Voices | June 11-18

Reactions, rants and other random musings from you, our readers

Dark money
It’s been three months but many people are still in the dark on when they’ll receive their unemployment funding. If you’re one of them, tell us via voices@philadelphiaweekly.com. | Image: Aidan Bartos

The SHOUT Out

It’s mid-June, and we’re still hearing horror stories from people trying to file for unemployment.

Your turn:

If you have a tale to tell about the fight to get unemployment benefits, we want to hear it, and then share it with everyone else. Send your story to voices@philadelphiaweekly.com.

Pandemic no excuse to harm environment 

The COVID-19 pandemic has been instilling fear, anxiety, and stress among the global population, and it is safe to say that it has shone a light on the underlying problems at the core of various governments around the world. In the United States especially, the pandemic has exposed various systemic problems that should have triggered action from the current administration. However, nothing has changed. And the EPA has decided to leverage the pandemic to put the final nail in the coffin for many environmental regulations. 

The pandemic is not a justifier to weaken limits on greenhouse gas emissions and roll back rules governing clean air, water and toxic chemicals. This situation should be an awakening to veer off from fossil fuels and more aggressively reduce anthropogenic carbon emissions. Fighting these rollbacks and amplifying an environmentally conscious narrative is crucial now more than ever.

Edoardo Amaniera and Kalyxa Roman | Philadelphia

NKCDC stands with protests against racism

New Kensington Community Development Corporation has been quietly working over the last week while the nation and Philadelphia erupt in anger, sadness and frustration. As tensions flared in Fishtown over two nights, it became painfully clear that our silence was part of the problem. We cannot escape the history of race in this country and this city. Systemic and overt racism power the things that we fight against daily: poverty, disinvestment, redlining, trauma and prejudice. Now more than ever, we understand the struggle for racial equity is essential to fulfilling our mission.  

In this moment, we must call attention to the stark difference between the peaceful protests against the systems of oppression that plague our nation and the armed group that assembled in Fishtown recently. This vigilante mob does not represent the broader community of diverse, resilient neighbors and businesses that we serve. 

We condemn those who take up arms to intimidate and assault protesters, the press and neighbors. We call upon the police officers to look inward, examine their own bias, and commit to do better. Instead of protecting our community, these officers rewarded and confirmed the discrimination and racism that is alive in our systems, communities, and even hearts. 

NKCDC’s mission – to advance social equity and economic empowerment by nurturing and creating opportunities for residents to live in, and actively shape, their neighborhoods of choice – requires working closely with people and organizations who support our communities. We are grateful for the opportunities and conversations we have fostered with city agencies and the police districts that serve our residents and businesses. In this moment, we call on the Philadelphia police and city government to work with the community to use de-escalation and mediation tactics in place of aggressive force and stand up to protect our black and brown neighbors. 

We stand in solidarity with local and national protests against racism. We support all people standing up for justice and equity in our nation. Recent peaceful demonstrations remind us that unity and solidarity are more powerful than hate.  

Fishtown, Kensington and Port Richmond are strong, resilient neighborhoods with caring and passionate residents. As we support them in finding a way forward, we are committed to:

  • Transforming our organizational policies to allow diversity to flourish, continually reflecting on individual bias, and furthering systemic change;
  • Advocating for funding to support our communities and people of color everywhere;
  • Supporting the efforts of individuals and organizations addressing equity in Philadelphia and nationwide;
  • Encouraging, supporting, and engaging in productive dialogue around equity;
  • And encouraging all of our neighbors to take time to grieve our recent losses. We will take time to heal and will transform that grief into action. 

We see you. We hear you. We stand with you ready for change. 

Bea J.E. Rider, interim executive director, and the NKCDC Board of Directors

Parker’s project would harm East Oak Lane residents

I’m a resident of the East Oak Lane section of Philadelphia, represented by Councilwoman Cherelle Parker. 

This is what Parker is doing to her East Oak Lane constituents:

Parker is aggressively pushing through a zoning variance for a project for the building of a high-density, multi-unit apartment building, without off-street parking, in a narrow intersection in East Oak Lane. If the project goes through, it will be in the midst of the nearby elementary school, library, a church and the firehouse. This will lead to the risk of children being hit by cars as they walk to and from the library and the school. With traffic congestion and parking, it will obstruct fire trucks from being able to travel through that intersection. That could lead to deaths.

Parker knows all of this. There is solid, strong, vocal opposition to this project in East Oak Lane. She also knows this. Her response – really, lack of response – to our community is appalling. A member of the Board of the Oak Lane Community Action Association (olcaa.org) called her response to a letter about this zoning variance “demeaning.”

