Thanks to a combined herculean effort that began by former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and continued by powerful legislators such as U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, the Delaware River dredging project has been green-lighted via a $20 million inclusion in President Barack Obama’s FY2014 budget.
“This funding keeps this critical project on pace to completion,” Brady said, noting the efforts and compromises made by former Congressman Bob Borski, State Representative Bill Keller, officials with the International Longshoreman’s Association and Philadelphia Regional Port Authority Chair Charles G. Kopp in making this project a reality. “This effort started before I was first elected and I’ve fought for it every year since.
“I’m proud to say that President Obama and Vice President Biden have been at our side in this fight and they deserve praise for stepping up each time the Philadelphia region needed them.”
This dredging project will deepen the channel to 45 feet from its current level of 40; while those five extra feet may not seem like much, the relative shallowness of the channel prevents it from becoming a truly major water shipping hub. Brady also pointed to the recent storm which has ruptured the channel’s shipping bed.
Currently, the Army Corps of Engineers has dredged more than 27 miles of the channel that leads from the Philadelphia and New Jersey ports to the Atlantic Ocean, and the $20 million will allow for the engineers to dredge the remaining 14-mile stretch by the end of next month.
“This keeps us competitive,” Brady said. “We’ve got New York with 50 [-feet deep shipping channels] and the Delaware Harbor and Maryland with 45 and 50, and we’re at 40 and can’t get container ships through.
“But this will definitely make us more competitive, which will lead to more jobs, and not just for the Longshoremen, but for the Teamsters and hotels. This is a major boon for us.”
Brady said a little political arm-twisting was in play, as he and the rest of the Philadelphia group had to deal with representatives from New Jersey, many of whom had their own territorial concerns about the project. The political heavy-lifting complete, Brady said he expects the Army Corps of Engineers to get about their work quickly.
“This will happen quickly, as they have already done a portion of the Delaware. I really hope to see some evidence of dredging soon,” Brady said. “As I have said on many occasions, there is no way to overestimate the importance of this dredging operation. Our ports are responsible for 75,000 jobs and $1 billion in wages for our region.
“If we had not continued this fight those jobs and our regional economy would have taken a serious hit,” Brady continued. “This project has been an uphill battle, but now we are just weeks away from ensuring that the Delaware River ports will be competitive with other east coast ports.”
Advocates encourage early intervention for young children
Two seemingly unrelated developments – the release of a report detailing Philadelphia’s shortcomings in advocating for the needs of young children, and the quickly approaching deadline for parents to fill out reassignment applications for their children – will go hand-in-hand in the coming weeks.
Public Citizens for Children and Youth, a leading child and youth advocate organization, released a comprehensive report, “Philadelphia’s Early Intervention System: Progress, But Still Not Good Enough for Our Kids,” which listed the main contributors to the situation.
Those contributing factors range from children never being screened for developmental problems to being improperly screened once tests are administered. The report found that parents are routinely put off and don’t understand many of the programs that could help them, and that, overall, there are only a handful of accessible programs that are both high in quality and affordable.
“If the early intervention system here served children at the rate of Pittsburgh or Allentown, at least 3,000 and up to 7,000 more children would be receiving these critical services,” said PCCY Executive Director Donna Cooper, “at a time in their lives when they are developing rapidly, and many problems can be addressed.”
According to the report, the Early Intervention program provides a range of therapeutic and educational services to children and their families while they are young, reducing barriers to their independence and supporting school success, but they only work if students are enrolled in them.
“While every child with a developmental delay or disability is entitled to help from this program, many children in Philadelphia who could benefit from Early Intervention do not receive these services,” read in part the report’s findings. “The likelihood of developmental delays and disabilities is closely tied to known risk factors that include poverty, abuse or neglect, exposure to lead, low birth-weight and premature birth, and even low maternal education. In Philadelphia the combined level of risk would predict a high need for Early Intervention services – the highest in Pennsylvania.
“However, when we compared the rates of enrollment in Philadelphia vs. Pennsylvania’s other major cities (where the risk is also elevated) we found that Philadelphia ranked lowest, not highest,” the report continued “Parents and advocates for preschool-age children continue to report a mix of responses, reflective of a system under pressure that struggles to provide consistent, quality services. Transitions between providers – from Infant/Toddler Early Intervention to Preschool Early Intervention and from Preschool to Kindergarten in the School District of Philadelphia – are the most difficult for parents to navigate and too often result in breaks in services that hinder children’s growth and learning.”
