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Pittsburgh Wants To Spend American Rescue Plan Funds To Protect City Workers, Support Housing

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

On today’s program: Dan Gilman with the City of Pittsburgh explains how the mayor’s office wants to use $335 million from the American Rescue Plan to raise city salaries, stalled by the pandemic, and advance affordable housing; Pittsburgh City Councilor Erika Strassburger weighs in on why the city should ban single-use plastic bags, a policy that’s now possible under the new state budget; and the state is asking residents to put away bird baths and feeders to reduce the spread of a mysterious illness among songbirds that’s causing neurological symptoms and death.

Federal COVID-19 relief brings $335 million to Pittsburgh
(0:00 - 8:58)

Pittsburgh City Council debated yesterdayhow to spend the $335 million dollars allotted to the city through President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan.

A task force made up of city officials laid out a plan on how to spend this money. The recommendations break up the funding into four main areas: people, planet, place and performance.

“We can do everything in government focusing on people first,” says Dan Gilman, chief of staff for Mayor Bill Peduto.

The current recommendations put half the money, $172 million, into the city’s budget, which falls under the “Performance” category of the task force recommendations. This includes shoring up the city budget and avoiding layoffs.

The money from the American Rescue Plan must be used by the end of 2024. Despite losing the Democratic nomination for mayor, the Peduto administration says it still should be making recommendations and implementing a plan for these funds, despite a limited tenure in office.

“We all lobbied for an American Rescue plan across this country because there was an urgent need to help families, to help struggling residents, to help small business owners to address the economic crisis brought on by COVID,” Gilman says. “I don’t see how we can then turn around and say, ‘But we can wait a year to spend the money’.”

The recommendations also include investments in social programs and initiatives to address climate change.

New state budget opens door for local plastic bag ban
(9:00 - 16:56)

Last year, Republican state lawmakers used the budget to block the city of Philadelphia's attempt to ban single-use plastic bags, stating that cities in Pennsylvania could not implement their own bag bans.

This year, however, the state budget contains no such language, opening the door for cities to implement their own rules.

Pittsburgh City Councilor Erika Strassburger says this removes a roadblock in the city’s effort to ban single-use plastic bags.

Strassburger says council is discussing a ban on single-use plastic bags when one makes a purchase, and implementing a fee on paper bags. These measures are meant to discourage the use of paper bags and compensate the retailer.

Strassburger says council is also taking criticism of the ban into account. Public hearings are being planned, as well as a summit with the Sustainable Pittsburgh's Plastics Collaborative.

“We want to hear from people who are opposed to this, find out why, find out what would make it easier to overcome that hurdle, and then institute that,” she says.

Strassburger says she hopes the council passes an ordinance by the end of the year.

Mysterious illness is spreading among songbirds in Pennsylvania
(16:59 - 22:30)

Birds across Pennsylvania and surrounding states are dying of an unknown disease.

According to the Pennsylvania Game Commission, which last week recommended residents remove bird baths and feeders, 12 bird species have been impacted so far.

Scott Weber, the Senior Research Investigator for the University of Pennsylvania's Wildlife Futures Program, says researchers first learned of the disease in late May after initial reports in the Washington, D.C. area. It reached Pennsylvania in mid-June.

Weber says the disease is concerning due to the rapid pace at which it's spreading.

"As of last week, we had 70 cases," he says. "Through the holiday weekend, we probably have over a thousand [potential] cases through 61 of the 67 PA counties that have been reported to us."

Weber says thus far all of the known cases have been songbirds from the family passerine.

"Most of these birds we frequently see at some of our bird feeders or in the backyard throughout a lot of the U.S.," he says. "Some of these cases that we have confirmed have included blue jays, European starlings, and grackles."

Symptoms of the illness include eye discharge, head tremors and the inability to stand.

Weber says the disease is concerning due to the rapid pace at which it's spreading.

"As of last week, we had 70 cases," he says. "Through the holiday weekend, we probably have over a thousand [potential] cases through 61 of the 67 PA counties that have been reported to us."

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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