As part of its Holiday Caravan Charity Campaign, Lowe’s Home Improvement Company presented Rudolph Blankenburg Elementary School with a $15,000 gift card.
Store Manager Joe Crescenzo, from Lowe’s Store 2378 located on 1500 North 50th St. in Philadelphia, presented the gift to the school.
Principal Malika Savoy-Brooks explained how important it was for Blankenburg to receive the gift.
“The award meant a lot to us because the connection we have with the community. Businesses giving back to the students and the community helped with enhancing the instructional climate,” Savoy-Brooks said.
According to Savoy-Brooks, the gift card money was allocated for outdoor landscaping improvement projects, shelving and organizational materials for classrooms.
“We want projects that we can include kids in, completing the landscaping portion near the playground so, it can have a lasting impact on them,” Savoy-Brooks said.
The Blankenburg administration wrote a proposal to the Philadelphia School District to approve these projects.
“The kids were very excited. The staff was appreciative giving ideas of what we could do to improve our building.”
Gospel singer and Praise 103.9 radio personality, Yolanda Adams and Pennsylvania state Sen. Vincent Hughes were also in attendance for the presentation.
After the gift card presentation, Lowe’s volunteers and Blankenburg teachers presented crafts such as, Build & Grow, to the students. Students assembled holiday ornaments in the gym.
Look in your wallet or peek in your fridge, and ask yourself, “Can I feed my family on $5 day, or just $35 per week?” It may seem absurd on its face, but according to area politicians taking part in the weeklong “Food Stamp Challenge,” that hypothetical is the reality for thousands of Philadelphians who may be impacted when the state implements the so-called asset test for individuals and families who receive food stamps — or SNAP — benefits.
Congressman Bob Brady and Mayor Michael Nutter joined state Representative Tony Payton Jr., Senator Vincent Hughes and other elected officials at the Parkside ShopRite on 52nd Street near Parkside Avenue in West Philadelphia to bring attention to the plight of SNAP recipients and to implore leaders in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., to repeal the asset test.
“This is a bit redundant, because we only have to do this for a week,” Brady said, “but there are families who have to do this for much longer than a week. There is also the nutrition factor, with our kids getting sick,” by not eating properly due to SNAP cuts already in place. “I want to demonstrate just how hard it is for struggling families to feed their families day after day. I know that $5 a day isn’t enough for three square meals. I don’t think $35 will be enough for a week’s worth of meals that are healthy, nutritious and not just filling.
“I’d like to take this to Washington, to have some of my fellow colleagues take this test.”
The officials present were in unison, deriding Governor Tom Corbett’s measures as cruel.
“It’s just mean-spirited to attack children, to attack those with low income. Why would we cut the benefits to the most needy?” asked Nutter, who arrived at the ShopRite with an itemized list of groceries totaling a little over $34. “SNAP is real important to Philadelphians, and no one should ever be hungry or without food.”
Hughes was disgusted by the very notion of properly feeding a family on $35 in benefits.
“It’s an impossibility to put together a week of nutritious meals on $35; why would we even be considering this in Harrisburg?” Hughes said. “[Corbett] doesn’t have to do this. We can change the policy in May, because this is the wrong thing to do.”
Earlier in the year, Corbett announced the asset test for those receiving SNAP benefits statewide. The asset test is basically an audit of all the possessions of someone receiving SNAP, in order reevaluate his or her worth. The plan, if followed through, will cause a flag to be raised on the SNAP applications of persons with more than $2,500 in savings.
Former governor Ed Rendell stopped the state test in 2008, but Corbett has since decided to reinstate it. Critics have railed against that particular measure, believing that people will spend what little savings they have to get fit SNAP’s new guidelines, and that act alone will force people to be even more dependent on the state for assistance.
Buying groceries on $35 for one week alone won’t draw much interest, as the challenge participants fully understood that they aren’t really in the shoes of those needing benefits; but a few, like Payton, aren’t too far removed from a similar existence.
“This really illuminates the plight of poor people, and those who have their foot on the necks of poor people,” said Payton, who has dozens of folks stop by his office on a weekly basis, looking for foodstuffs and information on food pantries. “People are hurting. They need to stop these foolish policies.
