The clock struck midnight on Tuesday, when the Department of Welfare, as directed by Governor Tom Corbett’s budget, terminated the General Assistance Fund, affecting more than 60,000 Pennsylvanians.
The GAF provided a lifeline — sometimes, the only one — for victims of domestic abuse, those in treatment and recovery, and children living in different households than that of their birth parents.
According to the non-partisan think tank Better Choices for Pennsylvania, the elimination of the General Assistance Fund’s $160 million earmark represents the biggest, single cut in Corbett’s budget, and will terminate the $205 monthly benefit for the now-former recipients. However, according to the Executive Budget, the commonwealth will actually cut $319 million from the combination of eliminating the General Assistance Fund and reforms made to the eligibility criteria for those seeking Medical Assistance.
While $205 may not sound like much, the termination of that benefit, along with that of the other provisions in the GAF, will surely hurt the very people who have been hurt the most.
“General Assistance funding was a last resort — a small but sturdy thread in Pennsylvania’s suddenly shabby safety net — for tens of thousands of our most vulnerable citizens. The program’s elimination is deeply troubling for 68,000 disabled individuals, domestic abuse survivors, drug/alcohol treatment center enrollees and children under the care of an unrelated adult,” said Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania Executive Director Liz Hersh, a longtime proponent of rights for the disenfranchised. “The overwhelming majority of these citizens will now be forced to go without their sole source of income as they struggle to keep a roof over their heads, secure a room in a boarding home, or pay for treatment program fees.
“By eliminating General Assistance, our elected officials run the risk of increasing homelessness, adding tens of millions in costs to other state programs, and exhausting already-overburdened private organizations,” Hersh continued. “All this, despite the fact that nearly four in five registered voters in Pennsylvania have said they oppose balancing the budget by cutting human services programs.”
There are elected officials who railed against the termination of the lifeline. State Representative W. Curtis Thomas blasted the decision in a letter he wrote to Corbett in June, while also voicing his displeasure that at that time lifeline recipients hadn’t been duly informed of looming cuts.
“As you know, this decision will involve an overwhelming number of individuals, children and victims of domestic violence who are considered disabled,” read Thomas’ letter, in part. “I am extremely troubled by this decision in light of a myriad of economic, social and medical circumstances which face people today more than any other time in the Commonwealth or the United States.
“I am more troubled by the fact this decision is being made in absence of a lifeline for people who have no other resources … the disabled population is not only without resources, but are also faced with physical and mental problems that aggravate their everyday challenges.”
Corbett’s budget includes $101.6 million for a children’s health program, representing an increase of 4.4 percent, along with $1.7 million for Adult Protective Services — but it remains to be seen if these and other programs will fill the gap left by the dissolution of the GAF. But for Hersh’s part, she hopes that elected officials and the public and private sectors continue to help those in need.
“Moving forward, it is imperative that our elected officials work with private organizations, faith-based efforts and citizens across the state,” Hersh said, “to use available resources to preserve a safety net for our most vulnerable citizens and alleviate the burden of homelessness throughout the Commonwealth.”
Behind the dollars slashed in Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget are the people — Malik Williams, a freshman at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, is one — along with thousands of other Pennsylvania college students whose lives would be affected by the governor’s proposal to cut funds to state colleges and universities by 25 percent.
“If tuition goes up, I would most likely be forced to leave and pursue other venues to further my education,” said Williams, 19. “It wouldn’t be feasible to stay here.”
He might leave the state in search of less expensive schools, or try community college.
It’s a reality that officials at Cheyney acknowledge, and are trying to change.
“It’s premature to talk about tuition,” said Eric Almonte, executive associate to the president at Cheyney, noting that neither the school’s trustees nor the state board of governors has yet mentioned tuition increases. University officials are studying all options, he said, including the possibility of hosting summer sports camps and charging for them, online classes to raise extra revenue, renting dorm rooms to campus visitors and improving overall efficiency of operations.
Most families that send students to Cheyney are not flush with cash. Any increase in cost has an immediate impact.
“Our average family income is under $40,000, and when you take that into consideration with what happened last year with the 18 percent cut, that translated to a $750 increase, it just puts the families in a real precarious situation,” Almonte said. “The last thing we want to do is negatively impact people’s lives. But, at some point it’s tough.”
Williams, who hails from Pittsburgh, has a 3.75 grade point average, and attends Cheyney through a combination of state and federal aid and a package of eight scholarships. He must maintain a 3.0 to keep his funding.
