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Pittsburgh City Council Approves Spending Plan For $335 Million In Federal COVID Funds

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Pittsburgh City Council approved a four-year spending plan for $335 million in federal COVID funds on Tuesday.

Most of the money, which comes from the American Rescue Plan, will go to retaining city employees and first responders.

The vote passed 8-1. District 7 Councilwoman Deb Gross had the lone no vote. She feels the public needed more say in the process. District 8 Councilwoman Erika Strassburger voted no at the preliminary vote but voted yes Tuesday.

It comes despite outcry from some groups who say the public didn't give enough input on the plan. They wanted money to be reinvested back into underserved communities like Homewood and the Hill District. They also wanted help with housing assistance and building up minority businesses.

"I don't think anything was going to change. I think it's disingenuous to pretend we were going to change something just because we had more meetings or delayed it a little bit longer," Council President Theresa Kail-Smith had said.

District 5 Councilman Corey O'Connor said the money will help the community.

"It's going to go to a lot people that need it and deserve it after the year we've been through," he said.

According to O'Connor, of the $335 million in the spending bill, about $177 million will stabilize the budget and make sure no city employees lose jobs.

"You want to stabilize that budget and those jobs right away as soon as we could and that's the best part of getting this done right now," O'Connor said.

Gross feels it was unnecessary to plan out use of the rest of the money right now without more public input.

"We really need to hear directly from people whether the programs are working or not working what their needs are, and how we can meet those needs," she said.

It's something echoed by groups like the Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid.

"Our outreach methods need to be focused on transit, members of our community and the folks that are the most vulnerable," Kacy McGill said.

The money is being divided up into four categories. Mayor Bill Peduto's office calls for it to go to people, planet, place and performance.

"All this money is not going to be spent in a month. This is going to be a very long drawn out process with this money over the next few years where things can change in a sort of ebb and flow," said O'Connor.

"I think that we've left needs unmet and we've put a bunch of line items in there that really are not about meeting people's needs that were created by COVID," Gross said.

Council President Theresa Kail-Smith wants to bring some money to help non-profits who stepped up for the area during the pandemic.

"We will continue the meetings. This is just the beginning phase of this. There is going to be a lot of opportunity and discussion on public input," she said during the council meeting on Tuesday.

She said the passage of the bill is not an end. It's still a fluid situation and will change.

Mayor Bill Peduto was happy to see the bill pass.

"I'd like to thank the City Council for working with us to create the American Rescue Plan spending plan and passing it today so that our communities can get the relief that they need and have been seeking. The pandemic has taken a real toll on our most vulnerable communities and this relief funding is an opportunity to invest in building back a better, more equitable Pittsburgh," he said in a statement.

Independent mayoral candidate Will Parker was not as happy.

"I'm deeply disappointed with city council today. I understand the pressure they were under by the outgoing administration, however here was their chance to put the public first by allowing more community feedback on our ARP funding. No other city in the country has allocated 100% of their funding, this should draw national attention from our federal government and an investigation should be conducted. There hasn't been enough community engagement which is required by law. Ed Gainey's lack of leadership on this issue has cost the people of Pittsburgh, if residents couldn't encourage him to speak up & out publicly against this hastily passed proposal they shouldn't trust him or any of his rhetoric come November," said Parker.

Antler independent candidate Marlin Woods had this to say: "We have a current Mayor whose term is up in January and a City Council whose responsibility is to perform the duties they were elected to do.

"The priority is to address mission-critical needs, the immediate needs of those communities most negatively affected by Covid-19.

"The next administration can reprioritize or reallocate dollars based upon community input. I am going to be looking at these things to see where those changes can be made."

Other candidates have not offered any statements yet.

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