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As the shooting epidemic continues to rage through the city, Philadelphia’s budget targets a record $155 million toward anti-violence funding. That’s what Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council have been saying, anyway.
Where is that money actually going? How much of it is new? And who will benefit? The complex spending plan encompasses everything from grants for community organizations to after-school programs and graffiti cleanup to library service.
A new tool out of City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart’s office makes it easy for anyone to sort through the bureaucracy and get a clear look at specifics.
Using the “funding explorer” web app, you can toggle on or off different categories — intervention, prevention, transformation, and police response (which the office says shouldn’t really be classified as direct anti-violence spending). You can also separate the genuinely novel programs from funding that already existed but was reclassified, or filter the results by amount budgeted.
For example, if you choose “existing” from one drop-down and “intervention” from the other, you’ll be shown just one result: The $9.4 million budgeted for the city’s Office of Violence Prevention.
Intervention spending like this is the kind that can yield immediate results in curbing gun violence, according to experts cited in the controller’s analysis. It makes up 21% of the total.
Meanwhile, half the funding is prevention spending, which isn’t expected to bring results for 5 to 10 years. And the quarter of funding that’s classified as transformation — defined as targeting root causes like poverty and social dynamics — is expected to take up to 20 years to become impactful, according to data used by the controller’s office.
The speed of effectiveness is a critical question as shootings in the city track 16% higher than last year, with more than 1,400 recorded so far in 2021. The city’s 340-plus homicides are running 21% ahead of last year’s already high count.
Intervention spending includes workforce programs that help people find and keep jobs, like the $2 million allocated for the Rapid Employment and Development Initiative, or READI program, which has already seen some success in Chicago.
Investing in People & Places: How Jobs Prevent Violence: Tuesday, Aug. 24
Unpacking how workforce programs can be effective is the subject of an upcoming event from Billy Penn and CeaseFirePA in West Philadelphia (it’ll also be livestreamed on Facebook).
Panelists Siddiq Moore of Siddiq’s Water Ice, Michael Thorpe of Mt. Vernon CDC and Soneyet Muhammad, who runs Drexel’s workforce development wing, will discuss how they intentionally engage people most at risk of being impacted by gun violence, and why economic empowerment is so vital to curbing violence in Philadelphia.
Overall, the controller’s funding explorer says about 44% of that $155 million is new spending. City money that existed prior to this budget cycle, and was either bolstered by new funds or recategorized as anti-violence spending, like after school programming for children, accounts for 56%.
City Council is running its own intervention programming, which has been running since at least 2018, is being studied now, the city has said. Rolling, targeted community investment grants between $1,500 to $20,000 have also been distributed since the end of 2020.
Applications for the new pot of $22 million in community grants, which will range from $100k to $1 million dollars, are now open with a deadline of Sept. 6. Grants are expected to start going out in September.
Still, some officials and activists are calling on the mayor’s administration to do more.
Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, organizer Jamal Johnson, and others have continued to push the mayor to declare gun violence a citywide emergency. They say that declaration will help remove red tape around anti-violence spending, help better coordinate every city department to make gun violence their top priority, and enable the city to call on private and nonprofit partners to pump more money into fixing the issue.
Other activists, like Anton Moore of South Philly’s Unity in the Community, wondered whether an emergency declaration would just be a symbolic gesture, one that “does nothing for our neighborhoods.”
Kenney initially pledged to fulfill the steps outlined in Gauthier’s Council resolution, passed fall 2020, which urges the mayor to make such a declaration, after organizer Johnson undertook a nearly one-month-long hunger strike. Soon thereafter, the mayor launched regular, public gun violence briefings, where he is often joined by police, public health, education and other pertinent officials to provide updates on the city’s anti-violence efforts.
However, Kenney in July doubled down on his decision not to declare gun violence a citywide emergency, saying it wouldn’t enable city officials to do anything they’re not already doing.