“I work so hard to get these scholarships and to keep my GPA up — and by raising tuition it would make it that much harder for me to be able to take care of expenses,” he said. “I don’t believe I would be able to do it.”
It took a lot of work just get into college. Williams estimated that he applied for 150 scholarships to receive the eight he now has.
“We spent two summers on that,” he said. “The time and work it takes to get these scholarships — it’s draining and with this happening, it’s going to take more. The pot is getting smaller — there’s going to be more people clawing.”
His parents are simply unable to pay.
“My mother? Maybe she could tackle the burden of books but tuition, that’s too much,” said Williams. “My father, definitely not.”
More students are having problems paying for college.
A report released this week by the Federal Reserve found that 27 percent of students who owe on student loans are at least 30 days late.
Tuition and other college costs have gone nowhere but up.
This is the second year in a row that Corbett has slashed spending for higher education and, if enacted as proposed, would represent a 50 percent cut over 18 months in state funding to state-operated schools like Cheyney.
Last year, after some negotiating with the legislature, funding was cut 19 percent. This year Corbett has proposed a 25 percent reduction.
“The proposed budget represents the latest in a cascade of reductions to the state system in the past 18 months,” said John C. Cavanaugh, chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education in a statement. “ If this proposal stands, we will have lost more than $170 million in state and federal education and general funding, compounded by a 50 percent reduction in our capital allocation and the loss of … funding dedicated to deferred maintenance.”
That pits the physical priorities of any university against its intellectual priorities.
“These reductions now mean that we must increasingly decide whether to renovate and maintain our existing physical plant, or provide students the courses and programs they require to graduate,” said Cavanaugh.
The cost of attending Cheyney had already been rising.
For 2011–2012, tuition was $4,202, but total cost of attending was more than four times that number at $17,464.
That was up from a total of $16,204 in 2010–2011 and $15,398 in 2009–2010.
After last year’s increase, enrollment declined after rising 3, 6, and 9 percent for the previous three years.
“We were definitely trending in the right direction,” Almonte said. “The last year we lost a significant number of students. It was a variety of factors.”
Every time costs rise, students like Williams have to work harder to keep up.
“It’s raising the bar, so I have to go out and get into other things. I have to put in more work, and give up more time just so I can take care of my deficit and my finances,” he said. “I have this debt monkey on my back that I have to continuously worry about.”
Without college, Williams would likely be in the military.
“If it weren’t for the scholarships, I’d be in Iraq,” he said. “I’d rather hold a pencil than a gun.”
Williams knows from experience the importance of a college education.
His mother graduated from Penn State. His father was in jail for most of Williams’ childhood, and when he was released, his parents experienced marital difficulties that forced Williams from his childhood home and school in Pittsburgh to a series of five high schools during his junior and senior years.
“Our family went through things,” said Williams. “My father, he took us on a long ride.
Williams spent much of his junior year at Forest Park High School in Baltimore, Md., a school he described as a “house of bones.”
“It changed my outlook on a lot of things. I saw the struggles of kids,” he said. “I felt that I was being told to climb a ladder of success, but the ladder only came to my knees. Because I wasn’t in the most credible schools, I wasn’t going to get my chance.”
But he changed schools, persevered, and eventually decided to attend Cheyney.
Many of his African-American peers followed other paths.
“Some are incarcerated. Some are in the military. The majority didn’t believe they could make it,” he said. “Which is a lie.”
Williams wanted to go to a historically Black college because he thought it would give him an advantage.
“I feel like they could prepare me for being an effective African American in today’s society, and focus on grooming me more than other schools might as someone who is at the head of an organization,” he said. “They know where to push me, the gaps that I can fit in. They can groom me to be a better individual.”
Initially, Williams planned on getting a degree in hotel management, but college has expanded his ambitions and he’s taking more of an interest in foreign affairs.
“I’m starting to look into political science a lot more than I have in the past,” he said. “The more questions I’m asking, the less I’m satisfied with the world I’m living in.”
One thing is certain, armed with a degree Williams hopes to make life better for himself.
“I’m never going to be homeless again. I’m never going to be hungry again. I’m never going to have the lights cut out. I’m never going to have the water cut off. I’m never going to have the heat cut off in the winter time,” he said. “I’ve got to study.”
Almonte said education should be a top priority for state officials — particularly for students like Williams.
“Right now education is a civil rights issue,” he said. “We demonstrate what our values are with the resources we put toward education.”
The School District of Philadelphia has officially entered the $400 million “Race to the Top” competition, meaning it joins 892 other school districts nationwide in attempting to reap the biggest reward for gains made in reforming the way the district delivers education.
