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Pittsburgh earmarks $3M to address ‘food justice’

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(The Center Square) – The city of Pittsburgh has budgeted $3 million of leftover federal COVID-19 emergency funding in 2023 for a “food justice initiative.”

This comes after years of concerns about food insecurity in the city, leading to a push in 2022 by different community organizations for Pittsburgh’s 2023 budget to include funding specifically to address the issue.The 355-page city budget included no details on how that $3 million will be spent.The concept of food justice, according to organizations like the Oregon Food Bank, is that hunger is caused by “systemic injustices — including the intersectionalities of racism, classism, sexism and more — which create and perpetuate the conditions that sustain hunger and poverty.”A 2020 report from the Pittsburgh’s Department of City Planning on “Understanding Food Insecurity in the City of Pittsburgh” discussed food insecurity and how it can be remedied through city-funded programs.It states that 63,000 city residents were “food insecure” in 2019, which means they “were limited by economic and social conditions which affected their consistent access to adequate food.”The city stated in the report it wants to assign funding to address “food apartheid” which it describes as “the lack of food options in a neighborhood did not happen naturally or accidentally, but instead is the result of racist policies and economic inequality.”Through funding, “we must continue to support institutions that develop and bolster urban and regional agriculture to build up greater food system stability” and “food equity,” the report says.In March 2021, the American Rescue Plan, or ARPA, passed by the U.S. Congress allocated $335 million to Pittsburgh. It took five months for the city council to approve a plan detailing how it would spend all the money over the next four years.Over the years since then, the city has moved around some of the spending categories.The “food justice initiative initiative” was added for the 2023 budget, but as of a Sept. 30 report, none of the $3 million had been spent.In the proposed 2024 budget, no additional money is added to the $3 million already set aside for 2023. ARPA funding has also been assigned to other categories like “funding for the arts,” “lead paint project,” and more.Since 2021, the city has only spent $174 million of the total $335 million it was given, according to a report.According to 2023 budget, the city will have access to its ARPA funding through Dec. 31, 2024.Pittsburgh has until then to assign the funds to eligible uses, or it must return the money to the federal government. Any money assigned but not spent by Dec. 31, 2026 must also be returned. Representatives of the city of Pittsburgh did not respond to a request for comment on how funding for the “food justice initiative” will be spent.

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