Challenger James Clay now a sure thing
State Rep. Tony Payton has withdrawn from the primary race for the 179th Legislative District, after being thrown off the ballot earlier this week by a challenge in Commonwealth Court, according to reports.
More than 1,600 signatures on his nominating petitions, which had 1,854 signatures, were voided in a court challenge filed by Doris Robinson, ward leader of the 23rd Ward.
Payton did not return the Tribune’s repeated phone calls Friday.
However, he told the Daily News that he thought Robinson’s ward leader, former city Councilman Daniel Savage, was behind the suit.
Payton acknowledged that he’d had problems collecting signatures.
“I went to several churches,” Payton said. “It turns out, a lot of people at church aren’t registered, or are registered Republican or with no affiliation.”
As the incumbent, Payton was expected to win re-election. His withdrawal leaves the seat open for Democratic challenger James Clay Jr., the only other candidate on the ballot.
Payton will continue to serve the rest of his term, which ends in January.
The 31-year-old Payton has crossed swords several times with the city’s Democratic establishment, and failed to receive the party’s endorsement in at least one of his re-election bids.
He first won the seat in 2007 when he replaced retiring Rep. Bill Rieger, who had held the post for 40 years. At that time, Payton prevailed over fellow Democrat Emilio Vasquez, who had the blessing of party leaders, only after a long court battle, which left a judge to declare Payton the victor.
Even after winning, Payton continued to spar with party leaders, openly feuding with Savage after Payton appeared at a campaign event with Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sanchez as she fought Savage to represent the 7th District.
More recently, Payton was a vocal critic of Democratic City Committee Chairman and U.S. Rep. Bob Brady for his role in drawing up the state’s new redistricting plan, which Payton said gerrymandered the First Congressional District to give Brady more white supporters as he prepared to face a Black challenger, Judge Jimmie Moore.
Payton threw his support to Moore, who has since withdrawn from the congressional race.
The groundbreaking at the construction site of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in Washington, D.C. begins this week, notable since it is the last full week of Black History Month 2012.
One of the most talked about donations is the Harriet Tubman collection, a gift to NMAAHC from Charles L. Blockson — writer, historian and former board member of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. He also is founder and curator of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection of rare texts, slave narratives, art and other historically significant artifacts. The items came to him after the death of a Tubman relative.
“I inherited her belongings, and for eight months, I kept them with me in my bedroom, but they belong in this museum,” Blockson said of the Smithsonian’s African American museum. “Harriet Tubman is one of the most important women in the history of America, and her story needs to be heard by generations to come.”
Blockson’s family story is intertwined with Tubman’s. His research shows he is the descendant of Jacob Blockson, who escaped slavery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore with Harriet Tubman and settled in St. Catherine, Canada. Tubman, born into slavery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, gained international acclaim as an Underground Railroad operator, Civil War spy and suffragist.
“Several of my ancestors escaped with Harriet Tubman, came to Philadelphia, met with (Black abolitionist) William Still and later went on to Canada,” explained Blockson.
Among the items shedding light on the private life of Tubman are family photographs, a hymn book published in 1876 and signed in pencil by Tubman, and a lace shawl (circa 1897) given to her by England’s Queen Victoria. Among the photographs of Tubman’s funeral March 11, 1913, is one showing her lying in state at A.M.E. Zion Church in Auburn, N.Y., and surrounded by seven members of the board of directors of the Harriet Tubman Home.
“She died in Auburn, N.Y., and when I came back, I stood over her grave under the evergreen tree and my emotional armor erupted,” recalled Blockson. “I started to cry, and asked, ‘How did she do it?’ Of all the people in our history, she sort of reigns supreme. Wherever I travel and talk, everyone seems to know of Harriet Tubman. She is paramount — her blood, her soul force — she is the Moses of our people, as we were taught, and here she delivered us to the promised land. To me, the groundbreaking for the NMAAHC is history, and Tubman is the proper one to be the leading soul force.”
The NMAAHC collection holds nearly 10,000 items ranging from fine art, historic photographs and manuscripts, to items documenting the slave trade, the Harlem Renaissance and the civil rights era.
“There is something both humbling and sacred found in the personal items of such an iconic person,” said Lonnie Bunch, director of NMAAHC. “It is an honor to be able to show the private side of a very public person, a woman whose very work for many years put her in service to countless others. This donation by Charles Blockson is a selfless gesture that ensures that her story will be enshrined forever within the Smithsonian Institution.”