The district, along with 33 other districts throughout the Commonwealth, has applied for several grants, with the district specifically applying for two grant blocks — one in the $10 million to $20 million range, and the other in the $30 million to $40 million range.
The $400 million is earmarked by the United States Department of Education to help with localized reformation projects, which include personalizing education to fit the more specific needs of students, closing the achievement gap and further preparing students — especially those in high school — for college or entry-level positions in the workforce.
That would certainly help in Philadelphia, as the district is in the midst of transferring power to incoming superintendent Dr. William Hite Sr. On many levels, the district is still struggling with transparency issues of its own, as it faces a budget deficit approaching $300 million and the austerity measures that the deficit has forced.
“I believe the best ideas come from leaders at the local level, and the enthusiastic response to the Race to the Top district competition highlights the excitement that districts have to engage in locally designed reforms that will directly improve student achievement and educator effectiveness,” said United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a statement released by his office. “We hope to build on this nationwide momentum by funding districts that have innovative plans to transform the learning environment, a clear vision for reform and a track record for success.”
According to the Department of Education, these four-year grants will range in worth from $5 million to $40 million, and competition will certainly be stiff, as the department will only grant up to 25 of these awards.
Pennsylvania has long participated in the Race to the Top competitions. As recently as last year, the commonwealth received nearly $42 million in Race to the Top funds.
“I know, from my time spent as a teacher and with my own two children, that a one-size-fits-all approach to education does not create a successful learning environment,” Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett said when he announced last year that Pennsylvania received $41,326,299. “Our students need quality options that fit their academic abilities and their aspirations for the future. We must have educators who are prepared and capable of meeting the needs of our diverse student population.”
Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis echoed much of Corbett’s sentiment when the award was announced.
“The focus of our grant application is to improve public education for every student,” Tomalis said. “The funds awarded to Pennsylvania will support the work already being done by Governor Corbett and the department to ensure that, regardless of ZIP code or socioeconomic status, every child receives an education that provides them with the opportunity to be successful.”
Perhaps portending what the commonwealth would do with the funds if it receives Race to the Top grants this year, Tomalis previously stated that the fund would mostly be used for pellucidity.
“As a result of the Race to the Top Grant award, funds will be allocated to increase transparency at Pennsylvania’s public schools,” Tomalis said when last year’s award was announced. “Ultimately, the goal is to provide parents with the information necessary to make informed decisions regarding their child’s educational future.”
Reform continues to be the buzzword in education circles, and that buzz is becoming louder, thanks to a pair of developments.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett last week signed legislation that at once sets the commonwealth’s education budget and enacts several phases of public education reform. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Education, Corbett’s budget invests more than $11.35 billion in the three layers of public education, and, coupled with recent legislation that will reform both charter school funding and teacher evaluations, will lead to a smoother running and more accountable public education system.
“In order to bring about systemic changes to public education, reforms must start with those who teach in and lead our schools,” Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis said in a statement released by the DOE. “Governor Corbett’s initiatives will not only raise the bar for effective educators, they will ensure that every student has access to quality academic programs.
“This new approach will ensure that those who are responsible for educating Pennsylvania’s students have the knowledge and skills necessary to prepare students for postsecondary success,” Tomalis continued. “It will also provide important information for public schools to direct the more than $500 million invested each year into professional development to areas that will impact students.”
Pennsylvania now joins 22 other states in utilizing student achievement in evaluating its teachers.
Corbett’s budget has drawn considerable scorn for its use of education block grants that, in essence, decreases the overall education budget. But Corbett has repeated that painful cuts must be made in order to cut the commonwealth’s $700 million budget gap.
House Bill 1307 seems to fit right into these plans, as it further instigates education reform while providing the opportunity for the state to save money.
The bill, introduced by state Rep. Duane Milne, R-Chester County, amends the Public School Code of 1949. Milne’s legislation would pave the way for the state to take over distressed schools and districts, and immediately turn them into charter schools.
Milne’s plan would also call for the creation of an education chief recovery officer at the state level, a position not unlike that currently held by Thomas Knudsen, the CRO of the School District of Philadelphia.
According to the amendment, a school/district can be considered in a distressed financial state if it meets any of these criteria: has failed to pay its staff for ninety days; has outstanding tuition due to another school district that has gone unpaid as of January 1 of each school year; hasn’t paid its board of directors; has defaulted on bond payment; operates at a deficit greater that the value of its holdings, and has contracted a loan without DOE approval.
