Philly Council’s ‘once-in-a-generation’ anti-poverty plan sends $4.5M to community groups

Philadelphia City Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez hails a $10 million public-private partnership that aims to life 100,000 Philadelphians out of poverty in the next five years. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia City Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez hails a $10 million public-private partnership that aims to life 100,000 Philadelphians out of poverty in the next five years. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Philadelphia residents should feel the first impacts of the city’s poverty action plan this spring.

As part of the ambitious plan to move 100,000 Philadelphians out of poverty over the next five years, the city sent $4.5 million to community organizations so they can help people with their taxes — including accessing unclaimed state and federal benefits as well as offering help with other financial services and legal counseling.

The overall plan, originally announced in March 2020 and passed by City Council in November, committed $10 million in total to the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey to spearhead the plan. Designed to send resources to people rather than programs, the public-private partnership will experiment with strategies such as rent subsidies, property tax relief, job training stipends, and increased access to public benefits. That final strategy will get a  big boost immediately in the first phase, announced Councilmembers Darrell Clarke and Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, and the Campaign for Working Families on Tuesday.

Philadelphia City Council members (from left) Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and Darrell Clarke announce the city’s commitment of $10 million to the Philadelphia Poverty Action Fund. Also present are (from right) Bill Golderer of the United Way and Mary Arthur of the Campaign for Working Families. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“This is the first part of many, many phases of this initiative because poverty didn’t happen in the short-term and it’s not going to get resolved in the short-term, but we have to start somewhere,” Clarke said.

The $4.5 million will be shared between a number of different nonprofit organizations. The breakdown is as follows:

Another $1 million in city funds will go to United Way for initiatives that haven’t yet been announced.

“When people are not struggling and they have access to what they’re entitled to, they make better decisions,” Quiñones-Sánchez said.

Bill Golderer, president of United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, emphasized how grateful he was that community organizations are at the forefront of the initiative.

“People are struggling right now and we cannot allow ourselves to be distracted [or] fragmented,” he said. “This represents a different kind of leadership where we decide to invest ourselves in the places where people need the help the most.”

The Big Picture Plan

Philadelphia has long ranked as the nation’s poorest big city, with almost a quarter of its population living below the poverty line. This issue has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and its resulting economic fallout.

The latest quarterly statistics show that Philadelphia’s unemployment rate is at 9.3%. To compare, the unemployment rate is hovering at 6.3% nationally according to January’s figures.  Last year at this time, right before the pandemic led to mass shutdowns, the city’s unemployment was at 5.9%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Clarke has referred to the $10 million plan as “a once-in-a-generation chance to move the needle on poverty in Philadelphia.”

Philadelphia City Council President Darrell Clarke announces that the city has committed $10 million to fight poverty. He is accompanied by (from left) Councilmember Maria Quiñones Sánchez, Bill Golderer of the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, and Mary Arthur of Campaign For Working Families. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

One area where Council hopes to move that needle is housing. As unemployment spreads, shelter becomes more precarious for many people. To combat homelessness, the plan suggests increasing the use of financial and legal aid by investing direct assistance to tenants. The plan mentions using the Legal Defense Fund investments’ services, which would include mediations before an eviction filing, a hotline, and designated full-time legal aid attorneys. Though the city has not yet announced funding to this effect, local government has already moved in this direction through pandemic relief programs such as rental assistance and the eviction diversion program.

The action plan also suggests dedicating local resources to the Philadelphia Housing Trust Fund, expanding the scope of home repairs to keep people in their homes, and reclaiming vacant lands.

The plan also wants to provide more pathways to permanent supportive housing by investing in housing networks with rent subsidies as well as landlord recruitment and retention services. The network of emergency and supportive housing would include shared housing, low-demand recovery homes, and emergency safe shelters.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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