“This is really a wakeup call to pay attention,” Payton continued, citing Corbett’s recent cuts to education and housing. “There are people making decisions that will impact your life and victimize the poor.”
The unemployed and underemployed in Northwest Philadelphia, Hunting Park, Logan and adjacent communities will now have new opportunities.
Thanks to the Bakers Centre shopping complex located in the old Tastykake headquarters located where Hunting Park Avenue, Fox Street and Roberts Avenue intersect.
The new $60 million project is expected to bring 350 construction jobs and some 700 permanent jobs to the area.
State Sen. Vincent Hughes presented $12 million to the Bakers Centre economic development project recently. Hughes, who serves as Democratic chair of the state Senate’s appropriations committee, was instrumental in securing funds through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program. He made the official presentation on Sept. 15.
“This is all about jobs for the Hunting Park, North Philadelphia and Germantown communities,” Hughes said. “This money is coming to communities that need not only a retail complex, but are distressed. Those who work there will have permanent jobs so that they are able to support their families. People in the community will get these jobs so that it will be a convenient (location).”
Hughes was quick to point to a similar economic development project that he played a key role in bringing $17 million to the Mantua section of West Philadelphia. He added that these are the kinds of initiatives that spark economic growth in local neighborhoods. Since small businesses play a pivotal role in creating jobs, these projects will do just that, according to the state lawmaker.
“We realize that folks need help getting jobs,” Hughes said. “When people have jobs they get more respect. These new jobs will play a major role the security of families. So many times people come up to me and ask me to help them find a job. Our communities need these jobs in order to not only provide for the family but also to keep the neighborhoods up.”
Bakers Centre will be anchored by a 71,000 square foot Brown’s ShopRite supermarket owned by Brown’s Super Stores. The family-owned company operates several ShopRite supermarkets in the Philadelphia area, including the Cheltenham ShopRite.
The project will be a mixed-use urban redevelopment project by Metro Development. This company’s mission is to invest its energy and talents into developing projects that meet the specific needs of local communities.
“I applaud Jeff Brown and Brown’s Super Store for once again leading the way by building in challenging neighborhoods and showing others these projects can be successful,” Hughes said. “US Realty Associates and Metro Development Company are to be commended for their personal investment in this site. Together, we are moving Philadelphia forward during difficult economic times.”
Among those who are excited about the project is Henrietta Jones of Lower Germantown. A longtime Northwest Philadelphia resident, Jones readily admitted that she often has to travel a distance to do her shopping.
“This will definitely be closer to home and I may even want to walk to work over there,” she said. “I think this is good news for this community.”
The Avenue of the Arts Inc. is gearing up for a project that would enhance the North Broad Street corridor.
The Building on North Broad Street Initiative calls for a bold lighting design, green spaces and landscaping along the corridor that spans from north of City Hall to Broad and Glenwood.
Under the $13 million project, 55-square foot high lights would be installed from Broad and Spring Garden Streets to Broad and Glenwood Avenue. Streetscape plantings would span from City Hall to Broad and Glenwood.
AAI Executive Director Karen A. Lewis says this is the ideal time to enhance the North Broad corridor.
“Things are aligned now. When I first started and I talked about North Broad Street people would look at me strangely. Now when I say North Broad Street — it’s like, oh wow,” Lewis said, noting more developers are taking more interest in the corridor.
“It’s just interesting to see that change in reaction because there’s so much happening. It’s just the timing is right. There’s just a lot of interest, activity and development and that’s exactly what we wanted. We wanted people to know and appreciate the potential for North Broad Street.”
The project will be highlighted during a Promenade of Lights Ceremony held September 21 at 7:30 p.m. at Temple School of Law, 1719 North Broad Street.
“It is to show that we have reached a milestone in this project and we wanted the community and others to celebrate this milestone with us,” Lewis says of the ceremony.
The Building on North Street Initiative is supported by local, private, state and federal investment. Mayor Michael Nutter administration contributed $4.8 million in capital funds to the project.