A takeover-handover of distressed schools into charter leaders is an idea long supported by Dr. Walter D. Palmer, a charter school pioneer who has taken the School District of Philadelphia to court over the district’s handling of certain charter school funding and enrollment issues.
Palmer says HB 1307 has a chance, if implemented correctly.
“For me, it’s a good thing. Although charters aren’t the cure-all for everything, it’s an option and gives parents choice,” said Palmer, founder of the North Philadelphia-based charter school bearing his name. “The problem I continue to have is of the corporate takeover. Don’t turn it over to corporations to run them. We don’t want Education Management Organizations [EMOs] to run these schools.”
The bill, however progressive, will not contribute financially to any of the affected school districts — and unless funding is part of any plan, it is doomed to fail, said Pennsylvania Senator Wayne D. Fontana.
“The drastic reduction in basic education funding imposed by the [Corbett] administration in last year’s budget has resulted in a growing number of distressed schools and has forced school districts to cut teachers, counselors and other essential staff, reduce the number of textbooks that can be purchased, eliminate arts and music programs and other extracurricular activities while class sizes grow,” Fontana said. “Unless we provide adequate funding and give school districts the resources they need, the list of distressed school districts across the commonwealth will continue to grow.
“It is important to remember that the biggest losers in all this are the students,” Fontana continued. “We owe it to our children to find solutions that enable them to get the best education possible. This legislation further compromises students in distressed schools, as it does not address the biggest need — which is adequate funding and support.”
Proposed state reduction could leave 21,000 Philadelphians in a lurch
Initial estimates suggest that as many as 21,000 Philadelphians face crucial service cuts if Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget is enacted as proposed, announced city officials this week, after spending several weeks combing through the state budget numbers.
“This budget takes apart many of supports that have been in place for a very long time for people who are most vulnerable,” said Deputy Mayor for Health and Opportunity, Donald Schwarz. “The impacts of the governor’s budget … are going to be impossible to work with.”
The governor unveiled his budget proposal two weeks ago.
City officials have analyzed the numbers and their likely impact, which Schwarz called “a recipe for disaster” as he unveiled them at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
Planned cuts would hit the city’s poorest and most vulnerable residents, he said.
Corbett combined what had been six line items related to human services in the state budget into one line, pooling the money, and then whacked 20 percent from the total.
“The governor is doing this in the guise of creating a block grant with funding from the Department of Public Welfare, and he’s cutting income to poor individuals, so it’s a large cut in three different ways,” said Schwarz.
For Philadelphia, that means total spending would drop from $233 million this year to $192 million for fiscal year 2013.
In total, the city stands to lose about $41 million spread across the budgets of four city departments — the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services, Department of Human Services, Department of Public Health and Office of Supportive Housing. The state provides about 51 percent of the money used to fund those departments.
The majority of that total — about $34 million — would go to fund programs for: children, the homeless, the mentally disabled, drug addicts and people with HIV/AIDS, The remaining $7 million would help fund the county’s nursing home.
In addition, Corbett is cutting state welfare and medical benefits, and food stamps.
According to Schwarz, the cuts will disrupt services across the spectrum from assessment to treatment, case management and follow-up care. It will force more Philadelphians onto the streets, into state institutions and into jails, he said.
“We expect the cuts in services, the cuts in housing and the cuts in supports will mean that we will have more people who are homeless in Philadelphia,” he said. “We expect an increase in street population, more people with untreated mental illnesses and substance abuse … an increase in our jail population, and an increase in institutionalization, which counters a trend in Pennsylvania that has been going on for several decades.”
Cuts as proposed could have an immediate impact on up to 21,000 people. Approximately 11,000 could lose access to mental health assessments; 4,000 uninsured individuals could lose outpatient services; 3,000 mentally handicapped people could lose home support services; and 1,500 people could lose outpatient drug treatment.
The situation is complicated by the fact that Philadelphia is both a county and city. State money is typically used to fund county functions while local tax dollars support city activities. Corbett’s proposal would cut funding to the county. But, the loss will directly impact the city’s budget, and leave the city with no way to offset reduced funding.
Corbett’s proposal comes on top of years of cuts, Schwarz said, noting that since 2009 the state has cut funding for AIDS prevention by 40 percent, human services development fund by 57 percent, emergency food by 13 percent, mental health services by 22 percent, drug abuse treatment by 19 percent and assistance for the homeless by 5 percent.
“We have lived within our means,” he said.
Schwarz added that Corbett’s spending plan could change. In fact, the city is working with the city delegation in Harrisburg to change the final budget.