The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) was established by an Act of Congress in 2003, making it the 19th Smithsonian Institution museum. It is the only national museum devoted exclusively to the documentation of African-American life, art, history and culture. Scheduled to open in 2015, the museum will be the first green building on the National Mall on a five-acre site adjacent to the Washington Monument.
President Barack Obama will deliver remarks at the NMAAHC groundbreaking ceremony on Wednesday at 10 a.m. The event is by invitation only, but will be webcast at http://nmaahc.si.edu/Events/Groundbreaking. For more information, visit the museum at nmaahc.si.edu.
While Democrats — who far outnumber Republicans in Philadelphia — held court at a gala at the ballroom of the Warwick Hotel to rejoice President Barack Obama’s re-election, the reaction 15 blocks east was more subdued.
“Congratulations to President Obama and the Democratic Party on their victory,” said John Featherman, a Republican who ran against U.S. Rep. Bob Brady and lost. “The American people spoke, and I urge my colleagues to respect the will of the people. Differences that Republicans have with Democrats should no longer be met with obstruction.”
Featherman attended a Republican watch party on South Street Tuesday night, it was a group made up of what he called “loyal opposition” — Republicans from Philadelphia who have split with the party’s traditional leaders. Both sides agreed to a truce during the presidential election.
On the other side, Calvin Tucker, a Black Republican, speaking Wednesday, also congratulated the president.
“Hopefully, we can now get about the business of addressing some of the major issues that confront the nation and Philadelphia,” he said, adding that he too, would like to see the GOP embrace African Americans.
“What we have to do is engage the African-American community in a broader discussion about the issues they’re confronting,” Tucker said. “We’ve got to not be seen as the party who is not receptive to the big tent. If we do, we’ll have some success in the future.”
Featherman and the loyal opposition gathered in a second floor room at Paddy Whacks Pub at Second and South streets where about 125 Philadelphia Republicans watched the returns come in. Members of the city’s Grand Old Party gathered in knots near the bar and the buffet, steaming along the back wall, grazing on hors d'oeuvres and cocktails as overhead television sets carried the election results.
At least five flat screens — all turned to Fox News — carried election news to the faithful.
At 9:15 p.m. when the network projected that Obama had carried Pennsylvania, few people seemed to notice. There was a notable lack of enthusiasm, summed up by one woman as she filled her plate at the buffet.
“I don’t think tonight is going to be very exciting,” she said to the man next to her. He nodded in agreement as they meandered off to a table.
Featherman noted that many in the room were lukewarm in their support of Romney. As an example, he said he supported Ron Paul in the primary.
“That crowd was not an ordinary group of Republicans,” he said. “We tend to be more Center City professionals and once we register the numbers, we’re not going to spew hateful kinds of responses. Many of those people did not support Romney in the primary, so I don’t think they had much emotion invested in Romney.”
That 84 percent of Philadelphians had supported the Democrat was unremarkable.
But, outside the city and region ,the race had become a nail-biter.
By 10 p.m. with 56 percent of the state’s votes counted, most media outlets, including the New York Times and CBS News, trumpeted Obama’s win in Pennsylvania and the 20 electoral votes it gave the president.
Pennsylvania’s highest ranking Republican refused to concede anything.
“There’s a long way to go,” Gov. Tom Corbett told the Associated Press, waving away the party’s loss in Pennsylvania.
He would be proven wrong shortly after that statement.
In Philadelphia, on Election Day, party officials vigorously defended its prerogatives — suing to have a mural depicting Obama painted on the wall of the Benjamin Franklin Elementary School polling place covered up, and fighting to make sure minority inspectors were allowed in all polling places.
The congenial crowd at Paddy’s clung to the hope that Romney would somehow garner the 270 electoral votes needed to win the contest. But, with most of the voting behind them, that hope consisted mostly of glancing up from their drinks more frequently.
As the clock approached 10:30 p.m., many news outlets showed Romney pulling ahead with electoral votes 158 to 147. Fox defied the trend and reported both men in an electoral tie 163 to 163.
Chatter in the room increased, momentarily.
But California and its 55 electoral votes remained uncounted. None of the states of the far west had been counted.
