Council to Kenney: $100 million needed to combat historic surge in gun violence

ity Councilmember Jamie Gauthier speaks from a podium

Philadelphia City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier at a press conference at Hawthorne Recreation Center in South Philadelphia on June 1, 2021. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Less than a month before Philadelphia’s budget deadline, a majority of City Council is urging Mayor Jim Kenney to spend an additional $100 million on anti-violence efforts during the next fiscal year.

In a letter sent to the administration Friday afternoon, the group calls for targeted investments in grassroots anti-violence groups, mental and behavioral health services, job opportunities for at-risk residents, and safe havens for young people.

If approved, the new funding would be used specifically to help neighborhoods “suffering most from gun violence, with a particular emphasis on Black and Brown youth,” according to the letter.

“This year threatens to be the bloodiest in our beloved city’s history. No place is safe. Not our streets, not our parks, not our schools, not our workplaces, not even our homes. This is a generational crisis that has reached a bloody peak,” reads part of the letter.

“Such unprecedented violence demands an unprecedented response,” the document continues.

Thirteen of Council’s 17 members signed the letter, including City Councilmember David Oh, one of the body’s two Republicans.

Notably, Council President Darrell Clarke did not.

In a statement, spokesperson Joe Grace said Clarke is “busy negotiating a budget agreement with the Kenney administration, and welcomes the input of all Councilmembers.”

“Council President Clarke and a majority of Council released a comprehensive Violence Prevention and Opportunity agenda in April. When a budget agreement is reached with the administration, there will be much more to discuss then, on violence prevention and other issues,” said Grace.

The group’s request comes amid a historic and unrelenting surge in gun violence. At least 228 people have been murdered in 2021, a 33% increase over the same time last year, when the city had the highest annual homicide tally in three decades.

Nearly 900 people have been shot so far this year. The majority of them are Black men, who are now more likely to die in a murder than anything else.

“We owe people who are trapped in neighborhoods that feel like war zones, we owe them significant investments in their health and safety,” said City Councilmember Jamie Gauthier of the $100 million investment.

In his $5.1 billion budget proposal, Mayor Kenney is requesting approximately $34 million for anti-violence efforts for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The total includes an additional $19 million in funding, which would be used to expand a pair of violence intervention programs, a transitional jobs initiative, and the city’s blight remediation work, among other priorities.

“Nothing is more important to the mayor and this administration than reducing gun violence, saving lives, and creating a safer city for us all,” said mayoral spokesperson Deana Gamble in a statement. “We look forward to ongoing discussions with City Council in the coming weeks as we work collaboratively to finalize the FY22 budget and Five Year Plan, and make the necessary investments to address the gun violence epidemic.”

There could be a final vote on the budget as early as Tuesday, though it is not expected. The budget must be passed by Council by June 24, the body’s final legislative session before the end of the current fiscal year, the deadline for passage.

It’s unclear if those who signed onto the letter would be willing to vote against the budget if Mayor Kenney does not agree to their request.

“We want to be optimistic in this process as we move forward. And in the event that the request in the document isn’t met, then you know we’ll make a determination as a group,” said City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson.

The plan detailed in the letter reflects some of the recommendations contained in a proposal announced last week, which calls for an additional $50 million for programs and services for at-risk youth.

Under that plan, the funding would be drawn from the stimulus dollars coming the city’s way through the American Rescue Plan. The money would be used to support initiatives in the 10 ZIP codes most impacted by gun violence, as well as the 25 schools most impacted by the epidemic.

Friday’s letter to the Kenney administration does not specify where the additional funding should come from, but the American Rescue Plan is considered a strong option by the councilmembers who signed the letter.

The Kenney administration has said it wants to use the federal funding to plug a projected $450 million revenue hole caused by the pandemic, reduce wage and business taxes, and boost spending in several areas over the coming years.

City Councilmember Helen Gym, who leads Council’s Committee on Children and Youth, which authored last week’s proposal, said the city must decide whether it wants to help wealthy corporations and individuals or “whether we’re actually going to take on gun violence and not act helpless in the face of it.”

Dorothy Johnson-Speight, executive director of the anti-violence support group Mothers In Charge, agreed, but added the source of the money is inconsequential.

It’s saving lives that’s paramount.

“My concern is the blood that’s running in the streets like a river in the City of Philadelphia from individuals who have been shot and killed,” she said.

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