There is the additional uncertainty that the state has not clarified how funds distributed in the newly created single line item will be distributed.
“Our ability to deal with what will happen … is as yet unclear,” said Schwarz. “But, what we are clear about is that this budget will impact Philadelphia severely.”
For a lifelong politician who swears he isn’t thinking of higher office, state Representative Dwight Evans sure sounded like a man with his eyes firmly set on the governor’s mansion in the next election.
But before that decision is made, Evans must first focus on his state representative primary. With elections looming on May 24, Evans spoke during a recent Philadelphia Tribune board meeting about his lengthy track record and public perception of him as a master deal maker.
Evans touted three main accomplishments: the creation of the “Northwest Gateway for Jobs and Economic Development,” which saw the creation of numerous shopping plazas; his support of the “Fresh Food Finance Initiative,” which takes an aggressive, grassroots approach to increasing the availability of whole foods; and his work to repeal the potentially damaging and discriminatory Pennsylvania Voter ID law, which Governor Tom Corbett recently signed.
To that end, Evans and fellow representative John Myers held a press conference Tuesday, April 10 at a local PennDOT service center, imploring people to become active and knowledgeable about the bill, known as HB 2313.
“We realize that sometime down the road, the courts may very well strike down the Pennsylvania Voter ID law,” Evans said at the press conference. “But I believe in taking a proactive step in removing this unnecessary and potentially costly statute.”
Evans elaborated on that stance during the board meeting.
“I’m sincerely horrified for the people” that will be affected by this bill, Evans said. “There is a lot of cynicism about politics, but I am trying to teach people what is possible.”
Evans arrived in Harrisburg in 1981, and almost from the beginning, he supported many economic reinvestment projects and proposals — but perhaps none as important as the five centers in Evans’ “Northeast Gateway” plan.
Those retail developments — Ogontz Plaza; the 2300 corridor of West Cheltenham Avenue; the 5300 block of Chew Avenue; 301 West Chelten Avenue and the gleaming development at 1501 N. Broad Street — are all shining examples of Evans’ ability to “take concepts and ideas and make them work throughout the city.”
Each of those five locations has at least one bank and one market serving as anchors. One of the newest developments is on Chelten Avenue, which houses an improved Save-a-Lot, a Citibank branch and an Anna’s Linens outlet store .
“The congregation of financial organizations is something you don’t see in the Black neighborhoods,” Evans said. “So what has happened as a spin-off from these supermarkets are banks, which in turn is good for the consumer, because it gives them choice, mortgages and business loans.
“This is the progression of a concept I started with building a neighborhood.”
The Fresh Food Financing Initiative is another of Evans’ signature involvements. The FFI, created by the Reinvestment Fund, is designed to “increase the number of supermarkets, or other grocery stores, in underserved communities across Pennsylvania,” according to a statement on the Food Trusts’ website.
“This statewide program meets the financing needs of supermarket operators that plan to operate in underserved communities where infrastructure costs and credit needs cannot be filled solely by conventional financial institutions,” the statement continued. “Under this program, TRF provides predevelopment grants and loans, land acquisition financing, equipment financing, capital grants for project funding gaps and construction and permanent finance. TRF also provides technical assistance and workforce services to its borrowers and grantees through this initiative.”
Three authors have independently hailed Evans’ support of the FFFI — Dr. Oran Hesterman in “Fair Food,” Stephen Goldsmith in “The Power of Social Innovation” and co-authors Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshi in “Food Justice” — with Gottlieb and Joshi calling Evans a “champion” of the program.
Evans has made good on many of the goals and promises outlined in his 2010–2012 legislative agenda, including hosting the second regional job summit and supporting HB 2181 — also referred to as the “Made in Pennsylvania” package or the Manufacturing Tax Incentives plan — that would reward statewide manufacturers for keeping jobs here.
Locally, Evans touted his support of the West Oak Lane Charter School expansion, the renovation of Brown’s ShopRite and the renovation of the ice rink at Simons Recreation Center as just a few of the highlights of his many years in office. Along the way, Evans has supported numerous educational and economics-based workshops, and his three decades in public service has generated a sort of synergy between his office and the community.
As one example, Evans’ took Corbett to task over the governor’s budget, which slashed the funding for public schools and colleges while creating little in the way of jobs, opportunity and economic growth.
“This makes no sense,” Evans said. “The governor talks about jobs and creating the climate for jobs, but he damages the very institutions from where those workers will come. If there is a job to fill in a new or existing industry, we are determined to put that career opportunity into the hands of a Pennsylvanian.”
