Solomon and Hohenstein talk about Harrisburg’s Philadelphia Delegation’s plan for the city

“The idea is to build accountability to what we are doing in Harrisburg each and every day and to make Harrisburg relevant,” Solomon said.

Pennsylvania State Representatives Joe Hohenstein, who serves the 177th district, and Jared Solomon, who serves the 202nd district, took to the Samuel Recreation Center in Port Richmond Thursday night to address community concerns and highlight the Philadelphia Platform, which is an outline of four policy areas that are the primary priorities of the Philadelphia Delegation during the 2019–20 Legislative Session.

The platform “is a unified, written document [detailing] what the Philadelphia delegation in Harrisburg sees as our priorities for the city — what it is that we want to do for the city as a whole,” Hohenstein said at the meeting. It highlights four policy areas: workforce development and education, improving commercial corridors, criminal justice and public safety reform, and infrastructure and exports.

“The idea is to build accountability to what we are doing in Harrisburg each and every day and to make Harrisburg relevant,” Solomon said.

Workforce Development and Education

According to the platform, which was handed out to each person in attendance, the vision and goal of this policy area is to support “young people, returning citizens, adult learners, and immigrants in fully participating in the labor force” by “pursuing family-sustaining careers, and creating a 21st century workforce in Philadelphia.”

Hohenstein said that officials have seen “a reduction in the number of available jobs” and have “also seen our schools suffer.” There’s a number of stats in the platform to back this up. Here’s a few:

  • Philadelphia ranks 96th out of the top 100 cities in labor force participation, and in some parts of the city it’s as low as 65%.
  • 550,000 adults in Philadelphia, or nearly 50% of the adult population, lack the tools like literacy, computer skills, and credentials to succeed in the workforce.
  • An estimated 245,000 Philadelphians lack “basic” prose literacy skills, but there are only 569 classroom seats for these adults to learn.
  • By 2030, 600,000 Philadelphians (or 39% of the population) will not have the skills to secure the types of jobs available in Philadelphia.
  • Only 66 percent of the class of 2016 in District-run high schools graduated, which is well-below the national average of 82%.
  • 27.4% of adults over 25 have bachelor degrees, and the geographic variation of educational attainment is extreme — Center City it is 75% and over, large parts of North, Southwest, West and Northeast Philadelphia is below 25%.
  • English language learning is increasingly a need, as nearly 200,000 people in Philadelphia (or 12.2 % of the population) are foreign-born, up from 100,000 or 6% in 1990.

To fix that problem, the plan highlights four main goals: equipping all young Philadelphians with 21st century skills for today’s workforce, removing barriers for the formerly incarcerated to successfully re-enter society, get a job or start a business, drastically improve adult literacy and numeracy deficits to enable adult learners to access new jobs, and support immigrants’ English proficiency and fluency to help them translate their skills and degrees from other countries to fully participate in the Philadelphia economy.

The delegation lays out a number of policy priorities to combat these issues, including the implementation of school-based pre-apprenticeship programs designed by schools in partnership with business leaders that empower young students to pursue new careers with the right skills, increasing funding for education for adults who struggle with literacy, math, and who have English as their second language, and increasing state investment in summer jobs programs like WorkReady Philadelphia and encourage more private sector partners to participate in existing summer jobs programs.

Improving Commercial Corridors

Since many commercial corridors in Philadelphia are state roads, the delegation plans to do more for commercial corridors, which it calls “vital engines of community economic development.”

“The Commonwealth must redouble its efforts to support commercial corridors that are vibrant, dynamic hubs of neighborhood community and economic development,” the plan reads, “by streamlining the pathways for commercial corridor organizations, small businesses and municipalities to access State resources, more businesses and neighborhoods can get the resources they need to thrive.”

The plan outlines a number of policy priorities that the delegation believes can facilitate an increase in economic development of these corridors. Among them are helping micro- and small-sized businesses access capital via grants or low-interest loans — particularly aimed at minority and women owned enterprises. It also highlights a funding increase for the Neighborhood Assistance Program and a desire to increase applications and awards to Keystone Communities, which is a program is designed to encourage the creation of partnerships between the public and private sectors that jointly support local initiatives such as the growth and stability of neighborhoods and communities; social and economic diversity; and a strong and secure quality of life.

Criminal Justice and Public Safety Reform

The plan highlights several crime related statistics:

  • Homicides are up 13% and over 300 people were killed in 2017 in Philadelphia, the vast majority of them by firearm and with increasing frequency by teenagers.
  • 36% of Philadelphians discharged from parole or probation were re-incarcerated (by comparison, 1% of people from Allegheny County were)
  • 16,000 Philadelphians are on probation, 16,000 on parole and 10,000 on accelerated rehabilitative disposition.
  • In 2015, 31.5% of the city’s jail population was awaiting trial and only 20% was actually serving a sentence.
  • 29.1% of PA’s prison population has a mental health problem, with nearly 10% seriously mentally ill; and in Philadelphia roughly 17% have a serious mental illness there is also a higher recidivism rate in the severely mentally ill prison and jail population.

To combat these issues, the delegation highlighted illegal guns, bail reform, parole and probation reform and mental health in jails and prisons as areas for potential investment. On the issue of illegal guns, the plan aims to continue to hold gun buy-back events, pilot and implement preventative measures that help de-escalate and deter gun violence and to declare a public health epidemic in an effort to draw resources and attention to the crisis.

Regarding bail reform, the plan aims to pass “comprehensive pretrial reforms that remove financial considerations and minimize bias in pretrial sentencing.” The plan also includes information about allowing those sentenced to life in prison to apply for parole and doubling the Board of Pardons budget to allow for more agents and more expedited processing of pardon applications.

Infrastructure and exports

The infrastructure and exports portion of the plan opens by talking about the fact that only 27% of Philadelphia schools have central air. As a result, numerous schools in the city had to close last summer due to the intense heat at the beginning of the school year. It also mentions that investments in local infrastructure help bothy regional businesses and also those from around the state that rely on Philadelphia’s facilities to ship overseas.

“If we boosted our regions export activity to be equal to the average of the country’s 100 largest metropolitan areas,” the plan reads, “that would translate into $6.3 billion in new economic activity and 35,000 additional jobs.” To combat this issue, the plan highlights a few key goals: fund much-needed maintenance and improvements to Philadelphia’s school buildings, make “big system improvements and investments” to SEPTA, and attract more businesses to ship from Philadelphia’s two major ports (one is in South Philly and the other is in the River Wards).

Policy priorities for the infrastructure and exports portion of the plan include the following:

  • Start a comprehensive rebuilding program for Philadelphia public schools, addressing deferred maintenance, safety, and vital upgrades. This should include “a plan for funding security for building upgrades to school buildings around the state and for years to come.”
  • Support funding stability for SEPTA by allowing for greater local revenue in the capital and operating budgets. Currently, SEPTA is funded 60% by the federal government, 38% by the state, and only 2% locally. An increased amount of local money could result in the eventual implementation of potential larger projects like extending the Broad Street Line to the Navy Yard or Roosevelt Boulevard Bus Rapid Transit, which currently are not close to realization. As SEPTA’s funding currently stands, most “funding mostly has gone to help make much-needed repairs, upgrades, and maintenance to the system,” the plan reads.
  • Attract more Pennsylvania companies to use Philadelphia’s port to export local products. Right now it is cheaper for local companies to travel to Baltimore or Bayonne to export because of tolls on the Turnpike. As a result, the delegation would like to implement a Turnpike toll reimbursement program for Pennsylvania companies using Philadelphia’s ports.