AAI recently received $3.9 million in Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program funding for the project. State Sen. Shirley Kitchen, state Sen. Vincent Hughes and state Rep. Dwight Evans were instrumental in securing the additional funding.
Sen. Kitchen says the project will really give the North Broad corridor a lift for both neighborhood residents and businesses.
“Everything just can’t continue to keep going on South Broad. We got to build up North Broad too. It absolutely needs it. You can see the drop off as you travel northward from Center City,” Kitchen said.
“It really needs to be built up so that businesses can be attracted to locate there. We’re trying to build it up because businesses can’t thrive and neighborhoods can’t grow if there isn’t an incentive created and people don’t feel like anybody cares.”
AAI has been working on the Building on North Broad Street Initiative since 2007. Organization officials have been meeting with city departments, PennDOT, SEPTA and community stakeholders.
The project, designed by architect Bohlin Cynwinski Jackson, is slated to be up for bid by the end of year. The streetlights and streetscape plantings are scheduled for completion by 2013.
The African American Museum in Philadelphia’s 36th Anniversary Heritage Gala was held on Thursday, March 1 at the Marriott Hotel-Center City to honor Artistic Director Judith Jamison of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Philadanco founder Joan Myers Brown, state Sen. Vincent Hughes and his wife activist/actress/author Sheryl Lee Ralph.
The evening began with a silent auction reception featuring music from “A New Perspective,” a Delaware Valley-based youth jazz ensemble. Other entertainment included dance performances from Rennie Harris Puremovement and Philadanco. The program highlighted the museum’s theme, “Breakthrough Black Culture,” for an audience of 600 guests.
Philadelphia Representative Melanie Johnson spoke in lieu of Mayor Michael Nutter, who indicated in a prior statement: “This evening you will celebrate the theme ‘Breakthrough Black Culture’ which reflects the challenges and triumphs African Americans have experienced in American history. It also showcases the Museum’s history of presenting educational and cultural experiences for the hundreds of thousands of visitors that have attended the Museum over three and a half decades.”
Upon accepting the 2012 Community Service Award, Sen. Hughes and his spouse underscored the importance of HUV/AIDS Awareness, with Ralph providing a heartfelt song upon acceptance of their award. In introducing the honoree video presentation, it was announced that Jamison, 68, was ill and would not be in attendance. NBC10’s Lori Wilson conducted a warm conversation with Brown while the attendees dined on beef, chicken, mashed sweet potatoes and asparagus.
The selections of Judith Jamison and Joan Myers Brown as honorees made the 2012 Gala particularly meaningful for Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, a former professional dancer who has deep admiration for both of these talented women. “Judith Jamison opened the doors for many African-American dancers to not just be employed, but to become the industry standard bearers for excellence,” said Reynolds Brown. “She turned the eyes of the world to her studio, and shined a laser beam on her dancers and their work. Joan Myers Brown has been Philadelphia’s cultural ambassador for over 40 years. As a former dancer in her company, Joan and Philadanco allowed me to travel the world to promote Philadelphia and the art of dance — an experience I will never forget. I am indebted to Joan Myers Brown, affectionately called ‘Aunt Joan.’”
CHARLOTTE, N.C. —In a Democratic National Convention that featured memorable speeches by first lady Michelle Obama and former President Bill Clinton, the nation’s first African-American president, Barack Obama, spoke to the American people Thursday night about his first-term accomplishments, and urged voters to elect him to a second term on November 6.
The threat of rain, thunder and lightning during an outdoor speech was the reason the Democratic National Committee and the Obama for America campaign decided to move the speech from the 73,000-seat Bank of America stadium into the smaller 20,000-seat Time Warner Cable Arena, where the first two days of events were held.
Obama for America campaign spokesman Tom Reynolds told the Tribune an estimated 65,000 people from all around the nation were expected to see Obama speak at Bank of America stadium, and another 19,000 people had standby tickets.
In an effort to please the thousands of potential voters who were disappointed they could not see Obama speak in person in Charlotte, the president participated in a conference call Thursday before his speech to thank supporters. Obama supporters around the nation, including thousands in Charlotte who had tickets, saw the speech at watch parties or in their hotel rooms.
