Peduto: Federal relief package will avoid city layoffs, replenish reserve fund

Pittsburgh will be able to avoid layoffs of more than 600 employees and should be able to rebuild a $120 million financial cushion it lost because of the coronavirus pandemic when President Joe Biden signs covid-19 relief legislation that cleared its final congressional hurdle Wednesday afternoon.

“I’ll be reassured when it is on the president’s desk and I see him putting his signature on it.” Peduto said Wednesday.

Biden has indicated he will sign the bill on Friday, according to The Associated Press.

The $1.9 trillion legislation includes about $350 billion in funding for cities and states, including more than $300 million for Pittsburgh and more than $250 million for Allegheny County, according to analysis by congressional committees.

But the federal cash isn’t the windfall it sounds like, Peduto said.

“I don’t want people to think there’s this pot of gold sitting out there,” Peduto said. “These funds are going to be used primarily to sustain the city’s budget.”

The city spent about $120 million in its reserves it had built up over the course of six years because of the revenue shortfalls wrought by the pandemic. It also adopted a 2021 budget that only funds operations through July.

If relief didn’t come, the city would have had to layoff 634 employees to plug a $24 million hold in the budget, Peduto said.

Those cuts would have been primarily among police, firefighters and emergency services and they were deemed potentially disastrous by city Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich.

Making the cuts would lead to an increase in crime in the city, delay response times and otherwise put people in danger, Hissrich told city council members in November

“What’s happening in Washington is absolutely critical to seeing our economy rebound,” Peduto said.

Peduto has joined other mayors in repeatedly lobbying for the relief package to be passed.

“We are at a critical juncture as we look into the future of an economic recovery,” Peduto said in July, when he joined a bipartisan group of mayors asking for legislation to be passed. “There will be not be a recovery if our cities are left to die.”

But the infusion of cash will help the city recover, rebuild its reserve fund and potentially fund other programs that had been cut.

“We tightened the belt beyond where it should be,” Peduto said. “We need to be able to put that funding back in and ensure the city will be more than financially solvent but strong.”

Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, tdavidson@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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