Philadelphia City Council pitches $25M plan to address racial disparities

City Council President Darrell Clarke announced a new initiative of the investment of $25 million to address social ills and racial disparities plaguing the city (Philadelphia Tribune photo)

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia City Council aims to raid the city’s recession reserve fund to pay for programs to address racial disparities plaguing the city, setting up a showdown with Mayor Jim Kenney over the funding.

Weeks before a budget is due, Council President Darrell Clarke called for transferring $25 million from the reserve fund into council’s budget for legislators to pay for programs in city departments that address social issues affecting people of color, including poverty, and a lack of access to affordable healthcare, fresh food and affordable housing.

Clarke said the proposal was a down payment but “absolutely not” enough to make up for a $649 million budget hole facing the city due to the economic fallout from the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has led to proposed cuts to various departments, a hiring freeze and layoffs.

“We don’t have the money” that other cities do, Clarke said, “but we do have to make sure that we put money on the table to show people that we’re serious about this.”

The council president said he did not expect any pushback from the Kenney administration on the proposal.

That may not be the case.

Kenney’s proposed $4.9 billion budget dedicates $30 million from the recession reserve fund to pay for the city’s response to the pandemic, including recovery and reopening costs, which the federal government is not expected to reimburse the city for, said Mike Dunn, a Kenney administration spokesman, in an email.

The mayor’s plan banks the remaining $20 million in the reserve fund to safeguard against the ongoing recession and bolster the city’s anticipated lower fund balance, or surplus, to start the fiscal year on July 1 — $268 million, a reduction from $352 million projected before the pandemic.

“If expenses are higher or revenues lower than planned, we need a cushion against worsening conditions,” Dunn said.

City Council’s “New Normal Budget Act” reflects the issues confronting the city following the pandemic and demonstrations over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, but members of council have been working on the proposal for a year. Many of the proposals were repackaged from the anti-poverty plan members of council put forward earlier this year, including providing rent subsidies and helping residents access federal and state benefits now going uncollected.

New proposals include providing resources to business owners rebuilding from looting and vandalism during a week of rallies, marches and protests, and apprenticeships for people of color.

Among the new proposals were modest police reforms to strengthen oversight of the department that is majority white (53%) in a city where the population is majority Black (44%).

Philly Mayor Kenney crafts new committee aimed to reconcile issues with ‘people of color’

While the plan pushed for reviving a residency requirement for police officers, the idea is dead on arrival for at least a year.

Residency requirements that allow officers to live outside city limits after five years of service are enshrined in the police union’s contract, which was extended a year through June 30, 2021. The Kenney administration was pushing to restore residency requirements in the ongoing contract negotiations before the pandemic hit.

Today, approximately 30% of the city’s police officers live outside Philadelphia.

Members of council did not consult with demonstrators, who have been marching in the city since May 30, when considering reforms to the police department, Clarke said.

“They want us to do our job,” Clarke said referring to demonstrators, adding, “We know. We’ve heard people’s cries. We get it. We hear you.”

Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared