Special Committee on Poverty Gets Underway, as City Council Sets Goal of Lifting 100,000 Philadelphians Out of Poverty by 2024
Tired of the dubious distinction of Philadelphia having the highest concentration of poverty of any major American city, a Special Committee on Poverty Reduction and Prevention established by City Council held its first public hearing yesterday. An array of experts offered data and analysis on what the city needs to do to achieve the committee’s goal of lifting 100,000 people out of poverty over the next four years.
At a four-hour hearing led by Councilmember Maria Quiñones Sánchez (7th District), one of the four committee co-chairs, the committee heard a number of interesting ideas and data points for what the city can do to reduce poverty. First however, the committee received a goal and a metaphor from Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District) who conceived of the panel earlier this year.
“This is Council’s moonshot,” Clarke told a Council chamber filled with anti-poverty advocates and appointed members of the panel’s subcommittees. “Just as our country set a goal in the 1960s to go to the Moon and did so, we’re setting a goal of lifting 100,000 people out of poverty in Philadelphia over the next four years. I’m optimistic that we can accomplish this.”
Council’s Special Committee on Poverty will hold five hearings over the next several months. In addition to yesterday, it will hold three hearings in neighborhoods across Philadelphia, before assembling a set of concrete policy recommendations for action that will be aired in a final hearing before year’s end.
At today’s hearing, the special committee heard a number of presentations, including an overview of topline data on poverty in Philadelphia from Ira Goldstein of the Reinvestment Fund, as well as inspirational remarks from Sister Mary Scullion of Project HOME.
“My big idea for this committee is, we can end chronic street homelessness in Philadelphia,” Sister Mary said. “We can do this – if we all work together on the right strategies to achieve it.”
Perhaps no idea was more intriguing to the committee than the one from Pauline Abernathy, Chief Strategy Officer for the Benefits Data Trust, who told the panel that low-income Philadelphians annually leave $450 Million in untapped federal and state benefits on the table.
Abernathy said there are various reasons why eligible city residents do not take advantage of benefits and programs like EITC, SNAP, Medicaid, PACE/PACENET and the state’s Property Tax and Rent Relief program. A lack of effective communication by government agencies, confusing application forms, language barriers and other obstacles all play a role.
Abernathy pointed to Council’s earlier work on poverty, Narrowing the Gap, and stated “Philadelphia can dramatically improve benefits access by leveraging existing access points, technology and data sources.”
Councilmember Allan Domb (At Large), who is also a committee member, said it seemed obvious to him the city must invest more in these strategies and in Benefits Data Trust’s work.
The other co-chairs, Eva Gladstein of the Managing Director’s Office, Sharmain Matlock Turner of the Urban Affairs Coalition, and Mel Wells of One Day At A Time, seemed equally interested in Abernathy’s remarks. Council President Clarke listened attentively to her testimony from behind the co-chairs.
When the hearing ended, Councilmember Quiñones Sánchez noted the committee’s priorities and time frame: “I look forward to this short journey and a lot of action.”
Council Votes to Review DHS’ Practices Around Child Separation
After a morning of conversations among Council members, the Kenney administration, and families whose children have been placed in the city’s child welfare system, Council voted in support of a resolution introduced by Councilmember David Oh (At Large) and Councilmember Cindy Bass (8th District) calling for the review of child separation policies and practices by the Department of Human Services.
Since Council returned to session last month, a group of city residents have testified during public comment every week, urging Council to pass Councilmember Oh’s resolution. A number of protestors met earlier today with Council President Clarke to air their grievances about DHS. Several Council members also met with the President to air their views, and several high-ranking members of Mayor Kenney’s staff met with him as well.
Eventually, compromise language was approved by Council, calling for a review of DHS’ policies around child separation. The protestors erupted in loud, sustained applause.
Councilmember Gym Introduces Bill to Prevent “Another Hahnemann”
Reacting to the sudden closure of Hahnemann Hospital in June, an action that put several thousand workers out of work and left thousands of patients scrambling to preserve medical care, Councilmember Helen Gym (At Large) introduced legislation today that requires that any hospital institution to give advance notice of its closure and work with the City on a plan for closure that ensures a safe transition for ongoing care of patients and helps staff land on their feet.
The bill would require hospitals to provide notice to the Department of Public Health within 180 days of closure, and to write a comprehensive Closing Plan within 120 days which must be approved by the City’s Health Commissioner.
The City Solicitor would have the right to take the hospital to court if the hospital does not follow its plan.
“Hahnemann’s closure rocked this city and woke us up to the destructive practices of the private equity and for-profit health care market,” said Councilmember Gym. “The hospitals that serve the most vulnerable patients – those most in need – are the very hospitals at the highest risk of closure. Philadelphia will not be left out when our neediest citizens’ lives are at stake.”
Gym’s legislation was co-sponsored by Councilmembers Bobby Henon (6th District), Kenyatta Johnson (2nd District), Mark Squilla (1st District), William Greenlee (At-Large), Curtis Jones, Jr. (4th District), Cherelle Parker (9th District) and Jannie Blackwell (3rd District). Mayor Kenney voiced support.
“These are not just hospital workers, they are our workers,” said Councilmember Jones. “They are the fabric of middle-income neighborhoods.”
Councilmembers Stand for Fair Contract for Building Service Workers and Contract Rights for Other Members of the Workforce
In a pair of strongly-worded resolutions – and a morning news conference – a group of Councilmembers made clear their support for fair wages for 3,000 building custodians working for private employers, and also for the basic contract rights of workers in other fields.
Led by Councilmember Cherelle Parker, a group of four Councilmembers held a press conference before Council and strongly advocated for a fair contract for building custodians working in private buildings throughout the city.
“Workers who clean Center City buildings deserve a living wage with healthcare and retirement benefits,” read a Council resolution that passed today. “The commercial real estate industry can afford good wages and benefits, and when workers are paid a fair wage, everyone benefits. Philadelphia should be a City where everyone thrives. Inequality should not be allowed to tear Philadelphia apart.”
Parker’s resolution was co-sponsored by Councilmembers Quiñones Sanchez, Johnson and Jones Jr.
… Inside the Rail
In a nice moment before Council concluded, Council President Clarke presided over a joint resolution honoring three former Council staff who recently left Council to move on with their careers.
Clarke and all of Council paused to commend William Carter, Esq., who has joined the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia as Vice President, Local Government Advocacy & Engagement; Jeffery Young, Esq., who has left to join a law firm, and Jeremy Gradwohl, who is pursuing a legal career and will clerk for a federal judge.
“These young men have grown up here, we’re proud of them. We wish them great success in their careers moving forward,” Clarke said.
Councilmember Reynolds Brown (At Large) weighed in before moving for Council’s adjournment, commending Clarke for “developing a deep bench.”
The next Stated Meeting of City Council is scheduled for next Thursday, October 17, at 10 a.m. in Council chambers on the 4th floor at City Hall.