Although Evans repeatedly stated that he isn’t going to drop out of politics — nor would he run for mayor again — he is planning on writing his memoirs about his many years in office, and said he would contemplate another run at the governorship. His book will serve as sort of a blueprint for future politicians.
“I’m just going to tell my story,” Evans repeated, again swatting away questions about his future political role outside of the upcoming primary. “We just started in the last couple of months. I talk about my beginnings here at the Tribune, and how I won ‘Citizen of the Month’ and ‘Citizen of the Year,’” Evans said.
“That was the beginning, leading me into public life,” Evans continued. “And it will talk about how I was able to take concepts and ideas and make them a reality, all across the city.”
More than 500 people gathered at the Union League of Philadelphia at Broad and Sansom streets Monday June 11 to attend the 2nd Annual Cradle of Liberty Gala, hosted by the Cradle of Liberty Council, Boy Scouts of America.
During the event, awards were distributed to former Boy Scouts who have gone on to make significant contributions to society, including Gov. Tom Corbett, Robert Cottone, Mary Meder and Kenneth C. Frazier.
Frazier, who is now chairman and CEO of Merck & Company, Inc, was raised on the 1800 block of York Street in North Philadelphia, and credited the scouts with making a difference in his life.
“I learned so much through my time in the Boy Scouts,” said Frazier, who said he attended the Boy Scouts as a youth through his church. “The men in my church believed in the development of young boys, and I was fortunate to have a scout troop that was completely intertwined with my church.”
As a youth, Frazier attended the Tioga United Methodist Church at 18th and Tioga sStreets and reflected fondly on some of his experiences with both the scouts and his church at that time.
“I think the most fond memory that I have is the first time that we took a camping trip to Valley Forge, and I remember I caught a frog. Coming from North Philadelphia, I had never seen a frog,” said Frazier.
According to Tom Harrington, CEO of the Cradle of Liberty Council, the scouts were once more common in churches than they are presently and the Council hopes to return to local communities.
“We’re told that in the ’50s and ’60s, every major African-American church had a Boy Scout troop, and lots of today’s top community leaders were scouts growing up in Philadelphia,” said Harrington. “We’re not at that place right now, and we would like to get back to that.”
Asked what he believed to be the reason for the decline in scout troops in the inner city, Harrington sited changes in social structure.
“There have been a lot of social changes that have happened in the last 50 years. Certainly changes in the American family, the divorce rate — a lot of families don’t have two parents in the home anymore — and when they do, both parents are working,” said Harrington.
He said one strategy for returning the scouts to its previous place in the community is to work directly with pastors.
“We want to work with local pastors to identify both men and woman who would volunteer to be Scout leaders, and we will provide the support and the training, and, if necessary, the financial support, to help their boys to get into uniform,” said Harrington.
Frazier believes that his experiences with the Boy Scouts had a direct impact on the success he achieved later in life.
“The virtues of scouting, including honesty, trustworthiness and hard work are all things that were very helpful to me,” said Frazier.
“I think the key thing is for young men and women to understand that they can transcend their immediate circumstances, and they can achieve anything that they want — but they have to believe they can.”
During the Gala, the Cradle of Liberty collected more than $500,000 in donations for the Boy Scouts of America, This, said Harrington, was the largest amount ever collected in a single event.
That the budget nightmare currently plaguing the School District of Philadelphia was fully predictable does not make it any less devastating.
Long before he took office, then-candidate Corbett made no secret of his intention to slash public education, which has long been the Republican Party’s prime example of taxpayer-funded waste. Corbett cited as his hero neighboring freshman governor Chris Christie, who at that time was engaged in his own power struggle with schools, teachers and public employees in general.
In fact, when the new crop of GOP governors and state legislators sailed into office on the Red Tide of 2010, they all made pretty much the same moves: Vilify public employees, slash education and crush collective bargaining. From Wisconsin to Ohio to New Jersey, they’ve kept their promises — all while managing to keep millionaires and big corporations safe from taxes and regulations.
They told us what they would do if we allowed them to take office — then they did it. For that, the blame does not fall upon them, or even upon those who voted for them.
Blame falls upon those in the opposing party who, hearing those campaign promises and understanding the horrific consequences, stood by and watched it happen. If you’re a Democrat who failed to vote in the last election, that includes you.
