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A plan to address city’s ‘staggering’ poverty

News Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer

By Alfred Lubrano, Inquirer Staff Writer

In an unusually frank document, the city has laid out stark statistical descriptions of poverty in Philadelphia, accompanied by a plan to try to deal with the problem.

The Shared Prosperity Philadelphia plan, presented Thursday at the Central Library of the Free Library of Philadelphia, states that at a “staggering 28 percent,” the poverty rate here is the highest among the nation’s 10 largest cities. More than 430,000 of the city’s 1,547,600 residents live below the federal poverty line, the report points out. The poverty line ranges from $11,490 for a single person to $23,550 for a family of four.

Further, black and Latino Philadelphians are twice as likely to be poor as whites. “Most distressing,” the report continues, “39 percent of Philadelphia’s children are poor.”

Poverty is a “persistent and devastating problem” in Philadelphia, and holds back many residents, Mayor Nutter said at the event. “We may never benefit from their knowledge and abilities because they will never have the chance to develop their talent,” he said.

The city’s high poverty rate may also dissuade companies from locating here and is a burden on all taxpayers, antipoverty experts say.

Eva Gladstein, executive director of the Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity, helped create the report by consulting with antipoverty experts in the city.

The result is a plan to have organizations work together to focus on job creation, expand access to public benefits, increase housing security, and ensure that children enter school prepared to learn.

Even the most well-intentioned city government cannot battle poverty as effectively as the federal government, with billions of dollars in assets. The city’s plan in large measure is an attempt to coordinate efforts to help people access that federal money, Gladstein said.

That’s a proper first step, according to Deborah Weinstein, executive director of the Coalition on Human Needs in Washington, an alliance of national organizations that address the needs of low-income Americans.

“There is no question that federal resources are essential,” Weinstein said. “But a city can do something quite important: Increase access to these programs and increase coordination” so that city agencies work together to make sure people get the federal help they need.

Julie Zaebst, interim director of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger, seized on the plan’s message that too many Philadelphians fail to take advantage of benefits that could help them.

Under-enrollment in programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, “is a huge problem for our city,” Zaebst said.

Coalition research shows that more than 180,000 residents who are eligible for SNAP are not receiving benefits.

Although the city’s plan was generally well-received, a spokeswoman for Philabundance, the region’s leading antihunger agency, urged Nutter to be sure to follow through.

“While we commend the administration for their plan to reduce poverty, we are hoping the mayor’s office will put resources behind this plan to make it a reality,” said Marlo DelSordo, director of marketing and communications.

“We are all familiar with the challenges, but now it’s time for action. In order to move the needle, we need to create and execute initiatives to affect real change that improve the quality of life for all Philadelphians.”

Contact Alfred Lubrano at 215-854-4969 or alubrano@phillynews.com.

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