr. Stevens said.

Activists representing the environment, women’s issues, minority issues, public transportation, housing and food security were present.

“We’re out here to talk about that once-in-a-lifetime investment and the chance that we have to address inequities, to address disparities and to take care of those deep inequities that the pandemic has exacerbated,” Ms. Kennedy said. “That’s what this money is about, is a chance to rebuild and change our communities for the best so community voices must be heard in that process. And not just heard, listened to.”

Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, executive director at Women for a Healthy Environment, said “the United States Treasury specifically identified lead remediation as a permissible use of the ARPA funds, recognizing the significant health and economic impacts caused by lead poisoning across our country.”

“We are not immune in our city, with our county, to these impacts due to our aging infrastructure,” Ms. Naccarati-Chapkis said. “In fact, nearly 4,000 children were lead poisoned between 2015 to 2019 in Allegheny County… . We are pleased in support of the city’s plan to allocate funding to address this critical public health issue, however, we must delay the process to ensure that every voice is being heard across the city.”

Called for by Joshua Malloy, community organizer of Pittsburghers for Public Transit, was transportation equity. Mr. Malloy called the current distribution plan for the ARP funds by the City Council and Mayor Bill Peduto “not ethical and not open to the community process.”

“All those people stayed on public transit and kept our system running and they did that without any benefits to themselves,” said Mr. Malloy on the operation of transit during the pandemic. “Everyone else got a bailout, it’s time to bail out those drivers as well.”

The American Rescue Plan is about rescuing said Ken Regal, executive director of Just Harvest, a nonprofit focused on economic justice and food access.

“There’s not a whole lot of rescuing going on if after two brief public hearings on less than a week’s notice, the City Council approves a plan that was done behind closed doors and after that public hearing no amendments were proposed, considered or acted on,” Mr. Regal said. “There’s not a whole lot of rescuing going on if the City Council and the mayor’s office are not listening when people say what we need is urgent. We need an end to food apartheid in our communities, we need transit justice, we need housing justice, we need environmental justice and we need economic justice for all.”

Co-sponsors of the event included Penn Plaza Support and Action, the Black Worker Center, Pittsburghers for Public Transit, the Economic Justice Circle, Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, Women for a Healthy Environment, the Women and Girls Foundation, the Black Political Empowerment Project, and the Alliance for Police Accountability, Pittsburgh United plus 5 other city groups.

According to Ms. Kennedy, more than 45 organizations in Pittsburgh signed a petition calling for a more “equitable, transparent, community-centered, community-driven process that results in an equitable outcome.”

“We can’t have an equitable outcome without an equitable process,” she said. “We can’t get what people need without talking to people.”

Correction, made at 3 p.m. July 13, 2021: City Council is taking a preliminary vote on Wednesday. An earlier version of this story contained an incorrect date.

First Published July 13, 2021, 11:46am

Read the full story here.

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