Philadelphia City Council passed a pair of bills Thursday that would create a nonprofit fund with $10 million to tackle poverty in the nation’s poorest big city.
The Philadelphia Poverty Action Fund would be a public-private partnership that would pay for anti-poverty programs and services. The nonprofit is part of a city plan that aims to pull 100,000 Philadelphians out of poverty over the next four years.
The passage of the bills — one to create the nonprofit and another to initially fund it with a $10 million grant — comes eight months after a Council committee released a “Philadelphia Poverty Action Plan” that suggested ways to boost incomes and cut costs for impoverished residents. Both bills passed unanimously, 17-0, and now will go to Mayor Jim Kenney’s desk for consideration.
Councilmember Maria Quiñones-Sánchez, who sponsored the ordinance to create the fund, said the nonprofit would unite parallel efforts by the government, private sector, and philanthropic groups to combat poverty. She said the fund could match the city’s $10 million grant through other donations by the end of the year.
“We’re building a fund where all of the stakeholders are going to be at the table, and we can hold ourselves accountable,” she said.
Philadelphia has long held the distinction of being the nation’s poorest big city, with 23.3% of the city’s population living below the poverty line in 2019, according to the U.S. Census. The situation was made worse by the coronavirus pandemic and ensuing recession that put tens of thousands of residents out of work. The city’s unemployment rate was 11.7% in September, down from a peak in June but still well above the 5.9% rate in February, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The Philadelphia Poverty Action Plan, released in March, called for “investing directly in people, not programs,” and suggested strategies such as rent and basic income subsidies, job training stipends, and expanded access to unclaimed federal and state benefits. It also called for a partnership between the city’s community college and school district to invest in programs that help move people from low-wage jobs to family-sustaining careers.
The nonprofit fund would be jointly governed by city officials and the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. The mayor, Council president, and United Way would appoint board members, the ordinance said. United Way will lead the nonprofit effort to raise matching funds and implement programming, a news release said.
“Achieving an equitable recovery from the pandemic will be the economic challenge of a lifetime. But in challenge lies opportunity,” Bill Golderer, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, said in a statement.
David Griffith, Episcopal Community Services' executive director, applauded the Council effort and said he hoped the nonprofit would leverage existing programs with proven results, rather than build up something new. Episcopal runs the anti-poverty program Mindset, which uses coaching to help participants think clearly and work through discrete goals to change their circumstances in lasting ways.
“We need to move relatively quickly, given the crisis from COVID, the huge unemployment that’s hitting the city and the pain that’s there,” he said.