Yesterday, residents and local organizations gathered to demand Pittsburgh City Council pause their rushed vote on federal relief spending until the community has a say. We are all particularly concerned that community voices have not been engaged to help decide how to prioritize a once-in-a lifetime influx of millions of dollars.
Groups including Pittsburgh United, Women and Girls Foundation, Pittsburghers for Public Transit, Human Rights City Alliance, Alliance for Police Accountability, Penn Plaza Support and Action, Black Worker Center, The Black Political Empowerment Project – Pittsburgh, Hill District Consensus Group, and Just Harvest held a press conference at the City-County building in downtown Pittsburgh.
Below are the remarks our executive director Ken Regal delivered at the event.
~ Just Harvest
The American Rescue Plan is called the American Rescue Plan for a reason.
There’s not a whole lot of rescuing going on if the money is used for electric vehicles for the city fleet. The Rescue Plan is not for L.E.D. streetlights to promote equity in neighborhoods because equity in neighborhoods means a lot more than what your light bulb is made of.
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 are proposed, considered, or acted on.
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.
Most of the infrastructure items in the outgoing Mayor’s budget that have been proposed to city council and which council plans to vote on tomorrow might very well be valuable. But are they urgent? Are they emergencies? Are they the best and highest use of this money? We don’t know. We don’t think so, but we don’t know.
And that’s why we need to deliberate about this. That’s why we need not just public hearings, but public listening.
We need the city council to stop . . . and listen. We need the Mayor’s office to stop and listen. We need them to listen to the citizens of this community and we need them to listen to the federal guidance that governs how American Rescue Plan Act money is spent.
Because if the shoe was on the other foot, and we were out here this morning calling for the right kind of light bulbs in street lights, the mayor would have a battery of lawyers out here telling us that this was not in compliance with the guidance for the American rescue plan.
So where is that battery of lawyers today? Not here.
It’s not that long ago that we heard horns honking and people singing and people applauding essential workers in this community. It seems that their work is essential but their opinions aren’t.
So it’s time for us not only take about essential workers, but essential citizens, essential residents, and essential communities, and essential needs. Needs that this city has chronically left unmet.
But we’ve been told year after year “there’s not money for this.” We’ve been told year after year, “there are higher priorities.” We’re told year after year, “that’s not within the guidelines.”
Well, now it’s time. 335 million dollars on the table but we are told “don’t worry, we’ve got it figured out already.”
The most deeply ironic part of all this is that the city has actually been more transparent and more open to public input about their plans for this money than the county government or the state government.
So don’t be surprised if you see us down the block at the county courthouse or you see us at the governor’s office, or you see us at the state capitol to demand these same kinds of opportunities for public discussion, public input, public listening that’s required to get the job done.