Nearly 400,000 Philadelphia residents — or about a quarter of the city’s population — are living in poverty. It’s not a new problem, but on Tuesday, City Council announced a new plan to address it.
The initiatives include providing a “basic income” to all Philadelphians, a policy that would guarantee cash assistance to households in poverty.
While basic income policies are used in other countries, few U.S. cities have tried it. Stockton, Calif., became the first U.S. city to offer universal basic income last year, distributing $500 debit cards to residents who earn less than the city’s median annual income, about $46,000. The concept also gained attention when then Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang proposed a nationwide universal basic income policy.
Other proposals in Philadelphia’s poverty action plan include offering rental subsidies and stipends to help residents in job training or education programs. In all, the plan comes with a goal of lifting 100,000 residents out of poverty by 2024, the end of the current City Council term.
“Call me crazy — I’m just optimistic this will happen,” Council President Darrell L. Clarke said at a news conference announcing the plan.
Specifics about the proposals, including its potential cost or when or how legislation would be introduced to enact them, were not part of the report.
Councilmember María Quiñones-Sánchez said the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey had expressed interest in the basic income proposal and would potentially raise money for it. But, she said, “We haven’t worked out all the details.”
Clarke acknowledged that previous plans to reduce poverty have had minimal impactbut said he would make it a priority as Council considers next year’s budget.
Mayor Jim Kenney on Thursday is scheduled to deliver his proposed budget for fiscal year 2021.
“I’m pleased that this plan and our [administration’s] antipoverty agenda share so much in common," Kenney said, "because this is the most pressing issue facing our city. But it’s not enough that we’re rowing in the same direction. We need to row faster.”
Council’s plan has the support and involvement of United Way, the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia, and other groups. It calls for a commission designed as a public-private partnership to implement the action plan, a poverty fund to get investments from both the city’s coffers and other partners, and a dashboard to track outcomes.
Here are some proposals in the report:
Work with lawmakers in Harrisburg to increase the minimum wage or gain the ability for Philadelphia to set its own minimum wage. State Rep. Jordan Harris (D., Phila.) said Tuesday that there has been progress on that issue in talks with lawmakers.
Automate the sealing of criminal records for certain nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors so residents with a record will have less trouble getting jobs or housing.
Automate property tax-relief programs, so residents do not have to apply to receive tax breaks.
Refund the city’s highest-in-the-nation wage tax to low-income workers. City Council approved a bill sponsored by Allan Domb to do so last week; Kenney blocked the same measure from becoming law in December.
Offer more assistance for renters at risk of eviction.
Work to recoup benefits, such as tax breaks, that are now available but going unclaimed. The report estimated that $450 million in available benefits from the state and federal government go unclaimed each year.