Pennsylvania Democratic Chairman Jim Burn said Pennsylvania’s electoral votes are key to Obama’s chances of winning the election. He said in order to win, the state party must continue to stress the president’s record over the past three and a half years of job creation (including 29 straight months of national job growth) and saving the country from the possible worst fiscal collapse since the Great Depression.
“African-American voters are as important to Pennsylvania turnout and the success of President Obama as any of our bases,” Burn said. “Sure he (Obama) has a lot of work to do. Every campaign is like a snowflake — there are no two identical campaigns. Most Pennsylvanians, and most Americans, have already made up their minds about who they’re voting for. It’s all about the ground game now, and all about voter turnout. There is nothing in this Republican ticket that is conducive to African-American voters voting for it.”
The delegates to the convention from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware are leaving Charlotte fired up about the final weeks of this year’s campaign and ready to go do everything possible to re-elect President Obama and homegrown Vice President Joe Biden, a Delaware senator and Pennsylvania native. Biden also gave a speech accepting his vice-presidential nomination right before the president’s speech.
Actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, the wife of Philadelphia State Sen. Vincent Hughes, attended the convention with her husband. She says she cannot fathom that any African-American would vote for Romney over Obama.
“Don’t look at me with your Black self and ask, ‘Why should I support the brother?,’” Ralph said. “Stop that foolishness about sitting this thing out. If you’re confused about who to vote for, vote for Barack Obama. What are you going to do? Give your vote to Mitt Romney by voting for nobody? That is madness.”
“Brothers and sisters in the beauty shops and the barber shops know when the okie doke is being played on them,” Sen. Hughes added. “ They know what’s up. We just have to act now like we got some sense and send the message out. When the president says ‘Do you have my back?, we need to stand up and say “yea brother, we’ve got you back and we’re going to stand with you and we’re not going to stand for this foolishness.’”
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who delivered a speech yesterday, said a Romney administration would be a disaster for the nation.
“To Mitt Romney, education is a luxury,” Nutter said in prepared remarks. “ As governor of Massachusetts, he vetoed universal pre-K. In his first year, K-12 schools saw drastic cuts that lead to teacher layoffs. He failed his students. Whose values do you want in the Oval Office? I know who Philly wants, who Pennsylvania wants, and who you want — President Barack Obama.”
Philadelphia City Councilwoman Marian Tasco, a delegate to this year’s convention, said now that the Democratic and Republican conventions are over, it is a two-month sprint to Election Day to convince Pennsylvanians and Philadelphians to vote for Obama and Biden.
“I think the public will understand that he (Obama) needs the next four years to complete his agenda,” Tasco said. “From day one, the Republicans made up their minds they weren’t going to do anything to help the president succeed. They don’t want him, and it is personal. I just have to say it — I just think it is outright racism.”
As opponents of Pennsylvania’s controversial voter ID law, or Act 18, await a final decision by Judge Robert Simpson, the results of a recent study regarding the expected impact of the law were announced this week.
During a teleconference on the validity of the law, Keith W. Reeves, director of the Center for Social and Policy Studies at Swarthmore College, said that original state estimates were wrong. Reeves said the research shows that as many as 400,000 eligible voters would be turned away from the polls in November because they lack proper identification.
“We surveyed 227 actual voters who participated in the last primary election,” Reeves said. “Of that number, 49 percent were African-American, 18 percent Latino and the rest a mix of other ethnicities. We wanted to know if the voter ID law was being implemented fairly and evenly. What we found were half of the voters surveyed were asked to show a valid photo ID. Fifty-nine percent had a driver’s license, 13 percent had some form of military ID and 3 percent had employee photo identification. There were 4 percent of those who turned out that had no photo ID at all. That 4 percent translates into 400,000 eligible voters who would be barred from voting. The survey also showed that the 4 percent who had no photo ID were non-white — none of the white respondents were affected. Clearly that shows there is some racial disparity here, and we have a lot of work left to do in order to educate voters.”
