Philly’s ‘moonshot moment’ plan outlines how to lift 100K from poverty

(Miguel Martinez/Billy Penn)

(Miguel Martinez/Billy Penn)

Updated 5:36 p.m.

During a high-profile event on Tuesday, City Council unveiled its “Poverty Action Plan” — aimed at helping 100,000 Philadelphians climb out of poverty by 2024.

The special committee’s plan creates a coalition of city officials, businesses and nonprofits to work together to institute the goal.

Sharmain Matlock-Turner, the president of the Urban Affairs Coalition, said the plan brings together many different approaches to make this a “moonshot moment” for a city with a stubbornly high poverty rate.

She said the recommendations outlined in the plan range from adult education opportunities in neighborhoods, job training stipends and family sustaining jobs, supporting the School District of Philadelphia’s job readiness and entrepreneurship training, accessible childcare and transportation and summer jobs for teens.

Other proposals include providing rent subsidies and guaranteed income.

While Philadelphia has seen other anti-poverty efforts in the past, Kenney thinks this time is different, with many stakeholders on board with the plan.

“It’s not enough we’re rowing in the same direction,” Kenney said. “We need to row faster and help our fellow Philadelphians increase their incomes and lead the best quality of life possible.  We may not always agree on everything but we can agree on that.”

The council approved a bill last week to refund the city’s local wage tax, the highest such tax in the nation, to the lowest-income workers. The plan still has to make it past the mayor’s office.

A study by the Pew Charitable Trusts in 2018 found about 400,000 Philadelphia residents — nearly 26% — live below the national poverty level. That percentage was more than double the national average and was the highest of the 10 most populous U.S. cities.

The study also showed that nearly half of those living in poverty in Philadelphia are considered in “deep poverty,” which was defined as an adult with two children living on an income of less than $9,669.

The coalition behind the plan includes Rob Wonderling, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Philadelphia. He said the group’s business members will focus on how to hire more people and ensure those working low-wage jobs apply for any existing federal and state programs that they qualify for, but aren’t already enrolled.

Wonderling said that adding jobs to make a difference in the city’s poverty rate could be a challenge.

“To change the trajectory, to add 10,000 net new jobs a year, it will be one, two, three, four new jobs at a time in the neighborhoods in the city,” Wonderling said. “That’s hard work.”

Bill Golderer of the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and South Jersey said agreeing on a blueprint shouldn’t be the main effort of the action plan. There needs to be total cooperation to achieve the goal.

“It’s not the government plan to bring us to the promised land,” Golderer said. “All of us need to act differently and we need to put aside all the pettiness to keep our eye on what it would mean for our neighbors to move and lay claim to the promise of America.”

Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez said the Poverty Action Plan sends a message that it’s time to be hyper-focused on one issue.

“This document is about people, not programs, not government, not bureaucracy, not the private sector or the public sector but all of us together,” Quinones-Sanchez said. “It was about aligning around strategies that have been used in other cities and also aligning ourselves about how to invest new resources.”

The new resources part seems to be a sticking point.

Council President Darrell Clarke would not give specifics on how much it would cost to implement the anti-poverty plan.

“You don’t want to put that number on the table that early on in the process until you know exactly what your objective is to the level of specificity that then you attach a dollar number to it,” Clarke said. “Stay tuned. There will be some dollar figures attached.”

Part of the plan calls for increasing the minimum wage. State Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, said he doesn’t expect a $15 minimum wage for all of Pennsylvania but is hoping for authorization to raise it locally. That would still be a big lift. Pennsylvania hasn’t voted to change its minimum wage since 2006.

“We are already working in Harrisburg to address some of these issues but we look forward to our partnership. I can tell you we already have meetings set up with our leadership and council getting together to address poverty in the City of Philadelphia.”

Mayor Kenney gives his budget address on Thursday, and Council President Darrell Clarke said he will be talking to every city agency during the coming budget hearings about how they can help achieve the plan’s goal.

It was unclear which of the proposals would be included in the budget, but the report asks for the start of the Philadelphia Poverty Fund for both an initial city investment and private partner funding for the plan.

The report recommends forming a Poverty Commission to implement the plan and making an online dashboard to track progress of the 100,000-person goal.

The Associated Press’ Claudia Lauer contributed reporting. 

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