One way the 2022 City of Pittsburgh budget can better address hunger

City of Pittsburgh downtown skyline and riversThe City of Pittsburgh has begun the process to determine its budget for 2022.  This year’s process will include the distribution of an estimated $335 million in federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) relief funds.

This is a huge influx of dollars, nearly half the amount the city approved for its Operating and Capital Budgets for 2021. Due to lost revenues because of the pandemic, the document refers to it as a “stop gap” budget “to assure we can pay our bills beginning January 1, 2021, and continue a minimal level of services to the citizens of Pittsburgh.”

On Monday, Mayor Peduto released his spending plan for the ARP funds. The next day, Sam Applefield, project manager for the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council (PFPC), addressed Pittsburgh City Council. He spoke to the need for a citizen-driven budget process that would improve the city’s systemic inequities in food access, which the pandemic exacerbated.

Just Harvest is a leading member of PFPC, which Sam described in his testimony as “a collective impact organization that brings together a network of over 100 food systems entities to create a just, equitable and sustainable food system. We are public health professionals, food business owners, farmers, restaurant and hospitality workers, public officials, food security and anti-hunger organizations, hospitals, universities, and many more. The Council is a proud partner of the City of Pittsburgh, including on our current Pittsburgh Food Equity Ambassadors program.”

The rest of Sam’s testimony is below.

~ Just Harvest

In the wake of COVID-19, our region, and indeed our nation, has learned hard lessons about our food system. Vulnerabilities have been laid bare and system breakdowns have been impossible to ignore, from empty shelves at supermarkets to miles of cars lined up for food distributions.

The pandemic proved that the food system is critical infrastructure. As such, recovery from the pandemic requires public investment in our local food system.

The unprecedented funding from the American Rescue Plan Act provides an incredible opportunity for this investment, which other municipal governments across the country are making. In San Diego, for example, the Board of Supervisors allocated $20 million to support food distributions, community gardens, nutrition incentive programs, and institutional procurement.

While we applaud the few pieces in this proposed budget that speak to food systems issues, such as $1 Million to help businesses make their “streeteries” permanent and $2.5 Million to fund a Guaranteed Basic Income Pilot, critical food systems issues are otherwise completely absent from this budget.

This glaring omission begs the question: Where was public input in the process of developing this proposed budget? In a city where nearly 20% of residents are food insecure, a number that has almost certainly increased as a result of the pandemic, we know that systemic hunger needs to be addressed.

At the Food Policy Council, we centered the voices of city and county residents in the development of the Greater Pittsburgh Food Action Plan. This plan outlines 150 strategies to strengthen our regional food system, many of which could be funded through the ARP and bring great systems-level benefits to the region.

Our top priority that we encourage Council to consider is creating a Food Justice Fund. Similar funds have been established in Philadelphia and Chicago, and have supported on-the-ground urban agriculture, small business development, access to healthy foods, training and education, and emergency food distribution. This is an incredible opportunity for the City to take leadership, galvanize support of funders and other institutions in our region, and make critical investments in our regional food system.

Thank you for your consideration.

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