Democratic State Sens. Anthony Hardy Williams, Vincent Hughes and NAACP CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous were also on hand for the teleconference and offered their insights into how the Voter ID law would disenfranchise thousands of voters. Jealous said that voter suppression was always the intent behind the legislation, and Williams referred to it as one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation.
“What the Reeves Report clearly demonstrates is what we’ve been saying all along, that if voter ID goes forth as is on Nov. 6 — just six weeks away — otherwise qualified voters will lose their rights,” Williams said. “These are the facts. They cannot be denied. They cannot be ignored. So no matter what the administration says, let me be clear: Act 18 is unconstitutional. It cannot be fully implemented in time to prevent voter disenfranchisement this November.”
According to Reeves, his research team conducted exit polls at 13 separate wards in Philadelphia during the April 24 primary elections. The team also polled voters in Allegheny and Butler counties and the August 7 special elections, taking random surveys. The surveys determined that enforcement of the law was arbitrary and 4 percent of those voters — all people of color — possessed no forms of valid photo identification at all.
Jealous said voter suppression, particularly of African Americans and other minorities — segments of the population most inclined to vote for Barack Obama in November — was always the intention.
“The 4 percent number suggests those who would be affected by this is much larger than the state suggested,” Jealous said. “This says to me that senior citizens, many of whom fought against the Jim Crow laws and poll taxes, would be significantly affected — and after so long now they’re going to see that repeat itself. This report shows that was the intent of the law, Senator Mike Turzai said that was the intent and if not for the courts this will be successful.”
In June, Republican State Sen. Mike Turzai stated during a party function that the state’s Voter ID law would help presidential candidate Mitt Romney win in Pennsylvania. In August, Commonwealth Judge Robert Simpson, also a Republican, upheld the law. Simpson stated in his decision that opponents who were asking for an injunction that would halt its implementation didn’t adequately demonstrate that voters would be adversely affected.
The American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP, which challenged the law, appealed to the State Supreme Court, who, in a ruling on Sept. 18, kicked the decision back to Simpson. Ruling 4 to 2, the justices ordered Simpson to consider whether or not all eligible voters will be able to obtain acceptable ID if the law is upheld. The high court asked Simpson to submit a supplemental opinion on the availability of alternate IDs by Oct. 2nd.
“This is empirical evidence of what Turzai stated, and what we and my colleagues have been saying all along. This is all about assisting Romney through voter suppression,” said Hughes. “This is real evidence of what the actual intent was, and shows that the state is nowhere near ready to implement this failed law, which is what it is. Even if all the data was in place, when we escort people to PennDot centers to get their state photo ID’s, they get mixed and conflicting information about what they need. There are significant problems here. At best this law needs to be thrown out, and at worst, its implantation should be halted.”
The eyes of the nation are on Pennsylvania this week as court hearings opposing the state’s controversial Voter ID law opened on Wednesday.
The law, which opponents say was nothing more than an attempt by Republican lawmakers to hand the commonwealth over to Mitt Romney in the presidential elections under the guise of fighting voter fraud, is being challenged on the grounds that it violates the state constitution. But that’s just one front on which the legislation is being attacked. This week the United States Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division stepped into the ring and has ordered the state to prove the law does not violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 2 prohibits voting requirements that would disproportionately impact minorities, which opponents of the law say it was designed to do.
“This law is not about protecting against voter fraud, it is about the very real, systematic disenfranchisement of approximately 750,000 individuals, mostly the poor, the elderly, students and racial minorities,” said Democratic State Senator Vincent Hughes during a rally in Harrisburg on Tuesday on the steps of the Capitol building. “It is voter suppression, plain and simple — and we must not stand for it. Let the people vote. The Voter ID law is about a Republican attempt to win the presidential election in November. The dubious claims of voter fraud made by the Republican majority and Governor Tom Corbett simply do not exist. That has been proven.”
From the very beginning the law, which was supposed to be a firewall against voter fraud, came under fire from Democratic leaders who maintained that the legislation was always meant to stack the upcoming November elections in favor of the Republicans. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler and Governor Tom Corbett quickly signed off on it once it passed the Senate and Pennsylvania House of Representatives, making the state one of 16 to have such a law. The vote in the House was split exactly on party lines with three Republicans, Reps. Christopher Ross, Marguerite Quinn and Kurt Masser stepping across the aisle to join the Democratic opposition.
