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Food Banks Plead for Piece of a Diminishing Federal Funding Pie

Representatives of more than a dozen local food banks and other public service organizations made their annual plea to Pittsburgh City Council for Community Development Block Grant funding on Tuesday.

The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank asked for $200,000, which is consistent with what they received in years past.

Jay Poliziani, director of Northside Common Ministries and Northside Food Bank, simply asked for support at whatever level the city is able to provide it.

“Whatever one’s religious affiliation may be, or not be, as humans we are called to do what we can to help our brothers and sisters who are in need,” Poliziani said.

The Community Development Block Grants, or CDBG, are made up of federal funds and are distributed to organizations that work with low and moderate income populations.

The amount of money that Pittsburgh receives through the CDBG program has declined roughly 23 percent over the last five years. In 2010, the city received $17 million. In 2011 that figure dropped to $15 million, and in 2012 and 2013 the city received just $13 million.

Council Budget Director Bill Urbanic said he expects that level of funding to continue in 2014.

A little more than 11 percent of that money is allocated for public service organizations like food banks. Urbanic said the city of Pittsburgh is consistently dispersing within 1 percent of the cap, which is set at $1.48 million for 2014.

Councilman Daniel Lavelle acknowledged that the city simply does not receive enough CDBG funding to serve all of its low income residents.

“We will absolutely, as a body, look to fund you at the highest levels that we can,” Lavelle said. “Unfortunately, we also have to say sorry in advance because we know we’re not going to be funding you at the levels you really need to reach all the target populations.”

Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak disparaged the ongoing cuts to CDBG funding.

“When our funds are cut, your programs are cut as well,” Rudiak said. “It’s very, very frustrating, because our lawmakers in Washington seem to be further and further separated from the realities their constituents are facing.”

Rudiak’s sentiment was echoed by Mary McCarthy, a senior citizen with cerebral palsy who relies on the help of economic justice organization Just Harvest to make ends meet.

“I don’t think people really understand what someone who is poor or near poverty goes through,” McCarthy said. “I am very fortunate in that I have a family at Just Harvest who helps me with food stamps.”

Tuesday’s hearing was the first in a series of public hearings on the 2014 budget. The hearings will continue through mid-December.