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Philadelphia City Council President visited AL DÍA on Oct. 9, 2019. Photo: Emily Neil/AL DÍA News.
Philadelphia City Council President visited AL DÍA on Oct. 9, 2019. Photo: Emily Neil/AL DÍA News.

City Council President Darrell Clarke talks Philadelphia’s ‘Moonshot’ to lower its poverty rate

A newly-established Special Committee on Poverty Reduction and Prevention wants the poverty rate below 20% by 2024. 

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Here’s a label every Philadelphian is tired of hearing: “Philadelphia is the poorest big city in America.” But if you had to pinpoint one person more fed up than the rest, it’s City Council President Darrell Clarke. 

That’s why yesterday, his office — which heads City Council — announced the first meeting of a new Special Committee on Poverty Reduction and Prevention to happen Thursday, Oct. 10 at 3pm in City Council’s chambers at City Hall.

The ambitious, all-encompassing approach to one of Philadelphia’s long-standing ills brings experts together from all corners and sectors of the city to collaborate on solutions (both short and long-term) and accomplish the goal of reducing Philly’s poverty rate to below 20% by 2024.

Council President Clarke visited AL DÍA on Oct. 9 and discussed the importance of this new initiative, how it came to be, and its function going forward.

“We believe we need to do something about it [poverty] in a meaningful way,” he said.

The “we” in Clarke’s statement is the government. 

“We need to pull together and set a goal,” he said.

Clarke also acknowledged and praised the work of many community organizations that have been combating poverty “for a long, long time” in Philadelphia in the absence of any unified governmental effort.

Many of the leaders of these organizations will play integral roles in shaping the actions taken and recommendations made by the committee.

“We got a lot of good people,” said Clarke.

A sound structure

Speaking of its structure, the special committee is comprised of four co-chairs, a general committee, and three subcommittees dedicated to the pillars of housing, jobs and education and social safety net.

The pillars were identified using the “Narrowing the Gap” report commissioned by City Council and published in March 2019. The report analyzed successful practices geared towards reducing poverty in other U.S. cities and based on the findings, suggested 27 strategies for City Council to take to combat Philadelphia’s situation.

“We know some things, but we don’t know everything about everything,” said Clarke of Council’s reasoning for commissioning the report.

Clarke himself, expressed excitement about the special committee’s creation and potential impact.

“This is going to be our moonshot,” he said, a nickname inspired by watching a documentary about the moon landing.

He admits the end-goal of reducing the poverty rate to below 20% is “aggressive,” but reiterated the importance of setting a goal and trying to achieve it.

The special committee will have six months to put together a blueprint of both short and long-term plans and goals to get to the desired end result in 2024.

Ambitious, but achievable

During his visit to AL DÍA, Clarke highlighted some of the short-term goals he thought we “very achievable” in the near future.

For one, he doesn’t think Philadelphia takes enough advantage of some of the benefits that are available to citizens on a yearly basis. 

The Council President cited the underutilization of the federal earned income tax credit (EITC) as a specific example of leaving much-needed benefits on the table. EITC is a refundable tax credit for those with a low to moderate income, especially with children.

“We literally don’t take advantage of tens of millions of dollars,” said Clarke of the amount available for certain Philly residents under EITC.

He also mentioned a number of seldom used state programs and real estate tax exemptions that many eligible homeowners don’t apply for.

The problem is that those who are eligible for any program or tax exemption, usually don’t even know about them.

“There are different issues,” said Clarke.

They come down to either an inability to effectively market those programs and exemptions to the proper, eligible population, or the inaccessibility of the processes to apply for said programs and exemptions.

A solution to the ineffective marketing strategy to come from the special committee’s meetings is advertising beyond just community meetings.

“It’s usually the same old folks that come to all the community meetings, and we don’t necessarily reach the people that we really want to reach,” said Clarke.

To expand the audience, he cited a suggestion from special committee co-chair Mel Walls of One Day At a Time, Inc., to take the advertising to the bigger community festivals and block parties that draw more members of the neighborhood.

It is one of many solutions that Clarke hopes will come from the special committee’s collaboration between now and 2024. 

“It’s not an easy goal to achieve, getting people out of poverty,” he said. “If it was easy, we would’ve done it.”

The meeting on Thursday will start what is to be a new chapter in Philadelphia’s fight against poverty, and possibly its most hopeful.

For Clarke, the message is simple.

“Let’s get it done.”

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