Broke in Philly

How Philly will spend $155 million to stop surging violence

In a first, a new review committee will evaluate grants to grassroots programs.

Philadelphians demanding more resources to combat gun violence march down Broad Street in March 2021

Philadelphians demanding more resources to combat gun violence march down Broad Street in March 2021

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY
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As Philadelphia officials prepare to approve what they say is a historic commitment to anti-violence funding, City Council and Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration are forming a new committee to evaluate the effectiveness of anti-violence grant spending.

The plan follows years of calls for the city to measure the millions it pours into community programs to curb shootings or address root causes.

“Any group applying for violence prevention funding will get the same level of city scrutiny that any applicant already does for any city contract or award,” said Council spokesperson Joe Grace.

Called the Violence Prevention and Opportunity review committee, it will be made up of Council and mayoral appointees. Its members will help decide which organizations get funding, and how much, Grace said.

“We look forward to collaborating with Council on the design of the community grant program, including tools for evaluating the effectiveness,” said Kenney spokesperson Deana Gamble.

Lawmakers are saying next year’s city budget now allocates $155 million in anti-violence spending. That’s more than double the initial spending proposal — but it’s not all new money, as some pre-existing funds have been reclassified as anti-violence.

Under the current plan, which is scheduled for approval on Thursday, anti-violence spending will comprise about 3% of the total FY2022 budget, which comes in at $5.25 billion.

A healthy chunk of that is going straight to grassroots programming, which is one thing that has some experts on alert. Observers like Inquirer columnist Helen Ubiñas have long called on the city to evaluate the effectiveness of the community programs it funds. As Philadelphia prepares to give a diverse set of projects a never-before-seen cash injection, criminal justice experts are echoing that call.

Violence on its own is costly. Between medical expenses, lost wages, property damage and law enforcement-related costs, a 2018 study by the city found that each homicide costs Philly about $1.4 million. By that measure, homicides this year have cost taxpayers more than $360 million to date, a Love Now Media analysis found. Millions more have been spent on the city’s nearly 1,000 non-fatal shootings to date.

So where is the city allocating money to stop this hemorrhaging?

While some details remain scant as the mayor and Council continue negotiations, about $90 million has already been loosely accounted for.

Where the anti-violence money will go

Though the budget isn’t final, so far, the anti-violence spending plan includes:

  • $28 million for out-of-school / after-school programs
  • $21 million for grassroots organizations and community grants
  • $13 million for a 911 mental health response program and mobile crisis team
  • $10 million in restored funding to Parks and Rec and libraries
  • $7.1 million for Commerce Department workforce development and job training
  • $1.5 million for two brand new “curfew centers,” where unattended kids can wait until a parent or guardian picks them up

The two broad areas that saw the biggest boost in funding between FY21 and FY22 were classified as “healing” investments and “safe havens for youth and families,” both of which saw about $11 million in increased funds.

Prevention takes the largest slice of the  touted total, with $70 million in spending.

Kenney originally proposed $36 million

Kenney initially planned a much more modest increase in anti-violence spending. The boost he proposed in his budget released this past April was just around $19 million, for a grand total of about $36 million

A group of more than 40 organizations calling themselves the End Gun Violence Coalition advocated for the city to commit to an additional $100 million in spending.

The current $155 million plan appears to achieve that, though only some of the boost was because of new ways of thinking about existing programs.

During negotiations with Council, the mayor’s administration reevaluated which spending qualified as anti-violence work, per spokesperson Grace. For example, the $28 million for out-of-school programming wasn’t initially considered under the anti-violence umbrella.

Under the new classification scheme, the city’s anti-violence spending last year equals $87 million, including $11 million in funds rolled over from programs that didn’t start at the beginning of FY21. The budget will augment that amount by $68 million, to reach the $155 million total.

Who supports this anti-violence spending plan?

Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, who chairs the Special Committee on Gun Violence Prevention, was joined by 12 other councilmembers in advocating for the $100 million anti-violence spending boost.

The members called the initiative the Philly PEACE Budget.

Lawmakers who signed on to the plan were Jamie Gauthier, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Helen Gym, Mark Squilla, Curtis Jones, Jr., Bobby Henon, Cindy Bass, Kendra Brooks, Allan Domb, Derek Green, Isaiah Thomas, and David Oh.

“This is a historic investment in anti-violence programs in Philadelphia and a paradigm shift in how we deal with violence in Philadelphia,” Johnson said in a statement.

Some grassroots activists are hopeful about the budget, too.

Mothers In Charge founder Dorothy Johnson-Speight told WHYY it was “a great step in the right direction,” and Unity in the Community founder Anton Moore said it suggests the city is “getting serious about addressing the issue of gun violence.”

Any opposition?

There’s not really opposition, so much as skepticism.

The most vocal critics emphasize that Philly’s monumental anti-violence spending must be met with evaluation metrics to determine which programs work and, therefore, which programs should continue to be funded even, or especially, after federal stimulus runs dry.

Tyrique Glasgow, a grassroots anti-violence activist who leads South Philly’s Young Chances Foundation, told WHYY that the promise of additional funding means little without strategy to ensure the money is spent usefully.

The new Violence Prevention and Opportunity review committee is intended to address this issue.

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