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Philly City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson wants the city to spend millions more on anti-violence programs | #schoolsaftey

The amount of money that Philadelphia spends on anti-violence programs is becoming a key element of budget negotiations as City Council continues to wrestle with the city’s persistent gun-violence crisis.

On Tuesday, Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson, who represents the South Philadelphia-based 2nd District, announced a plan to add $40 million in new spending to Mayor Jim Kenney’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year. The dollars are largely geared toward children and youth and would expand existing programs addressing counseling, job placement, and school safety.

“What our young people are experiencing is not normal,” said Johnson, who added that he recently had to console his young son after hearing gunshots near their Point Breeze home. “That’s only one small incident that he actually experienced. We have countless, countless, countless young people and families that experience this on a day-to-day basis.”

Johnson — a senior member of Council who is maneuvering to be the next Council president — said that at least 13 members have expressed support for his proposal, more than would be required for a majority.

Kenney’s $6.1 billion budget proposal already includes about $233 million in what the administration characterizes broadly as anti-violence spending. That’s a $25 million increase over last year — the proposed bump would fund stipends for people who take part in a program called Group Violence Intervention, as well as counseling for city workers administering programs in communities affected by gun violence.

Gun violence rates in the city have been historically high since 2020, and more than 1,600 people have died in homicides in the last three years. So far this year, there have been 177 homicides — the majority committed with guns — which is a 19% decline from the number recorded at the same point last year.

Councilmember Jimmy Harrity spoke in support of Johnson’s plan during a news conference at Chew Playground in South Philadelphia and said investing in additional modes of counseling is critical because “the kids that are traumatized today as a child will be the addicts and the criminals of tomorrow.”

“If we want to break that cycle, we need to do things in a different way,” he said.

Lawmakers must pass, and Kenney must sign, a budget by the end of the month when the fiscal year closes. Council members are working to finalize the budget by June 22, the last scheduled meeting before their summer recess.

» READ MORE: Philly City Council members are backing a $72M plan to address quality-of-life issues

The budget season comes amid questions about the efficacy of some of the city’s investments in anti-violence programming outside traditional law enforcement. The Inquirer reported in April that a $22 million grant program sent millions of taxpayers dollars to small nonprofits that were unprepared to manage the money. That program is set to receive another $13 million under Kenney’s proposed budget.

Johnson’s $40 million plan is largely targeted toward city agencies and includes $10 million to expand a summer jobs program for youth. He’d also allocate $10 million to the School District of Philadelphia, which would spend half of that money on behavioral-health counselors and the other half to expand its Safe Paths Program, which places monitors along frequent routes to schools.

City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson speaks during a news conference Tuesday at Chew Playground in South Philadelphia. Johnson called for the city to invest an additional $40 million in anti-violence programs aimed at helping the city’s children and youth.. … Read moreAnna Orso/Inquirer

Kevin Bethel, a former deputy police commissioner and the district’s chief of school safety, said the program has a presence at about two dozen schools heading into next school year, and that the proposed additional funding would allow the district to double that number.

Also under the plan, the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual DisAbility Services would receive an $8 million funding bump for trauma services, and the Streets Department would get an additional $6 million to expand a workforce development initiative.

And $5 million would go directly to PowerCorpsPHL, an AmeriCorps program run by a nonprofit that trains young people to work in the green economy. PowerCorps received more than half a million dollars from the city in 2021 through the grant-making project and, since then, put 100 kids and teens through its urban farming program combines training, paid work, and therapy.

Kalef Jones, a PowerCorps alum who’s now a manager with the organization, spoke alongside Johnson Tuesday, saying the city is “slowly entering an abyss” as a result of ongoing violence, but that programs like his can be “a symbol of hope.”

“The best thing we can do,” he said, “is create opportunities.”

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