The report, available from PCCY’s website – www.pccy.org – does offer a number of fixes, chief among them is educating parents and caregivers about early-life developmental milestones and increasing the capacity of care providers to offer programs geared toward intervention. The report also suggests a combining of infant/toddler and pre-school services.
The school portion of the solution should factor heavily, as parents and caregivers have only until Friday, April 19, to turn in reassignment applications. These transfers are in relation to the School District of Philadelphia’s recent decision to close two dozen schools; this allows parents to transfer their child to a school of their choice.
According to grassroots school evaluation and raking resource Great Philly Schools, the applications should be returned to the main office of the school the child currently attends. That form and other information is available online at the district’s website, http://webgui.phila.k12.pa.us/offices/f/facilities-master-plan/transition-information.
While Bank of America may have taken a few hits in the public relations department due to its part in a huge, multi-state housing mortgage settlement, the bank has been an ideal citizen in the realm of philanthropy, and a slew of local nonprofit organizations have benefitted.
Bank of America has donated $640,000 to 14 area groups, and has named two – Cradles to Crayons and ACHIEVEability as the two recipients of the “Neighborhood Builder” award. According to BoA, both Cradles to Crayons and ACHIEVEability will receive an unrestricted grant of $200,000, along with obtaining leadership training for their executive staffs.
Last year alone, BoA has awarded $730,000 in grants to non-profits in the Philadelphia region.
“We’re committed to supporting our local community and look to make investments that are responding to the greatest needs of the people that live here,” said Bank of America Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Market president Thomas C. Woodward. “These grants will assist nonprofits addressing Philadelphia’s immediate needs while also supporting integrated services that will help people get back on their feet.”
While these funds will help Cradles to Crayons to continue its work of providing homeless and low-income youth with life essentials such as coats, clothing and other items, ACHIEVEability will use the funds to provide affordable housing for at-risk families, while helping to programs.
“ACHIEVEability works to break the cycle of poverty by helping low-income, single parent and homeless families to achieve self-sufficiency. ACHIEVEability believes that housing is the first step to ending poverty and it has its own program to provide housing to stabilize families,” read an explanatory note from BoA. “Recognizing that education is the key to permanent self-sufficiency and financial freedom, ACHIEVEability supports participants in their pursuit of a post-secondary degree or its equivalent.”
The People’s Emergency Center, which has several outreach programs for homeless women and their children, is one of the grantees, as is Project H.O.M.E. The Project H.O.M.E. grant will “support Rowan Homes, one of the few permanent supportive housing programs in the region for families with a history of homelessness,” according to BoA, “and a special need such as chronic substance abuse or mental illness.” Families residing at Rowan Homes are offered youth and adult education, employment placement and health care, among other provisions.
MANNA, which prepares food for people living with severe-to-terminal illness, is also a recipient of the BoA grant, and will use the funds to deliver an additional 4,478 meals to their needy.
Rounding out the list of recipients are the Bethesda Project, DePaul USA, the Klien Jewish Community Center, LIFT Philadelphia, the Mazzoni Center, Operation Warm, the Salvation Army, Pathways and the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.
Undergraduate students enrolled in Temple University’s Department of African American Studies, along with their like-minded compatriots, took to the university’s streets on Wednesday, gathering at the university’s iconic landmark Bell Tower to demand the university stop slashing the department’s budget.
The group also complained of the perceived lack of racial sensitivity when it came to selecting a chair of the department, and has named College of Liberal Arts Dean Teresa Soufas as the primary culprit, laying at her feet the fallout of the funding cuts and lack of departmental oversight.
“The Department of African American Studies at Temple University is under attack, particularly from College of Liberal Arts Dean Teresa S. Soufas,” read, in part, a flyer that circulated before and during Wednesday’s civic action. “When the previous chair of the department retired, the faculty was given an outrageously short amount of time to elect a successor. When an election for a new chair finally occurred, Dean Soufas simply rejected the democratic, self-determining decision of the department and refused to explain her actions.
“As a result, the department has been led by an interim chair for the last year – a white professor from the English Department with no background in African-American studies,” the statement on the flyer continued. “This lack of leadership and the open contempt for the entire program showed by CLA Dean Soufas has put the department in serious danger.”
When reached, Soufas was taken aback by the allegations, and voiced dismay that the students would appear so misinformed about an area in which students rarely are even given access – knowledge of a university’s financial underpinnings and the selection of faculty.
“I do think, for one thing, that students are not involved in any kind of financial dimensions of the department, so the statement about the budget being slashed is absolute misinformation,” Soufas said. “We are a state-related school, like Penn State and Lincoln University, and we get appropriations from the state. For four years, the budget has been reduced for state appropriations.