At 11 p.m. western returns started to come in. Fox reported that California and Washington had backed Obama, netting the president 67 electoral votes.
By 11:19 even Fox was giving Obama 268. The crowd at Paddy’s thinned.
Early Wednesday morning it was clear that the president had won with 303 electoral votes to Romney’s 206.
“I’m hoping we can put aside the rancor, and let the president and Democratic Party try to speak for the American people,” said Featherman on Wednesday morning.
Results tallied Tuesday are preliminary — the count only becomes official in Pennsylvania only after the state Department of State certifies the results, a process that can take several days.
Though it has been promised before, it looks like the City of Chester will finally get a grocery store after more than 11 years of being what Bill Clark calls a “food desert.”
Clark, executive director of the region’s largest food bank, Philabundance, hosted local, state and federal legislators and members of the public at a ground-breaking ceremony Thursday morning at the future site of Fare and Square, the nation’s first nonprofit grocery store.
Chester has been without a grocery store since the West End Market closed in August 2001. The new venture will be located in the same space at Ninth Street and Trainer Avenue.
“In the spring, a new grocery store will open right here in the City of Chester,” Clark said. “We’ve come a long way in a project that will be a game-changer.”
The store will be operated by Philabundance, but will create 25 to 30 new jobs. Store Manager Noah Langnas said hires will be made from within Chester whenever possible.
“That’s 25 or 30 job opportunities we’ve never had in this community,” said state Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland, D-159, of Chester.
Fare and Square, a members-only store, will provide access to healthy foods at affordable prices. Membership is free and open to anyone. Those that can demonstrate a need can be enrolled in a special rebate program where 10 percent of their purchases will be refunded in the form of “Fare and Square Bucks.” The vouchers can be used toward future purchases at the store. The healthy food distributor will fill a much-needed gap according to some of the gathered officials.
“It’s a healthy alternative for our citizens,” said Chester Mayor John Linder.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had a challenge here in providing an affordable, healthy access to food,” state Sen. Dominic Pileggi, R-9. of Chester said. “This is something the citizens of the City of Chester have been waiting a long time for.”
The 13,000-sqaure-foot store will feature a produce cooler near the front of the store, along with a meat department and seafood space, and dry goods along the back wall.
“We’re not going to be the health police, but we will try to offer some healthier options,” Langnas said.
The nonprofit aspect of the endeavor will ensure that prices are affordable and that customers in need will be able to buy staples at a bargain.
“What we’re all about is trying to stretch the customer’s food dollars,” Langnas said. “The prices will be as low as possible. If we make a profit, we’ll lower prices.”
The project took seven years of brainstorming, planning, testing and maneuvering to become a reality, Clark said, and it was done with the help of many in the community. At Thursday’s groundbreaking, Sunoco CEO Brian MacDonald presented a check for $200,000 to Philabundance, half of which is earmarked for capital needs at the store. More than 100 other supporters donated anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000 to make the store a reality.
Clark credited U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, D-1,of Philadelphia, with pushing the idea through, saying that the two met many times over the past few years, and that Brady “kicked my butt.”
“We were both kicking in the same direction,” Brady joked. “We all came together.”
Extensive renovations are set to begin next week. According to Langnas, the entire interior of the building will be gutted, leaving nothing but the existing exterior walls.
A Family Dollar store housed in the building will be reconfigured to turn the grocery store’s space from an L-shaped layout into a more manageable rectangular space. The six-month construction plan puts some pressure on the managers, who aim to open sometime in the spring.
“We’re up against it right now,” Langnas said.
Clark, whose organization distributes more than 20 million pounds of food in the region each year, said the problem of getting food to people who need it has become a larger issue than people not being able to afford food. Fare and Square aims to address both problems.
“A store like this is as much a food access solution as it is a hunger solution,” he said.
The store will serve as a testing range for the concept of nonprofit grocery stores, and Clark said he hopes the idea will be scalable for use in other areas with similar problems as Chester. He said the city is the perfect spot for the first store of its kind because the citizens need it and want it.
“At the end of the day, it won’t be Philabundance that makes this a success, it will be the people of Chester,” Clark said.
–The Associated Press contributed to this report
Citing fraud, Gov. Tom Corbett plans to cut off thousands
U.S. Rep. Bob Brady has asked Gov. Tom Corbett not to implement asset testing for food stamp recipients and invited Corbett to tour the First Congressional District to see first-hand how the change would affect thousands of Philadelphia residents.
