Under pressure from the ACR Project, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has canceled its race-based municipal basic-minimum-income program.
Pittsburgh Mayor Ed Gainey’s spokesman has announced the city’s abandonment due to “legal doubts” of the racially racially discriminatory basic-minimum-income pilot program authorized last year. “Legal doubts” is a dramatic understatement. The program was a clear violation of the law and the Constitution. The city’s withdrawal of the program came after its passage drew the ACR Project’s attention.
The Pittsburgh city council created the program in September 2021, authorizing Pittsburgh (through an intermediary) to pick 100 Black women and 100 other low-income Pittsburgh residents living in disadvantaged ZIP Codes to receive two years of monthly cash payments. The city council authorized financing this race-and-sex-discriminating hand-out using federal funds provided by the U.S. Department of the Treasury through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA”).
That element of the program was clearly illegal. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 established decades ago that “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” It is long-since established that this provision bars federal funding recipients — including cities — from engaging in intentional discrimination based on race, color, or national origin. Yet Pittsburgh’s program, expressly, would have discriminated based on race and color in selecting beneficiaries.
The ACR Project focused on this overt, expressly racial component of the program. Twice since the city council’s enactment, the ACR Project had demanded under Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law the city’s production of all records related to its implementation of the program, only to be told that no such documents yet existed. The ACR Project had indicated to Pittsburgh that it would continue to submit RTK requests until that changed and the city turned over responsive documents.
The ACR Project’s concerns with the canceled Pittsburgh program mirror its concerns with a parallel program adopted by the city council of Evanston, Illinois. There, too, the city council passed an ordinance authorizing the use of federal ARPA funds to finance a discriminatory basic-minimum income program to be administered through a contract with a third party. The ACR Project filed a related Title VI complaint with the Treasury Department, highlighting in part that Evanston’s use of federal funds violates Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and ARPA itself. Treasury’s investigation remains ongoing.
Pittsburgh shouldn’t need the reminder and should never have considered, much less authorized, a program discriminating based on race. But the ACR Project is pleased to see that Mayor Gainey took the right lesson from Evanston’s example and shut down the clearly illegal program before it began. It’s good to see that word is spreading that cities cannot use federal money to finance discrimination.