In her first term in Philadelphia City Council, Councilmember Helen Gym has led an agenda focused on working families and the city’s youth. From supporting quality public schools to improving jobs and wages to fairer taxation, Councilmember Helen Gym is working for a better Philadelphia for all. She is the vice chair of Local Progress, a national network of municipal officials bringing a progressive agenda of racial and economic justice to local politics. Her work has garnered national attention and she received the 2017 Rising Star Award from EMILY’s List, the nation’s largest resource for women in public office.
A QUALITY PUBLIC SCHOOL FOR ALL
Championing new resources for schools
- Supported the end of a 17-year state takeover of the public schools and the establishment of a local school board.
- Put a full-time nurse and counselor back in every public school.
- Helped double the number of social workers in schools.
- Won a legal complaint that brought tutoring and support services to special education students at schools suffering from teacher vacancies.
- Secured a $13.3 million investment in public schools from the Philadelphia Parking Authority, an all-time high in Parking Authority allocations since the agency’s state takeover.
- Led a campaign for the first investments in bilingual school services since 2011, including 30 new ESOL teachers, bilingual staff and psychologists, and training.
- Helped establish new requirements for all public schools to provide free school breakfast in the classroom.
- Introduced a package of equitable taxation laws, including a shift in the percentage of property taxes allocated for schools, a slow down of business tax cuts, and an increase in the Use and Occupancy (U&O) tax on corporate property owners, to drive additional revenue to schools.
- Hosted youth town halls to hear from students activists about the supports they need in schools and amplified student voice to win additional supports for schools during the budget process.
Investing in quality teaching
- Championed a new contract for Philadelphia school teachers and staff after a years-long standoff.
- Improved the handling of teacher vacancies, recruitment, and diversity hires, including leading an investigatory hearing.
- Reduced the number of teachers forced out of turnaround schools.
Improving school facilities
- Partnered with student activists to win new modern water hydration stations in every school to ensure that all students have safe, clean, and cool drinking water at school.
- Sponsored new legislation requiring that every school have functioning water fountains and established a ratio of one fountain for every 100 students.
- Co-sponsored legislation to protect students from hazardous lead paint in schools by requiring lead paint to be removed in a timely manner and according to best practices, and ensuring transparency. (Sponsored by Councilmember Squilla.)
Ending the school to prison pipeline
- Helped lead a campaign to end K-2 suspensions and reform disciplinary practices to better serve students and families.
- Held school budget town halls, drawing 2,000+ Philadelphians who advocated and won improvements in their school communities.
- Held “Fair Funding” rally and advocacy day in support of a Supreme Court case challenging Pennsylvania’s inadequate and inequitable school funding laws.
- Introduced and passed an amendment to City law expanding Board of Education membership eligibility to all residents of Philadelphia.
- Won a moratorium on the conversion of public schools to charters and a reassessment of District turnaround strategies.
- Drafted a report revealing poor academics and spending by a proposed charter school led by out-of-state hedge fund managers, resulting in their withdrawal from the District.
A HEALTHY AND SAFE CHILDHOOD
Protecting against lead poisoning:
- Co-sponsored a series of lead and water safety bills, which imposed new rigorous standards for lead testing in all school buildings and child care centers in the city, and required disclosure of lead service lines for tenants. (Co-sponsored with Councilmembers Bass, Blackwell, Reynolds-Brown, Parker, and Quiñones-Sánchez.)
- Served on the Philadelphia Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Advisory Group, which led to increased spending on enforcement of dangerous and substandard rentals and homes.
Defending our most vulnerable youth
- Held the first ever hearings on the issue of youth homelessness, highlighting the voices and experiences of youth alongside experts.
- Won $2 million in new city funding over the next four years to address youth homelessness and provide wraparound services. (Co-sponsored with Councilmembers Jannie Blackwell and Allan Domb.)
- Established a task force to reduce out of county youth placements costing the city and schools over $100 million annually.
- Called to end city contracts with agencies with a documented history of abuse (i.e. Wordsworth) and won closer monitoring of residential placements for foster youth.
- Established the Youth Residential Placement Task Force to stop the school-to-prison pipeline by reducing out of county youth placements costing the city and schools more than $100 million annually.
- Passed a Ban-the-Box law to ensure that youth do not have to disclose juvenile records to employers and have a fair chance at employment.
HOUSING AS A HUMAN RIGHT
- Established the city’s first legal defense fund for low-income renters facing eviction and boosted funding for legal defense, winning national attention as a major step towards ensuring right to counsel.
- Formed an Anti-Eviction Task Force, which worked with agencies across the city and courts to develop new programs for renters and advance a full set of policy recommendations to better prevent and respond to evictions and keep families in their homes.
- Advocated for changes to court policy to protect renters facing eviction, including a rule change requiring landlords to have a clear L&I record and a one year rental license in order to file for eviction.
- Co-sponsored Just Cause legislation to protect renters with month-to-month leases from unfair evictions. (Sponsored by Councilmember Curtis Jones, Jr.)
- Co-sponsored legislation to protect rightful home dwellers and crack down on scammers who create fraudulent leases. (Sponsored by Councilmember Parker.)
- Held a community town hall in Germantown, the neighborhood with the highest rate of eviction in the city, to hear from community members about the challenges they face and pave a path forward to secure housing as a human right for every Philadelphian.
- Supported a historic $50 million investment in affordable housing.
QUALITY JOBS AND CORPORATE ACCOUNTABILITY
- Introduced and passed the nation’s most expansive Fair Workweek law, guaranteeing the right to know when and how much you will work, a pathway to more hours, and protections from retaliation for 130,000 workers at retail, food service, and hospitality corporations.