“I strongly urge you to reconsider, as I am certain the impact of imposing the proposed asset tests will be both devastating and counterproductive,” Brady wrote in a letter dated Jan. 12. “If [the state] proceeds with current plans Pennsylvania only stands to lose.”
The governor’s deputy director of communications, Kirsten Page, said the governor’s office had received the letter, but she was unsure if Corbett had seen it personally.
The state Department of Public Welfare is planning to introduce asset testing later this year, possibly as early as March.
Under the proposed change, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients would lose their benefits if they possess assets — the value of their cash savings or automobile — which exceed a certain amount. Seniors and individuals on disability would lose their benefits if they had assets valued at $3,000 or more, excluding their primary residence and personal property. For everyone else the cutoff would be $2,000.
Brady, whose district is already one of the hungriest in the nation, is very concerned that forcing so many people out of the program would leave many more poor people worried where their next meal was coming from.
“One in fifteen people are living at, or below, the poverty line, and demand for SNAP benefits grew to its highest level ever in May 2011,” he wrote. “The minimum asset limits, which were set in 1980, are not only outdated, but unrealistic — and will force families on the brink of poverty between the security of a modest savings and being able to feed their families.”
Page said the changes were a response to taxpayer concerns.
“Obviously there are many viewpoints on this particular issue, but at the Department of Public Welfare one of their main goals is to ensure that assistance is available to those who need it the most — and that people who have additional resources are not taking advantage of the program,” she said. “They hear a lot from taxpayers who are not happy about people taking advantage of the system.”
It was too early to say whether Corbett would take Brady up on his invitation to tour the First District.
“The governor does receive dozens of requests for his time every week, and every request that comes in is given consideration,” Page said.
The change, if enacted as planned, could affect as many as 170,000 Pennsylvanians. The majority of the state’s food stamp recipients are from Philadelphia. According to city figures, 450,000 Philadelphians receive food stamps. That compares to about 850,000 recipients statewide.
In hearings last fall, Department of Public Welfare Executive Deputy Secretary Timothy Costa outlined his plans to change eligibility rules in testimony before the Pennsylvania House.
The department has the authority needed to make the changes without approval from the state legislature. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the food stamp program, does need to sign off on the plan. That is expected to happen over the next several months, allowing the state to roll out planned changes as early as March.
In his testimony, Costa said the change would reduce the state’s costs and cut fraud. State officials hope to slash $470 million from the state welfare department’s budget.
Brady said concerns about fraud were unfounded, and that DPW was not enforcing current fraud protection measures.
“With existing fraud controls largely going un-enforced, I find DPW’s institution of additional checks to be unjustifiable,” he wrote. “The proposed changes are based on unsupported claims and stereotypes of welfare beneficiaries. In fact, Pennsylvania boasts one of the lowest instances of fraud in the administration of federal programs, with current SNAP fraud rates at less than one-tenth of one percent.”
With less than 100 days until the General Election, President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign is sharpening its attack on Republican challenger Mitt Romney’s tax plan and how it will affect middle class Americans.
In bringing the issue home, United States Congressman Bob Brady joined the Obama for America-PA committee on a press call that assailed Mitt Romney’s tax plan, which Obama’s camp believes will raise taxes on thousands of Pennsylvanians.
“President Obama has already cut middle class taxes to benefit every working family, saving a typical Pennsylvania family about $3,500 during his first term. He is now calling on Congress to extend middle class tax cuts that would prevent a tax hike on all families earning less than $250,000 and benefit 4.9 million families in Pennsylvania,” Brady said on the press call. “His plan would prevent a $2,200 tax hike for the typical family of four.
“Mitt Romney opposes President Obama’s plan to extend middle class tax cuts for 4.9 million Pennsylvanians unless we also give millionaires a tax break,” Brady continued. “Romney has also promised to roll back tax cuts President Obama has already signed into law, a move that would raise taxes on 18 million working families — including 630,000 in Pennsylvania.”
Romney’s campaign has declined to discuss specifics, dismissing Obama’s approach to taxes as too “liberal.”
“President Obama continues to tout liberal studies calling for more tax hikes and more government spending. We’ve been down that road before — and it’s led us to 41 straight months of unemployment above 8 percent,” Romney’s campaign spokesman Ryan Williams told the Washington Post. “It’s clear that the only plan President Obama has is more of the same. Mitt Romney believes that lower tax rates and less government will jump-start the economy and create jobs.”