“Last year, there was no cut in appropriations, but Temple had a big deficit to fill - $36 million across the entire university,” Soufas continued. “Every time the appropriations hit came, it would result in a double-digit million-dollar hit, forcing all departments to reduce down their budgets.”
Soufas explained that every department throughout the university had to lower its budget accordingly, and while cuts were made to supplies, Soufas said much work was done to make sure those cuts didn’t result in the loss of a person’s job.
“In all the colleges at Temple, none were exempt from the cuts,” Soufas said. “The African-American Studies Department was no different than any other department at Temple, and Temple is no different than any other school, as every [state] school had to do the same thing.
“The only reduction in budget is what the university as a whole had to do, and to say it’s ‘under attack’ is so not true.”
Calls to the listed numbers of representatives involved in Wednesday’s Bell Tower rally weren’t returned as of Tribune press time.
Soufas also clarified the situation involving the selection of the department’s chair – a position that will go unfilled at least through the end of the month, when Soufas will have had enough time to vet the candidates – noting that last year, the school did a nationwide search and settled on two candidates. According to Soufas, she had to barter with the provost to be able to hire both, something of a rarity in post-secondary education.
“That is simply something a dean would just not do if he or she were thinking of eliminating a department,” Soufas said. “Again, I don’t know where this sentiment is coming from. But there is one thing in particular. [Department faculty] said they will send to me by April 19 the name of two faculty members to serve as chair, and I will talk to both and see who is ready to take it on. But last year, they wouldn’t recommend anyone from their ranks.”
Soufas explained that the rallying students likely pointed to the two-week window from the situation last year, when – due to university bylaws – the department had to hurriedly look for a chair, because the summer semester was approaching and an accredited university cannot open an academic semester without a chair; Soufas had little control over that situation.
And while Soufas gave the impression that she was fine with student actions born from well-thought positions, she does wonder where this comes from – especially given that she has twice met with students regarding these issues and would be willing to meet with them once more to satisfactorily explain the situation to them.
“That is what’s so odd about this. I spoke last fall with one grad student, who was very polite, about the issues of the chair. I never heard from him or his peer group again,” said Soufas, who is preparing to celebrate the department’s milestone 25th anniversary this summer. “And I did talk to an undergraduate student who organized another Bell Tower event earlier this year. He came in to see me with a few of his peers, and I explained to him this exact same information. I never heard another word from him, but this type of stuff keeps going on.
“I would welcome them to ask me to a large group meeting, and I would be happy to meet with them, and say to them together, so they all hear the same words at the same time, and get the answers to their questions,” Soufas added. “But none of them have approached me. I am waiting and would love to do it, but they don’t seem to see the importance of meeting. I just don’t know what they expect to have happen from rallies like this. The Department of African American Studies is one we want to celebrate, not diminish.”
In an abbreviated session truncated by members’ desire to attend the viewing and service for fallen Philadelphia Firefighter Capt. Michael Goodwin, City Council passed very few bills and resolutions, while still remaining a single vote away from an override veto of Mayor Michael Nutter’s recent decisions.
Of the bills passed, most significant was a Council President Darrell Clarke-sponsored effort that calls for the establishment of Office of Chief Revenue Generator and the creation of city policy that will spur non-tax revenue, and the huge bill that will allow for the creation of “a project to promote the health, safety and welfare of the residents.” The exact nature of the project has yet to be publicized.
Council also adopted several resolutions, including those relating to granting to the Philadelphia Redevelopment Corporation several lots of land formerly controlled by the Commissioner of Public Property’s office, and the call for the Bond Committee to issue and sell Water and Wastewater Revenue Bonds. The city’s Director of Finance will oversee the bond sales.
However, the most interesting developments were in regard to a bill not even before council: the earned sick days bill.
Nutter has previously vetoed the effort, spearheaded by Councilman William Greenlee, and the bill appears stalled for now, as Clarke said he will not call for an override veto vote just yet.
For his part, Greenlee said he was sorry that he couldn’t get the bill passed for families now, but he was confident that “Philadelphia will have earned sick leave in the future.”
To that end, the Philadelphia Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces, which has staged several pre-council meeting rallies and press conferences outside of council chambers, plans to continue its efforts until either Nutter changes his mind or council musters up the necessary will and votes.
“The choices of hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians who support and need earned sick days were drowned out by a few deep-pocketed corporate lobbyists,” said Coalition Spokeswoman Marianne Bellesorte. “To strengthen our economy and our families, Philadelphians need paid sick days. Our broad coalition will continue our work to make sure Philadelphians are not forced to choose between their families and their economic security.”