And don’t give me the same old tired excuses, so hackneyed and shop worn the rest of us can recite them by heart: “It doesn’t matter if I vote. Those politicians are going to do what they want to do anyway.” Or: “It’s all a scam, and they’re all corrupt, so what difference does it make?” And my favorite, which will become especially frightening next November: “[insert candidate] is going to win anyway, so my one vote isn’t going to make a difference.”
These are self-fulfilling prophecies. If you don’t vote, then yes, the other side will win, and yes, they’re going to turn you upside down and shake you until the change falls from your pockets. They’re going to reward their friends and punish their enemies, and hammer an agenda you naively thought they’d never get away with.
So when Gov. Corbett announced the state’s newest budget this week, you had to have some idea of what to expect. It’s a lot like last year’s budget, with an extra kick to the ribs of poor people.
The slow dismantling of public education is not a new agenda item. It’s just that the GOP has been previously thwarted in their efforts by vigilant advocates —– whose voices are drowned out now that they’re outnumbered.
That too, is partly our own fault. We allowed the GOP to gain the high ground on the thorny issue of public education finances, which is the basis of their subsequent slash-and-burn budgets.
We stood idly by while cronies, insiders, political patrons and friends-of-friends benefited from contracts and services on the school district’s dime. We knew they were shady, and we knew they were essentially stealing money from classrooms and programs in desperate need. We cringed, but said nothing, whenever someone was caught with their hand in the cookie jar — even remaining silent while they inevitably produced crocodile tears and phony cries of “What about the children?” to silence critics.
Well, the chickens have come home to roost, and the fact is that those adults who have been gaming the system for personal profit for years don’t care any more about the children than the current crop of right wing hatchet men who are determined to gut public education. The school district was a cash cow, and we looked the other way while they milked her dry.
Believe it or not, though, there is still some good that may come out of all this.
Remember the look of sadness on those children’s faces when we tell them there’s no after school programs. Remember how art, music, sports and extracurricular activities enriched your own educational experience as you watch those programs wither and die.
Then use this as an example of what happens when we get complacent. This is our payback for not organizing well enough, for not getting out the vote when we should have, and for not sounding the alarm loud enough when we realized they were going to close more schools and build more prisons.
This coming November, and in the next statewide election, ask yourself whether public education is worth it, and vote accordingly. Do nothing, and…
Well, we’ve seen what happens when we do nothing.
Daryl Gale is the Philadelphia Tribune's city editor.
Process clarified for tenants to claim property after move
Thanks to Pennsylvania Act 129, landlords and building managers will have to wait a little longer when it comes to disposing of items left behind by former tenants, effectively terminating a long-loathed practice.
Pennsylvania Act 129 began life as the state Sen. Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, Monroe and Northampton Counties, sponsored Senate Bill 887, which amended the Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951; Browne’s legislation requires the landlord to notify the tenant of abandoned personal property. Within 10 days of receiving notification, the tenant must contact the landlord and declare his or her intentions to retrieve the property. If the tenant does not respond to the notification, the landlord may dispose of the property after 10 days.
However, if within those ten days, the tenant does make contact with the landlord, then the tenant has 30 days to retrieve his or her property; with the tenant responsible for any storage fees that may accrue.
Browne introduced the bill last September; both the senate and house signed off on the bill last month, and Act 129 became law on July 5 when Governor Tom Corbett signed it, along with more than 50 other legislative measures.
“Currently, there is no statewide standard as to what to do with personal property that is left behind by a tenant when they relinquish possession of a rental property,” Browne said via a statement released by his office. “The lack of such guidelines creates confusion with regard to a landlord’s obligation on how to treat such property, and for what length of time — and on the other side, tenants have no clear procedure or confidence that such property will be properly maintained and can be retrieved.”
Proponents of Act 129 believe it will alleviate the distress many renters encounter when, for a variety of reasons, they are either forced or decide to leave their residence and worry if the landlord will immediately flip the rental unit, and either sell or dispose of their items.
The Pennsylvania Residential Owners Associations supports Act 129 and explains its details and merits in their newsletter. The Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania also supports the act.
“I think Act 129 is significant. Prior to its enactment, and with the exception of Philadelphia, there was no law on what to do with a tenant’s things when the tenant moved out and left personal property behind,” said Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania Policy Director Cynthia Witman Daley, who mentioned that HAP has been fighting for this law since Browne initially submitted it. “There were common practices and folklore, but no certainty for either landlords or tenants.
“Act 129 establishes a process, ensures that tenants have time to retrieve their things,” Daley continued, “and defines the landlord’s responsibility, and when that responsibility ends. It’s a good and balanced law.”