The law requires that a registered voter produce either a valid state driver’s license or non-driver’s license identification card. Other acceptable forms of identification would be a valid student’s ID, passport or military identification. One of the problems, opponents say, is many elderly voters don’t have and cannot produce documentation of their birth — a requirement for obtaining the state identification card. Many of those individuals have been registered voters for years and would be turned away from exercising their constitutional right to vote. Many female voters could also be adversely affected since their married names aren’t the names on their birth certificates.
Hughes said that attorneys for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania allege there have been no known cases of voter fraud committed in the state. He also said that when Corbett was state attorney general he never prosecuted one single case of voter fraud.
ACLU attorneys think they have a strong enough case to block the law. In May, shortly after Corbett signed the bill into law, the ACLU, the Public Interest Law Center, the Advancement Project and the law firm of Arnold & Porter filed a law suit against it. The case, Applewhite v. Pennsylvania, argues that the law violated the state constitution, and in their brief, outline several points that will be expounded upon during proceedings:
• The commonwealth now admits that it cannot identify even a single instance in which a person voted improperly in Pennsylvania because they were able to impersonate someone else at the polling place.
• The commonwealth's new estimates of voters without acceptable ID — about three quarters of a million people — are understated based on the commonwealth's own records and based on survey evidence gathered by petitioners, and that the actual number is that one million or more eligible voters do not have the necessary ID to vote in November.
• The commonwealth has not adequately informed the public that they need to undertake a time consuming task simply in order to vote as they have in years past. An estimated 37 percent of residents are not even aware of the voter ID law or believe there is no photo ID law. More importantly, the vast majority of people who do not have valid ID under the law mistakenly believe that they have acceptable ID (13.1 percent of total eligible voters and 11.8 percent of people who voted for president in 2008).
"George Washington didn't need a voter ID card,” said State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams during the Harrisburg rally. “John Adams didn't need a voter ID card. Ronald Reagan didn't need a voter ID card. If it wasn't good enough for the Founding Fathers, it's not good enough for me."
Commonwealth officials formally acknowledged in a stipulation agreement that there’s been no reported in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania - and there isn’t likely to be in November. The agreement also states that Pennsylvania “will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania and elsewhere” or even argue “that in-person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absense of the Photo ID law.” Neither Governor Corbett nor the state attorney general will testify during the hearings, per the agreement.
The United States Department of Justice has also jumped into the legal battle, ordering Commonwealth officials to prove that the law does not violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act; a law forbidding any voting requirements that would disproportionately affect minority voters. In a letter sent this past Monday to acting secretary of the Commonwealth, Carol Aichele, the DOJ requested the state turnover the complete voter registration list, including voter history and race of registered voters and the current Pennsylvania driver license and ID list.
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Acts states that: No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision in a manner which results in a denial or abridgement of the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.
The Justice Department also wants any documents supporting Gov. Tom Corbett's March 2012 statement that 99 percent of Pennsylvania's eligible voters already have acceptable photo ID. The state has 30 days to comply. Similar laws in South Carolina and Texas were successfully blocked by the Justice Department.
“The stipulation says that the state is ‘not aware of’ any incidents of voter impersonation, which the Voter ID law is allegedly designed to address, and that the state is not prepared to present any evidence in support of the existence of such fraud. This should end the argument that the Voter ID law would prevent any voter fraud in Pennsylvania,” said State Senator Daylin Leach in a press release. Leach also said that since there is no evidence of voter fraud, Republican State Representative Mike Turzai told the truth when he said at a recent partisan event that the law would help Romney win Pennsylvania.
