Philly City Council approves $85M for coronavirus relief, plus $400K for council to spend

Love Park in Philadelphia (Photo via Flickr Commons)

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia City Council tacked on $400,000 for its members to spend on coronavirus information campaigns in a last-minute amendment to an $85 million emergency transfer proposal from Mayor Jim Kenney in response to the virus pandemic.

City Council President Darrell Clarke said the potentially new funding for council members would go toward a “series of different initiatives,” including social media campaigns, to educate the public about the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, and social distancing.

“We will be a part of the city’s response — period,” Clarke said.

The ordinance would transfer the funds from the grants revenue fund to the general fund. City Council members could give final approval to the fast-tracked legislation as soon as next week.

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Members of council failed to publicly describe the amendment as the legislation sailed through a committee hearing and then was heard on a first reading before the full session on Thursday, both of which aired exclusively online and on television because City Hall remained closed as a preventative measure.

The lack of transparency over the amendment was “potentially an oversight,” said Clarke during a media-only telephone interview after the session.

If approved, council members could use the funding at their discretion for “advertising purposes” related to coronavirus relief efforts, including radio service announcements, billboard purchases and mailers to households, according to a memorandum about the amendment from Clarke’s financial team that was sent to council members.

No Kenney administration officials testified during the committee hearing on the bill.

Mayor Jim Kenney said later he supported “what we needed to do to get the appropriations passed, which we did.”

Kenney said he welcomed any assistance to get more information out to the public.

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