Last Thursday, Gov. Tom Corbett signed five bills into law that would significantly affect the criminal justice system of Pennsylvania, among them a measure that gives Commonwealth judges more options when sentencing juveniles convicted of murder.
The proposed law, Senate Bill 850, which was originally introduced by State Senator Stewart Greenleaf, means that a juvenile 14-years-old or younger would serve 25 years for a first degree murder conviction and 20 years for a second degree homicide conviction. Defendants 15 to 17-years-old would face 25 or 35 years.
The bill, which Corbett signed into law last week, was Pennsylvania’s response to an earlier Supreme Court ruling in June that declared mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court’s ruling came after decades of research confirming that the frontal lobe of the juvenile brain — the part that controls reasoning, is undeveloped.
But, as significant a step as this legislation appears to be, some opponents say it ignores the spirit of the Supreme Court’s decision. Pennsylvania missed an opportunity to transform the harshest sentencing scheme in the world into one that is fair, proportional, and consistent with the latest knowledge of adolescent development, said William DiMascio, executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society.
“The Prison Society testified at an earlier legislative hearing on this issue and proposed that the state establish a sentence of 10 years to life for all juveniles,” DiMascio said. “The thinking was that a decade would enable the individual to reach maturity and to show his or her readiness for release. Perhaps the minimum should be 15 years but certainly not more than 20. Most likely few, if any, would get approved at their minimum by the Parole Board. Nevertheless, the state would have control over them for life and could confine them until there was clear and convincing evidence that the person could be released without jeopardizing the community. Some will say a minimum of 10 years, or even 20 years, is not enough time. Others will say life is not enough. But this is not a test to see how tough we can be. The way we develop our justice system is a measure of our civility. We will be judged by the value we put on redemption, not retribution.”
On June 25, 2012 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Miller v. Alabama, the landmark case that addressed the constitutionality of juvenile life without parole. The court decided that these sentences were unconstitutional for juveniles convicted of murder’s committed when they were under 18-years-old. Right now Pennsylvania is one of the leading states in the nation with more than 400 juveniles sentenced to mandatory life without parole following conviction of either first or second degree murder.
Justice Elena Kagan said such sentencing is cruel and unusual punishment and therefore violates the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution.
"Mandatory life without parole for those under the age of 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on 'cruel and unusual punishments',” Kagan wrote. “A judge or jury must have the opportunity to consider mitigating circumstances before imposing the harshest possible penalty for juveniles.
Under the new law, a juvenile defendant age 15 to 17 would receive a minimum of 35 years to life for a first degree murder conviction. The court would impose a sentence of 25 years to life for a defendant age 14 or younger. In cases of second degree murder or felony murder, where there is no evidence of intent to commit murder, such as the cases of Stacey Torrance and Robert Holbrook, the court impose mandatory minimum sentences of 30 years to life for 15-17 year olds, and 20 to life for defendants under 14.
Robert Holbrook was 16 when he was involved in an incident that escalated to murder. On Jan. 21, 1990, Holbrook was allegedly selling drugs for George Padilla. That night, Holbrook, Padilla and others agreed to rob Elsie Olmeda. They forced their way into her home and Olmeda was dragged upstairs. Holbrook stayed downstairs with the victim’s child while Padilla and the co-conspirators allegedly assaulted Olmeda and demanded money. After they found the cash Padilla and the co-conspirators decided to murder Olmeda to prevent her from identifying them. They allegedly tried strangling and then stabbing her. Later, Holbrook got an extension cord and threw it up to Padilla. Olmeda's hands and feet were tied and then she was repeatedly strangled and stabbed. Holbrook heard what was happening but didn’t go upstairs. Olmeda died from multiple stab wounds and strangulation.
During the trial, Holbrook pleaded guilty to third degree murder but the court found his actions showed intent to murder, even though he was the least involved.
Stacey Torrance was 14-years-old when he became involved in a robbery that led to murder in 1998.
Torrance was prosecuted for the murder of Alexander Porter, a young man who was Torrance’s girlfriend’s brother. Before this he had never been involved in any criminal activity. Two adults, Henry Daniels, his cousin, and Kevin Pelzer allegedly got Torrance to agree to participate in robbing Porter, whose family was allegedly involved in drug dealing and it was believed that they had a lot of money. Allegedly, Pelzer and Daniels murdered Porter, killing him with a .25 caliber handgun. Torrance had no prior knowledge of the murder and was not a participant. But he was convicted of felony murder or murder in the second degree. He was sentenced to life without parole.