Obama campaign officials released a set of Pennsylvania-specific numbers showing how many of the state’s residents might be affected by the elimination of certain deductions and how much more they might pay based on IRS statistics. Though any comparison of the two men’s plans is difficult because of the vague nature of Romney’s statements, the Obama campaign provided data on several of the most common tax deductions that could be threatened by Romney’s plan.
More than 1 million Pennsylvanians take advantage of the mortgage deduction. If that deduction were eliminated, they would pay taxes ranging from $1,100 to $2,480 more a year. More than 1 million make charitable deductions. Closing that deduction would cost most Pennsylvania families between $340 and $840 more annually. Another 1.2 million deduct their state and local taxes, which if ended would cost between $870 and $2,710 more a year, depending on income. Finally, 1.7 million have tax exempt healthcare plans through their employers and could see their taxes rise between $1,676 and $3,205.
Obama’s re-election committee alluded to Romney’s $5 trillion tax plan, which would cut taxes for millionaires by 25 percent while raising taxes on the typical family which earns less than $40,000 per year. Obama re-election officials also point out that Romney’s plan would also fail to extend middle class tax cuts.
“Finally, in addition to making the Bush tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires permanent, Romney would add another $5 trillion in new tax cuts weighted to the wealthiest,” Brady said, “and [Romney] says he has a secret plan to close tax deductions and other benefits to pay for it, which experts agree would weigh heavily on the middle class.”
The Brookings Institution’s non-partisan Tax Policy Center released a report that appeared to confirm the claims of Obama’s campaign, finding that Romney’s tax plan would raise taxes on middle class families by an average of $2,000.
Obama campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Austin expanded on both the report and Obama’s stance on the issue.
“The Romney campaign’s inability to answer a direct question about their plan that could raise taxes on millions of middle class Americans is stunning,” Austin said. “As now another independent report confirmed … the fact is that under Romney’s plan, families who have children and make less than $200,000 would see an average tax increase of more than $2,000. To pay for a $5 trillion tax plan tilted towards the wealthy, Romney would slash tax benefits for the middle class.
“In contrast to Romney’s plan to raise taxes on the middle class, President Obama has a plan to prevent a tax hike on the middle class,” Austin continued. “He would reduce our deficit in a balanced way through spending cuts and reforms and by asking the wealthiest to pay their fair share again.”
The battle over paid sick leave is shaping up to be one of the major debates of City Council’s spring session with both sides digging in as Council considers a bill that would require most companies in Philadelphia to give employees paid sick days.
“This government-knows-best, heavy-handed mandate is a significant burden,” Patrick Conway, president of the Pennsylvania Restaurant Association, told members of City Council on Tuesday during Health Committee hearings on the issue.
His argument was countered by a waitress who said she’s often worked sick because she can’t afford to take a day off, unpaid.
“Everyone who waitresses works while they’re sick because they don’t have sick time and they need the money,” said Rosemary Devine.
Their arguments represented the larger debate on the issue which broke down along health and social justice lines and economic considerations. Both sides said they represent the best interests of employees and the city. The Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce is against the bill as is the African-American Chamber of Commerce. Labor advocates are for it.
Under a proposal from Councilman Bill Greenlee most employers in Philadelphia to give workers earned, paid sick days.
The bill has been amended while in committee – in its current guise it would require employers to provide one hour of sick time off for every 40 hours worked. For large firms, those with 20 employees or more would be required to give seven sick days a year. Small employers, those with between 5 and 20 employees, would give four paid sick days. Organizations with fewer than 5 employees are exempted.
The issue has divided council and the administration and business and labor advocates for more than a year. A previous bill was narrowly approved by council in 2011. It was vetoed by Mayor Michael Nutter, who cited economic concerns as the reason for his opposition.
Greenlee re-introduced a similar proposal earlier this year.
This week he sensed an administration grudge against his persistence.
The hearings were held by the Health Committee – yet the administration sent the head of the Commerce Department, Alan Greenberger, to answer questions. Greenlee wanted Health Commissioner Donald Schwarz to testify.
Schwarz did not appear and Greenlee blasted Nutter.