“Also, filings indicate the Commonwealth will argue that the court should adopt a rational-basis standard for reviewing the law's Constitutionality,” Leach continued. “Anyone who has completed a semester of law school will know this means the administration, incredibly, believes that voting is not a fundamental right. The only remaining justification for the law is to prevent future incidents of fraud, of which there is also no evidence. That’s quite a thin argument to justify a law that disenfranchises hundreds of thousands of voters, and this proves that Representative Turzai was telling the truth. This law is about nothing more than helping Republicans win the election this November.”
Gov. Tom Corbett’s plan to implement asset testing for food stamp recipients is wrong and mean-spirited.
Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley said an asset test will be implemented by the Department of Public Welfare in the coming months, but the administration has not decided its dollar-value level.
In a letter to the federal government late last month, the agency said it was considering a bar on recipients who have more than $2,00 in savings or other assets subject to the rule, or more than $3,250 for people who are over 60 or disabled.
On Thursday at a press conference at City Hall, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Mayor Michael Nutter, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady and state Sens. Vincent Hughes and Shirley Kitchen urged Corbett to reconsider the plan slated to start May 1.
“This is one of the most mean-spirited, asinine plans to come out of Harrisburg in a long time,” said Mayor Nutter.
Vilsack refuted the Corbett administration’s stated 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 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 the 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.”
On Wednesday, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell warned that an asset test would be expensive to administer and harmful to the economy, particularly in poor neighborhoods where food stamps are often a major source of business for small grocery stores.
“They’re not all minority, they’re not all urban dwellers,” Rendell said at a Capitol news conference with about a dozen state House Democrats. “They’re our neighbors.”
If the Corbett administration’s plan is costly and unnecessary why is it being proposed?
The answer is gutter politics.
Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s attacks on the food stamps program and calling President Obama “the food stamps president,” were thinly disguised racial code words that helped him win the Republican presidential primary in South Carolina.
Gingrich linked food stamps with Blacks although the majority of the people using food stamps are not African American. According to 2010 Census numbers, about 26 percent of food stamp recipients are African American, 49 percent are white and 20 percent are Hispanic.
At a time when Americans are facing sustained unemployment and rising food prices, Corbett and conservative Republicans are shamelessly attacking one of the most reliable safety nets for families who suddenly find themselves unable to pay for food.
Officials with the financially distressed School District of Philadelphia have repeatedly said that the district would need an infusion of funds — at least $60 million from the city and $120 million from the state — to ensure its survival. The city took a big first step in answering the call, as Mayor Michael Nutter unveiled a series of new tax programs and initiatives that could net the district $95 million annually, well above the district’s target.
“I am proposing a revenue package to generate new money for investing in the education of Philadelphia’s schoolchildren. This set of recommended proposals is sustainable and substantial; the key is, they are also doable,” Nutter said, flanked by Hite and members of the School Reform Commission. “As I have already previously announced the supported increase in the liquor-by-the-drink tax, our proposed increased will generate approximate an additional $22 million by increasing the tax from ten percent to 15 percent. This proposal is scheduled to start on July 1, 2013.
“I am also proposing a city cigarette tax; the city currently has a tobacco tax, but cigarettes are not included in that tax,” Nutter continued. “The cigarette tax I am proposing will begin in January 2014, and will be set at $2 per pack. It will generate approximately $45 million in half a fiscal year.
“Almost all of the revenue from these taxes will be used to invest in the educating young children, and allows the Health Department to continue its smoking cessation programs.”
The third key, Nutter said, to delivering the much-needed funds is giving more power to Tom Knudsen, who is tasked as chief revenue collector. Knudsen is intimately aware of the district’s sinking finances, as last year he orchestrated a $300 million-plus bond deal so the district could get through the academic year.
Nutter has said a ramped-up delinquent tax office could net the district upward of $28 million.
While Nutter and Hite voiced optimism — with neither saying what would happen if the state doesn’t come up with its share – there are roadblocks to the district getting the money.
First and foremost, the city cannot pass any new tax laws without first receiving authorization from the General Assembly. Although state Senator Vincent Hughes has introduced a pair of bills — Senate Bill 944 and Senate Bill 945 – that would spur action at the state level, in city coun
cil hearings, Councilman Bill Green voiced strong reservations about Nutter’s package — and the city’s relying on action from the assembly.
