Mayor Peduto’s 2020 Pittsburgh budget fails to even mention poverty

Economic Justice Circle members speak at Pittsburgh City Budget press conference Dec. 9, 2019

Ronell Guy of the Pittsburgh Union of Regional Renters (PURR) and other members of the Economic Justice Circle at a press conference about Mayor Peduto’s Pittsburgh City Budget – Dec. 9, 2019 (photo by Ray Gerard)

Just Harvest Executive Director Ken Regal delivered the following testimony to Pittsburgh City Council yesterday at a hearing on Mayor Peduto’s proposed 2020 budget. Just Harvest joined other members of the Economic Justice Circle in calling for more transparency, equity, accountability, and community voice. 

It is often said that a public budget is an expression of a community’s values; of its priorities; of what problems it believes are important to solve.

It is disturbing, therefore to find that neither the word “hunger” nor the word “poverty” ever appears in the combined 587 pages of the City’s proposed operating and capital budgets for 2020. The word “poor” appears precisely once, when the City highlights a key improvement – not in the condition of any actual poor people, but in the City’s bond rating by “Standard and . .” – yes – “Poors.”

The phrase “food security” can be found only when the “Office of Equity” cites it as one of “myriad issues” that its 2019 accomplishments boasts of having “researched and supported.” But action on that research and support in the Office of Equity’s 2020 goals is nowhere to be found.

One might take comfort in finding a reference to “food access.” On page 204, the city declares that one of the goals of the Office of Special Events in the Department of Public Safety is to “expand food access throughout the city by implementing and improving farmers markets community and vendor relations.” Elsewhere in the document, the Planning Department cites its completion of a report on strengthening farmers markets as a 2019 accomplishment, while the accomplishments of the Office of Special Events include the expansion of the farmers market program with a monthly market in Larimer.

Sadly, though, the 2020 proposed budget neglects to point out that the same Office that takes pride in this accomplishment is actually discussing eliminating that farmers market in Larimer and another one in Beechview. There is no indication in the proposed budget that the city intends to take any action or invest any resources in implementing the recommendations of Planning’s study or in enhancing and supporting neighborhood farmers markets or any other mechanisms to improve food access.

If indeed, this is a document that expresses our values and priorities, it is a deeply disappointing budget that ignores the fundamental need for – and the human right to – food for the tens of thousands of Pittsburgh residents who struggle to keep food on the table.

Members of council, and citizens of Pittsburgh, we can and must do better.

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