“I think Schwarz is an honorable man,” the councilman said, saving his anger for the mayor. “To not have the health commissioner come to a hearing is the most disrespectful thing this administration has ever done.”
Greenberger called the bill “commendable” but said the administration would prefer to see a statewide bill which would level the field between Philadelphia and the surrounding counties.
“It is the goal of this administration to make it easier to do business in the City of Philadelphia in “order to increase our competiveness vis-à-vis the suburbs and other cities,” Greenberger said. These employers told us they might have to reduce the pay of their employees or reduce jobs. It might lead to increased costs for their customers.”
With other options, Greenberg worried many businesses will simply avoid Philadelphia.
“Businesses will be scared off from coming here when they have choices,” he said. “Had this been a different economic climate our point of view might be different.”
The arguments were one sided, Greenlee said: “You just talked about businesses.”
When one opponent said businesses could no longer afford “unfunded mandates” from the city, Greenlee got riled up.
“Minimum wage laws were unfunded mandates. Child labor laws were unfunded mandates,” he said, dismissing the entire point of view. “It is a matter of whether it’s right or not.”
At one point he grew so exasperated he blurted out: “I feel like I’m dealing with the Tea Party or something.”
More than 40 people were scheduled to testify at the hearings with several more, including U.S. Rep. Bob Brady who supported paid sick leave, submitting written testimony. The audience, which booed occasionally, waved signs with slogans like: “fired for being sick,” “paid sick time now” and “no germs in my pasta.”
It was too early to predict what might happen to the bill during a council vote, Greenlee said. Support seems fall largely along party lines with Democrats, who make up a majority, supporting and Republicans opposing – though several Democrats have voted against the measure.
Councilman David Oh, a Republican, summed up his concerns.
“Philadelphia is on track to lose about 75,000 jobs over the next five or six years,” he said. “I suspect we’re not losing high paid, high skilled jobs…the challenge that we will all address is how we bring more jobs into the neighborhoods of Philadelphia.”
Former Health Commissioner Walter Tsou said the bill provides health and business benefits: “in the long run [an employee] will be more productive if they can get their illness treated or controlled,” he said.
Federal, state and city officials are ramping up pressure on Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration in an effort to halt plans to implement asset testing for food stamp recipients.
“This is one of the most mean-spirited, asinine plans to come out of Harrisburg in a long time,” said Mayor Michael Nutter, in a burst of fiery opposition to the plan that seemed to sum up the opinion of all the government officials present.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, state Sens. Shirley Kitchen and Vincent Hughes and Nutter all voiced their opposition to the state’s plan to limit the value of assets held people who receive food stamps. People under 60 with more than $2,000 in savings or other assets – including an automobile – will be barred from receiving food stamps. For people over 60 that threshold would be set at $3,250.
Asset testing will go into effect May 1 unless opponents are able to convince the Corbett administration to reconsider. The food stamp program feeds 1.8 million Pennsylvanians, including 439, 245 in Philadelphia.
Vilsack, who spoke with Nutter and Brady at a press conference at City Hall, refuted the official reason for implementing asset tests – cost-cutting and fraud prevention – saying that Pennsylvania already had one of the lowest fraud rates in the nation, and added that the program is funded by the federal government.
“It’s not going to save the commonwealth of Pennsylvania a single dime,” Vilsack said. “The money for this program is federally funded. Number two, it’s likely going to cost the commonwealth of Pennsylvania money because when you institute an asset test you have to make sure that you create a process by which those applications are reviewed.”
Last fall, state Department of Public Welfare Executive Deputy Secretary Timothy Costa outlined plans to change eligibility rules. The department has the authority needed to make the changes without approval from the state legislature. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the food stamp program, does not need to sign off on the plan. In his testimony, Costa said the change would reduce the state’s costs and cut fraud. Officials hope to slash $470 million from the state welfare department’s budget.
Vilsack also said that the many stereotypes about who gets food stamps and why were wrong.
“Do we really want to reduce access for senior citizens who’ve played by the rules all their lives?” he asked. “Do we really want to say to children that they are not going to have access to nutritious food? Are we at a point where we really want to say to people with disabilities ‘you’re on your own?’ I would hope not.”
Nationally, nearly 75 percent of food stamp recipients are in families with children, and more than a quarter of them are in households with seniors or people with disabilities, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
Nearly one-third of recipients work, according to the USDA.