“While I support the mayor’s proposals to help schools, they are unlikely to pass the General Assembly, and frankly, they miss the point,” Green said from the council floor. “Even if they do, there is no more help coming from the General Assembly, so there will be a $200 million gap. The city is simply not able to fund the gap for the current failing system by itself. The issue today is far more complicated than just throwing more money at the school district.
“The question is whether the district is too big to succeed.”
Nutter’s proposal alsoreceived a chilly response from the Philadelphia Tavern Owners Association/Licensed Beverage Association, whose president, John Longacre, blasted the plan as another unfair tax hoisted upon small business owners and average-Joe consumers.
“I think it’s a terrible idea. Philadelphia is the only county in the state that already has an over-the-counter liquor tax; every other municipality in this state is able to function their government without putting it on the backs of consumers,” Longacre said. “Philadelphia is already the second highest-rated city in America in terms of tax burdens on its citizens. Businesses in Philadelphia are already paying an inflated sales tax, paying a four percent wage tax, already paying a net gross profit tax and a business privilege tax. We are already paying taxes that don’t even exist in other counties, and we’re already overpaying on taxes as is; and now they want to add another tax that doesn’t exist anywhere [else] in the state.”
Longacre does care about the plight of public education — in his view, it’s just unfair to ask businesses and taxpayers to do the bulk of the heavy lifting. Instead, Longacre believes a leaner city government would cure many of the city’s fiscal ailments.
“In our opinion, the city needs to be run more efficiently, and you can [help the district] without compromising on the backs of business owners. The city could cut wasteful spending, but more importantly, if the city collected on real estate taxes at a rate commensurate with other cities, it would add $100 million every year,” Longacre said. “There are other ways to fill the school funding gap, other than to put strain on an already overtaxed business.”
Longacre said Nutter apparently has considered the effect this will have on the smaller bars, theorizing that most retailers will pass the tax hike on to their customers, which will lead to establishments losing customers. To not have that happen, Longacre said many smaller tavern owners will just eat the increase, thus shrinking their margins even more.
“It makes an already existing ridiculous tax even more ridiculous,” Longacre said, noting that there is already a 10 percent tax on drinks. “The fact that national publications are reporting that Philadelphia is the second-ranked city in terms of tax burdens, and to propose even more tax increases is clearly not doing anything to address the core problem, which is the efficiency of government.”
On the government side, as Nutter thanked and congratulated Council President Darrell Clarke for his hard work on the liquor-by-the-drink tax — Nutter and Clarke talked about and worked on the bill for more than a year — Clarke was quick to point out that, although his is generally satisfied by the news, there’s still a bit left to do.
“There’s a proposal we’ve talked about as an alternative to raising real estate taxes. We’ve tried our best, as we come up with solutions to increase revenue, to do things differently, as opposed to the traditional model of, ‘we need money. Let’s stick our hands in taxpayers’ pockets,’” Clarke said. “Real estate, wage or other things that people tend to not have any alternative. But if you have a liquor-by-the-drink or cigarette tax, and if you don’t want to pay that tax, you can simply not drink or simply not smoke.
“The last two tax votes for the schools were last minute, and they were very difficult votes, done in a way that was somewhat scattered, essentially cobbled together a series of votes from different members to try and push for measures, ” Clarke continued, noting that he was mildly surprised when he learned the figure from Nutter’s proposal was $95 million. “In spite of that, here we are with an additional $300 million-plus deficit, so it’s clear that’s not the way to fix this problem.
“I want to emphasize that I’ve said in response to the mayor’s proposal, that I am pleased with the fact that the Pennsylvania General Assembly, particularly the Philadelphia Delegation, that continues to be supportive of measures that help the City of Philadelphia,” Clarke continued. “The reality is, the school district proposal cannot be in lieu of support from the state. I have said the city’s portion of the request is the smallest part of the puzzle, so even we are successful in coming up with additional revenues for the school, it’s still not going to matter, because reality is, until you get close to hopefully the $120 million the district is requesting, and some understanding as it relates to the school district as it relates to the contract with the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, we’re not going to be in a position to maintain the current level.”