Activists ask Pittsburgh council to delay vote on relief spending

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Budget and Policy Center, along with residents and other local organizations, held a rally Tuesday morning outside the City-County Building to demand Pittsburgh City Council pause the vote on federal relief spending from the American Rescue Plan.

They demanded the vote delay, saying that the community should have a say in how the money from the funds is spent.

“Community input and transparency are necessary to ensure the city invests these funds to help us all care for our families, set our kids up to thrive, and have full and healthy futures,” the group said in a press release.

Pittsburgh will be allotted $335 million through the American Rescue Plan. Mayor Bill Peduto’s office said they have worked with councilmembers and other community leaders to develop their plan. The money will be used to save 600 city workers from being laid off. It also will be used for investments in affordable housing, infrastructure and electric vehicles.

Council will vote on the spending on Wednesday.

But activist feel that the vote is being rushed, and and council should spend more time talking to community members about how the money should be dispersed.

“The decision on how those funds are divided should be done in a very deliberate and careful fashion and with great input from citizens of Pittsburgh,” Chairman and CEO of the Black Political Empowerment Project Tim Stevens said.

The spending plan includes several categories including People ($66 million); Planet ($37.5 million); Places ($58 million); and Performance ($172 million).

But activists think the money should go elsewhere like food insecurity, public transit, preventing lead poisoning, affordable housing.

“We must ensure that the city uses these funds to address years of racial and economic inequity and ensure accountability and transparency in the process,” said Celeste Scott, housing justice organizer at Pittsburgh United. “Homeownership is important, but it’s renters who have suffered the most during the pandemic. Including rent relief is critical, and if Council had engaged the public in this process, that’s one of many things that would have been abundantly clear. It is vital that the public has a say in deciding how to spend this money -- not just the usual voices and the folks in power -- but the community, especially those most in need of relief. Council needs to slow down, pause the vote, and engage the community in a real and transparent way.”

Council held public meetings on Saturday and Monday to allow community input.

City councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess said in a meeting that activists are trying to limit the powers of council.

“I think we should listen to everyone but the buck stops here. We were elected we have been elected we ran for council and elected not by 70 people at a public meeting but thousands of people to represent this city and to be response fiscally for the people of this city,” Burgess said.

Council President Theresa Kail Smith said that council will continue to meet with people, and a vote can *always* be amended.

>>>RELATED: Peduto’s office unveils plans for Biden’s American Rescue Plan money

Council held public meetings on Saturday and Monday to allow community input.

City councilman Rev. Ricky Burgess said in a meeting that activists are trying to limit the powers of council.

“I think we should listen to everyone, but the buck stops here. We were elected, we have been elected, we ran for council and (were) elected not by 70 people at a public meeting, but thousands of people to represent this city and to be respons(ible) fiscally for the people of this city,” Burgess said.

Council President Theresa Kail Smith said that council will continue to meet with people, and a vote can always be amended.

>>>RELATED: Peduto’s office unveils plans for Biden’s American Rescue Plan money