HelenGym's blog

When people are generous, but a society is short-sighted

Last week the Inquirer posted a powerful story about the struggles of the region’s working poor. Their particularly compelling case of Sandra Walerski and her family, who shops on $25-45/ week, drew a follow up in yesterday’s paper as dozens of people nationwide offered contributions to the family, including a surgeon who offered to consult Ms. Walerski about a brain tumor, Delaware County Community College officials who were considering an academic scholarship for the Walerski’s 20 year old son, and even a mention by John McCain.

It goes to show that people are extremely generous and compassionate about poverty; they want the situation addressed. They’re even willing to give up their own money to do it. The only problem is there are 300,000 some Sandra Walerskis in Philadelphia alone. This is not a problem for individuals to tackle but a deep-rooted problem for our city and region.

On Wednesday, members of One Philadelphia went to City Council to talk about a real program to provide relief to struggling families – revive the Cohen tax credit currently targeted for elimination by the City. They took a beating for it, but their argument stands: poverty is growing in Philadelphia and families need and deserve help.

The Cohen tax credit is a cornerstone in tackling poverty in our neighborhoods. Consider the argument made by Jonathan Stein in yesterday’s Daily News:

The rebate would make the 80-year-old regressive wage tax more equitable by helping struggling and working families just like the successful programs it's modeled on: the federal Earned Income Tax Credit and state Tax Back program. It was one of the greatest progressive reforms in City Council history. Cohen was proud of Council, including one of the co-sponsors of the rebate, then-Councilman Nutter. From on high, Cohen likely applauded the new mayor's inaugural promise of a "new Philadelphia" committed to "moving hundreds of thousands out of poverty and on to a better life."

The rebate would do that by putting money directly to families making less than twice of the poverty line - about $35,000 a year for a family of three.
The Pathways PA "self-sufficiency standard" says such a family needs $44,000 a year to make ends meet - no vacations, no car, no eating out, just basics.

A three-person family earning $25,500 a year, qualifying for a full state Tax Back refund, still pays $950 in city wage taxes.

Of the 300,000 working poor in Philadelphia, an overwhelming number are families in our public schools. If the figure that over 35% of Philadelphia’s children live in poverty doesn't humble you enough, consider that the majority of schools in Philadelphia have poverty rates in the 90th percentiles.

We know firsthand the consequences of poverty in our schools. We know the ways that our children suffer from poverty at home: when the utilities are shut off, is homework really a possibility? When a single mother is working two jobs and affordable daycare is out of reach, who’s coming to the parent teacher conference? When immigrant children are packed two or three families to a household, do we really expect someone to complete a science project on time? Last Christmas, my daughter’s own classmate was suddenly rendered homeless, and it made me realize how little a priority school can be.

We still need to keep the pressure on about the many reasons why the Cohen tax credit remains important. It has its ledger costs, yes, of course, but let's make no mistake that its elimination is something we’ll be paying for many times over.

300,000 Reasons to support the Cohen Working Tax Credit

Today’s Inquirer features a story on one of the 300,000 estimated working poor who live in Philadelphia.

There are perhaps 300,000 such people (including children) in Philadelphia and about 686,000 in the 10-county region, according to Bill Clark, executive director of Philabundance, which he described as the largest hunger-relief agency in the area.

Nationally, there are roughly 52 million working poor people, says David Elesh, a sociology professor at Temple University. "And," he adds, "it's getting worse each day because of this recession."

Federal guidelines set the poverty level for a family of four at $21,200. To be considered working poor, such a family could make as much as $42,400 annually.

When Asian Americans United joined the numerous supporters of David Cohen’s Working Tax Credit, we had to overcome the stereotype of people asking why the “model minority” would care. But in many Asian and immigrant communities, a huge population would easily be considered working poor. In a Chinatown Needs Assessment Survey conducted by AAU, 70 percent of respondents said they worked 10 to 12 hours per day, six to seven day a week and earned less than $2,000 a month.

While homelessness is often made visible by people living on the street, numerous immigrant families may also qualify as “homeless” if you consider the overcrowded households because people can’t afford their own homes and double or triple up with relatives.

One Philadelphia, Community Legal Services, Philadelphia Unemployment Project, and many others have made a push on the issue. But it could use a lot more help. You can help revive the importance of the Cohen Working Tax Credit by also writing a letter to the editor to the Inquirer on the issue: letters.inquirer@phillynews.com.

Time to Rethink the School Lunch program

The Philadelphia School District is pulling all beef items off the menu after the District learned today it had received shipments from Westland/Hallmark Meat Company. Last month, the Humane Society released a video showing Westland/Hallmark employees using forklifts and electric shocks to forcibly bring diseased and sick cows to slaughter. Westland/Hallmark provides meat to the national school lunch program. As a result of the video, the USDA issued a recall – the nation’s largest – of over 140 million pounds of the company’s beef products.

Interestingly enough, I had called the PA Dept. of Agriculture Monday to inquire about Philadelphia’s status. The told me know more than 170 school districts across the state had received Westland/Hallmark meat shipments and he would get back to me about Philadelphia.

Schools, stadiums and state budget priorities

From Jeff Gammage’s excellent article on whether the Chester stadium deal is yet another snake oil sale for a town that's suffered way too many broken promises:

The prospective team owners, leading a St. Louis group in the contest to secure MLS's 16th team, predict a huge financial impact:

More than 2,600 temporary construction jobs and 800 permanent full-time jobs. About $19 million in annual tax revenue. An estimated $670 million in personal earnings and $335 million in taxes over time.

Those are giant numbers to a city where half the households get by on less than $25,000 a year.

And they leave sports economists shaking their heads. Whether it's Kansas City or Charlotte, Chicago or Chester, they say, the argument is always the same, and so is the result.

"Plopping down a stadium," said Temple University assistant dean Michael Leeds, coauthor of The Economics of Sports, "does nothing for a city."

It’s hard to put my finger on what rankles me most about the Chester stadium deal.

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