- Co-sponsored legislation to provide City contractors and sub-contractors with a $15/hour living wage. (Sponsored by Councilmember Squilla.)
- Passed a law to expand the prevailing wage for more than 2,000 building service workers such as janitors and security guards across Philadelphia.
- Passed historic legislation to require businesses that receive city subsidies to report data about economic value and job quality.
- Co-sponsored legislation to include job growth/loss information in fiscal impact statements. (Sponsored by Councilmember Domb.)
Closing tax loopholes
- Introduced a package of four bills to dramatically change the City’s tax abatement program and fund Philadelphia public schools by limiting the areas where the abatement is used, ending the School District portion of the abatement, capping the abatement on properties over a certain value, and phasing out the program over time.
- Co-sponsored legislation closing a loophole for transfer tax payments.
- Challenged the use of Keystone Opportunity Zones in rapidly developing areas.
MOBILITY AND TRANSIT EQUITY
- Passed legislation requiring stricter standards for pedestrian and sidewalk safety around construction sites. The new requirements limit the ability to shut down sidewalks without alternatives.
- Spearheaded the establishment of a citywide planning process to ensure our transportation infrastructure equitably serves the needs of all Philadelphians, including immigrants, people with disabilities, seniors, and low-income people.
- Helped win the first-ever city funding to expand a “reverse commuting” program to help low-income Philadelphians access suburban jobs as part of a transit equity commitment with the Philadelphia Unemployment Project. (Co-sponsored by Councilmembers Greenlee and Green.)
- Helped lead citywide plan to reduce traffic deaths and injuries by installing speed controls and other neighborhood improvements, and to improve safety for families with children commuting to school.
CIVIL RIGHTS, RACIAL JUSTICE, AND COMMUNITY ACTION
Immigrant rights and ending Anti-Muslim bigotry
- Led the first protest against the Muslim Travel Ban and helped free detained families at the airport.
- Co-sponsored the introduction of municipal ID legislation to ensure all Philadelphians have access to key services.
- Co-sponsored municipal ID legislation to ensure all Philadelphians have access to key services, and served on implementation task force. (Sponsored by Councilmember Quiñones-Sánchez.)
- Co-sponsored legislation to permanently establish the Office of Immigrant Affairs and ensure long-term City support for immigrant families in Philadelphia. (Sponsored by Councilmember Quiñones-Sánchez.)
- Defended Sanctuary City status and expanded access to legal assistance for children facing deportation.
- Led a citywide campaign to raise funds to support Pennsylvania applicants to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and increase access to legal assistance and “know your rights” education for immigrant families.
- Passed a resolution urging the US Department of Homeland Security to withdraw its proposed rule changing the definition of public charge, and expressing opposition to the proposed rule as inhumane and undermining access to essential health, nutrition, and shelter for immigrants and their families.
- Submitted formal comment on behalf of Philadelphia City Council urging the US Department of Homeland Security to withdraw its proposed public charge rule change.
- Passed a resolution condemning the imprisonment and prolonged detention of asylum-seeking children and families as inhumane and counter to international law, and calling on Governor Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to issue an emergency removal order and immediately close the Berks County Residential Center.
- Passed an anti-Islamophobia resolution.
- Distributed posters supporting diversity and inclusion and decrying hate throughout the city.
- Passed a resolution denouncing Trump’s assault on civil and human rights.
Expanding our civil rights and liberties
- Passed the first official recognition of Trans Day of Visibility in Philadelphia and hosted an annual celebration in City Council to honor the day.
- Passed a resolution urging the United States Senate to pass Medicare for All and affirming universal access to health care as a human right.
- Passed a resolution affirming a human right to earn a living and to a safe and dignified workplace, regardless of immigration status.
- Advocated to protect students and faculty from racial discrimination at a religious college, resulting in a supportive amicus brief from the City of Philadelphia and a settlement agreement.
- Hosted a reading of the Stanford Survivor’s letter in City Hall, bringing together government officials and advocates for survivors of rape and sexual assault.
- Co-sponsored and passed legislation requiring that all city buildings/facilities have diaper changing stations. (Sponsored by Councilmember Bass.)
- Expanded insurance coverage for City employees to include in vitro fertilization and egg freezing.
- Co-sponsored legislation to require sexual harassment training for all City employees. (Sponsored by Councilmember Reynolds Brown.)
Honoring our ancestors and history
- Passed a historic city apology to Jackie Robinson for racism he suffered while playing in Philadelphia.
- Honored Korematsu Day and Fred Korematsu’s legacy of defending civil liberties.
- Passed a resolution declaring that Philadelphia recognizes May Day to honor workers and the labor movement, in perpetuity.
- Passed a resolution honoring the life and achievements of the scholar, scientist, and fighter for world peace W.E.B. DuBois, and declaring 2018 as the Year of DuBois in the City of Philadelphia.
- Passed a resolution commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the November 17, 1967 Citywide Black Student Walkout, and held cross-generational events celebrating the spirit of student organizing throughout Philadelphia’s history.
- Passed a resolution commemorating the life of Temple professor and civil liberties champion John Raines, who participated in the Freedom Rides in the 1960s, bravely seized and leaked FBI files revealing government surveillance of civilians in 1971, and served as a tireless activist for peace and racial justice.
- Organized a Community Action Meeting at which more than 600 community members pledged over $15,000 for local organizing, and made more than 1,000 organizing commitments.
- Spearheaded the PA fight against the confirmation of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, helping lead tens of thousands of calls to Senate offices.
- Fought to protect the Affordable Care Act, with a resolution, phone banking, protests, and mobilization.
- Passed a nationally-revered resolution welcoming Gritty, the new mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers, and honoring the spirit and passion that Gritty has brought to the City of Philadelphia and to the entire country, both on and off the ice.