“Before we take any action we want to make sure that the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the folks who are administering the program understand the full impact,” Vilsack said.
Brady, who has for weeks been urging Corbett the reconsider the idea, said there was little federal lawmakers could do, because while the food stamp programs are funded by the federal government, they are administered by the state.
“It’s a ‘state’s rights’ kind of thing,” he said. “We do fund them, and the funding is already there, but what do we say to them, ‘We’re going to decrease your funding next year?’ Then they make the asset test $4,000.”
He added that he was confident the Corbett administration would eventually come around.
“I really think that somebody made a mistake up there. I think they’re looking for a window to get out of,” Brady said. “We’re putting pressure to help them find that window. “I think Corbett probably grabbed a hold of somebody and said, ‘What the hell are you doing?’ because it wasn’t thought out.”
Kitchen questioned the administration’s motives, and said she had not seen numbers to back of claims of fraud.
“DPW maintains that it is working to ‘root out fraud and waste,’ yet it has yet to produce solid numbers on any fraud and waste in DPW programs,” she said. “Meanwhile, children, the elderly and disabled individuals and their loved ones are enduring the agony of losing their lifeline and scrambling to re-apply. It’s shameful.”
Hughes noted that the federal government already mandates income limits for food stamp enrollment, so asset tests are a waste of time and administrative costs.
“This is a misguided policy that does a disservice to the needs of Pennsylvania citizens,” he said. “Punishing low- and middle-income individuals for trying to lift themselves out of poverty is not only cruel, but also completely unnecessary.”
The federal trial of ousted housing director Carl Greene has again been halted – with testimony expected to resume Friday.
Greene was expected to take the stand Wednesday in a second day of testimony, this time under cross examination. However, shortly before 10 a.m., U.S. Judge Ronald Buckwalter announced that the court would recess until Friday.
The reason for the recess was unclear.
Greene’s attorney, Clifford Haines, when approached by reporters Wednesday morning, declined to discuss the reasons for the recess and would only say that he was “leaving the building.” The trial, which started last week, was expected to conclude Friday. It was unclear Wednesday whether that timeline still held firm.
In an earlier recess, called Monday, an attorney connected to the case said both sides were trying to reach a settlement. However, the case resumed as scheduled.
Greene is seeking more than $1 million from the Philadelphia Housing Authority, alleging that he was wrongfully terminated in 2010 after news broke of a series of sexual harassment suits against him had been kept from the board. He was fired in September 2010 for allegedly “abandoning his duties” as executive director. He has sought $743,000 in back pay and additional damages.
Much of the trial has centered on the bad blood between Greene and former Mayor John F. Street.
In testimony Tuesday, Greene spoke out for the first time about the board members who voted to fire him.
“It was really an absentee board,” Greene said. “Each board member had their own interests.”
The board, which at the time was made up of Street, who served as chairman, and members Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell; Debra Brady, wife of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady; Patrick Eiding, head of the local AFL-CIO and Philadelphia Housing Authority resident Nellie Reynolds, fired Greene on Sept. 23, 2010.
Aside from interviews shortly after his dismissal, it was the first time Greene has spoken publicly about the circumstances surrounding his firing in August 2010.
“I haven’t had the chance to talk about this before,” he told the judge, adding that he had been “sitting on the sofa watching everyone else talk about me” for the last two years.
And, it was the first time he’s given his perspective of the people who dismissed him.
In an interview at the time, Greene denied allegations of sexual harassment and financial misconduct in his operation of the housing authority.
In lengthy, sometimes rambling testimony, Greene gave Buckwalter thumbnail sketches of each of the board members.
His depiction of Street was the most scathing, portraying the former mayor as a man who tried to use his position to secure a job for his son, attorney Sharif Street, and as a platform to maintain a position in city politics after he left the mayor’s office.
“I never trusted him,” Greene said, testifying that he and Street had an “unhealthy” relationship.
Greene said Street was looking for a position that would allow him to maintain his political influence.
“It created a certain dynamic that wasn’t helpful for me,” Greene said.
In addition, Street pressed Greene to force PHA to hire an board assistant. Greene said he didn’t approve of hiring the assistant because Street spent a maximum of six hours a month on agency business.
“I felt it was a violation of my duty to protect the assets of PHA,” Greene said.
Greene felt trapped between Street and Nutter, telling the judge that Street often “degraded and berated the role of Mayor Nutter.”