 Apparently this project benefits Parker personally in some way, and that’s why she is determined to force it on the residents of East Oak Lane. This is an appalling example of the pay-to-play, corrupt, greedy practices that take place far too often in Philadelphia politics. 

I have seen reports that she will be running for mayor. The citizens of Philadelphia need to know that this is how she treats her constituents. And I urge the city Zoning Board of Adjustment to deny this zoning variance to Parker. 

Patty Quinn | Philadelphia

City should fund services, not cops

Black lives matter. We stand with Black people in the fight against police brutality, white supremacy and institutional racism. The ongoing police brutality and murder of Black and Brown people – from the murder of George Floyd to firing rubber bullets at protesters to gassing residential blocks – is disgraceful and it needs to stop.

The beautiful and powerful mobilizations across our nation and our state were escalated into violence by the police, who met peaceful protests with excessive force, rubber bullets, riot gear and tanks. Instead of acknowledging the pain and injustice our communities are speaking out and mobilizing against, the police and military left protesters beaten and bloodied all across this country. 

We will not entertain a media narrative that condemns the expressions of Black pain without condemning the cause of that pain. We will not entertain the PR stunts of police officers kneeling with protesters as long as they are willing to terrorize and kill the people they claim to protect and serve. We stand with the #BlackLivesMatter movement and echo their demands to defund the police nationwide. 

In Philadelphia, that begins with City Council rejecting Mayor Kenney’s $14 million budget increase for the police department, and diverting those funds to critical city services like education for our young people. We encourage our Philadelphia members and allies to sign the Philly We Rise petition and contact their councilmembers.

We cannot stand by and wait for our government to change. The system cannot reform itself; it’s up to us to transform it. That is what protesters across the state and across the country are doing, and we are with them, in the streets and in solidarity. A new system must be created, and we can start by defunding the police. We make the road to that future by walking.

Maegan Llerena is the executive director of Make the Road Pennsylvania

State needs Congress’ help to reopen schools safely 

In the months since COVID-19 closed our schools, educators, parents and students did a tremendous job transitioning from classrooms to kitchens and living rooms across Pennsylvania. Teachers continued teaching, and students continued learning – at a distance.

This is far from the perfect way to educate our students. It’s not easy to teach in this environment, and the challenges so many parents have had juggling work, home and kids during this crisis were truly without precedent.

We need to get our kids back in school. Educators and administrators are already planning for what that will look like. We still have a lot of work to do, but one thing is clear: Our schools will need federal help to reopen safely.

That is why the Pennsylvania State Education Association is joining educators, parents, and community leaders to urge Congress to invest $175 billion in our nation’s schools, colleges and universities. This investment will provide Pennsylvania with enough funding to close the revenue shortfalls K-12 schools and higher education are facing and reopen safely.

Lawmakers in Harrisburg came together early on in this pandemic to take decisive steps to clarify state-level education policies. Their bipartisan efforts were commendable, but our state and local officials can only do so much.

The economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are causing local earned income tax revenues to plummet. According to the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials, K-12 school districts could face massive local revenue shortfalls of as much as $1 billion in 2020-21. 

At the state level, the challenges are just as acute. Pennsylvania’s Independent Fiscal Office is projecting a $4.8 billion loss in state revenue over the next year.

Add to this the fact that the state and school districts are required to enact balanced budgets every year. With revenues falling, many districts will need to make difficult decisions to balance their budgets at exactly the same time when keeping students and staff safe from COVID-19 dictates higher costs. That means the only place we can turn for help is the federal government.

If we address this crisis by making deep cuts to state and local education budgets, PSEA estimates that the state could lose up to 40,000 jobs in education, a move that will put Pennsylvania’s 1.7 million students at tremendous risk.

For schools to reopen safely, we will need custodians to sanitize and maintain school buildings and buses. We will need school nurses to assess and manage the physical health and wellbeing of students and staff. We will need counselors, psychologists and social workers to support students and provide mental health services. We will need enough teachers to keep student learning on track and avoid overcrowded classrooms.

Schools just can’t do all of this important work with as much as $1 billion in lost revenue, and the state is not in a financial position to help. We need Congress to step up and invest in the cornerstone of our democracy – public education.

Everyone with a stake in public education shares the goal of reopening our schools in a way that protects the health and safety of students, staff and visitors. Educators want to be back in their classrooms this fall, and so do their students.

But the safety and wellbeing of students and staff cannot be compromised. We need to keep the physical spaces in our schools free from illness, and we also must be ready to address the needs of our students, including the trauma this pandemic has caused.

Congress holds the key to successfully reopening our schools. I urge our U.S. senators and representatives to use that key to unlock the resources our schools need and ensure that every student is safe, healthy, and learning – because help from the federal government is the only option we have.

Rich Askey is a Harrisburg music teacher and president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.