Philadelphia is a truly unique place. Our city is the largest and one of the most diverse in Pennsylvania. While its blocks of rowhouses and street grid may look different from some other parts of the state, the basic needs of our residents are the same as those across the Commonwealth: food, shelter, and education. This is not too much to ask for the good people we represent, yet Philadelphians continue to be held back by a pervasive deep poverty that is both inhumane and virtually unshakable.
Philadelphia’s poverty rate has remained at roughly 26 percent since 2013. That is unconscionable to our delegation. While we see skyscrapers rise in Center City and other signs of growth and affluence, many of our communities — indeed our constituents — live a very different daily reality that includes contemplating buying food or paying the bills. This needs to change.
The Philadelphia House Delegation recently gathered in the state Capitol to announce a bold, exciting plan that will lead us in that direction. Our plan incorporates four major areas focusing on reducing that 26 percent poverty level: workforce development and education, commercial corridors, criminal justice and public safety reform, and infrastructure and exports.
Getting people to work is key to fighting poverty. The Philadelphia House Delegation plan pushes for programs that offer school-based pre-apprenticeship programs, increased funding for adult education and increased summer jobs and paid internship opportunities. By supporting our young people, adult learners, and returning citizens, we aim to create a 21st-century workplace in Philadelphia where every worker is paid a decent wage and isn’t forced to get a second or third job just to survive.
We also must support our commercial corridors so they can flourish as vibrant, thriving hubs of community and economic development. Through grants and small business loans issued through the city and the Commonwealth, we will help to strengthen local businesses and keep jobs in the community.
It’s no secret that residents of our poorest neighborhoods live surrounded by high levels of crime. In 2018, the city saw its highest homicide rate in a decade. Those homicide victims have names, and they leave behind unrealized dreams and suffering families and communities. The delegation’s plan calls for a state of emergency around illegal guns on our streets and provides resources to all levels of crime fighting to eradicate them.
We recognize that doubling down on mass incarceration is not the path forward. We are pushing to increase funding and staff to the Office of Probation and Parole and the Board of Pardons while keep those suffering with mental health issues out of jail and in proper treatment facilities.
By closing the school-to -prison pipeline, we will make a positive change in the lives of many Philadelphians and also free up the money we have been pouring into our punitive criminal justice system. That funding instead can go to some of our youngest residents. By increasing education funding and improving the physical conditions of our school buildings, we can have a major impact on reducing the poverty that has gripped our city for generations.
The Philadelphia House Delegation plan sets out a comprehensive rebuilding program for all our schools, addressing deferred maintenance, safety, and vital upgrades. The plan also wants to spotlight the Port of Philadelphia in South Philadelphia, and its huge potential to employ more Philadelphians with family-sustaining union jobs.
Throughout the year, members of the Philadelphia House Delegation will host town hall meetings and discussions to dive deeper into our plan and get feedback from our communities. We also will invite Gov. Tom Wolf and Philadelphia City Council to join us in moving our agenda forward on behalf of the people of Philadelphia. We are committed to fighting for our constituents and reducing our city’s poverty rate from 26 percent to zero!
State Rep. Jason Dawkins is chairman of the Philadelphia House Delegation and represents the 179th Legislative District in northeast Philadelphia.