After the news broke that Greene owed back taxes and was behind on his mortgage payments, Street and Greene stopped speaking.
“I never spoke to John Street after Aug. 23,” Greene said.
As for the other board members, Greene said he had the most cordial relationship with Blackwell, though her primary concerns as a board members revolved around her personal efforts to help individuals in terms of housing or jobs, or her advocacy for the homeless. She had little influence on the day to day operations of the PHA.
“She was the chief person who was there for me,” Greene said, adding that the two still talk from time to time.
Brady was largely unconcerned about agency business, he said, except where it affected contracts with her employer, who had a contract with the PHA.
“It was a Philadelphia-style deal. It wasn’t something that was written down anywhere,” said Greene. “It was part of the political process here in Philadelphia.”
Otherwise, she rarely attended meetings, he said, estimating maybe once a year.
Eiding’s only concern was PHA’s interactions with the unions, Greene said, noting, “He was not keeping two hats.”
Reynolds was typically concerned only with conditions in the development that she lived in, or if matters affected her son or daughter, both of whom worked for the authority.
“She was very narrow in her interests,” Greene said. “Her interests were her car, her driver, her development and her family.”
The 56 year-old Greene also revealed a great deal about himself, telling Buckwalter about his childhood, raised by a single mother in Washington D.C.’s public housing projects where he was the seventh of eight children, the first in his family to graduate from college. Greene’s left arm was paralyzed while playing high school football.
Since then he’s been on painkillers and anti-depressants. Greene now lives in Decatur, Ga. He continues to be unemployed, and said his termination and the circumstances surrounding it left him feeling “abandoned and isolated.”
As the scandal at PHA unfolded, Greene went into seclusion – checking into a mental health facility in August 2010.
“Things were catching up with me and I didn’t have any support,” he said. “I felt a personal sense of collapse.”
PHILADELPHIA — Education advocates gathered Monday at a 97-year-old city high school with chronic water leaks and a single functioning science lab to urge support for federal jobs legislation that includes billions of dollars for school repairs and renovations.
City, district and union officials joined U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, D-Pa., at Furness High School to press Congress to pass President Barack Obama's jobs bill, which includes $944 million in school modernization funds for Pennsylvania.
The money is desperately needed, officials said as they stood in a science classroom with no gas, no running water and walls damaged by water leaks.
"When you look at buildings like this, and we're supposed to compete globally, I think it's kind of shameful," said Lori Shorr, the city's chief education officer. She added, "We need the federal government to step up."
More than $395 million would go to Philadelphia, the state's largest district, which has about 203,000 traditional and charter school students.
Overall, Obama's $447 billion jobs bill includes $35 billion to hire and retain teachers, police and firefighters, and $30 billion for school construction. It also includes a tax increase on wages and investment income over $1 million.
The Obama administration estimates the legislation could support 14,400 teaching jobs and 12,300 construction-related jobs in Pennsylvania.
However, the package was defeated in the Senate last week. Lawmakers are now considering it piecemeal.
"This is an act that needs to pass, and we desperately need it for our children," Bob McGrogan, president of the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators, said at Furness. The union represents principals, assistant principals and others statewide.
Monday's event in south Philadelphia came a day ahead of Vice President Joe Biden's planned visit to Goode Elementary School in York to highlight the bill's extra funding for teaching jobs.
The school in south-central Pennsylvania has lost 11 of its 45 teachers because of budget cuts, according to federal officials. The York district overall eliminated 188 positions, including almost 20 percent of its teaching staff, officials said.
In Philadelphia, the district's 324 buildings need $1.5 billion in renovations, repairs and modernization, according to district Associate Superintendent Penny Nixon. More than 350 boilers have outlived their life expectancy, she noted.
The total price tag for updating Furness is $26 million. Principal Tim McKenna said the biggest problems include having only one functioning science lab for about two dozen classes, and walls and ceilings suffering continual water damage because of a leaky roof and deteriorating masonry.
Balcony seating in the school auditorium is unusable because of plaster chunks missing from the ceiling and ornate crown molding above.
"This could be just an incredible room," Furness said during a tour. "I would love to get this room renovated."
Furness, which opened in 1914, is not even the district's oldest building. That distinction belongs to the nearby Francis Scott Key Elementary School, which opened in 1889. -- (AP)