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Philadelphia region’s ‘just recovery’ report card: No honor roll for COVID-19 response

The grades issued by 53 leaders who recently completed Generocity's Just Recovery Self-Assessment ranged from barely middling to good on the topics of public health, community engagement and economic resiliency. Check out the data.

How are we doing? (Photo of Philadelphia by Chris Henry on Unsplash; graphic by Sabrina Vourvoulias)
This report originally published on sister site Generocity as part of TRACE (Toward Response and Community Equity), a yearlong series that will track how and where the region’s government, philanthropic, civic and private sector is working toward a more just recovery.
The good news is the Philadelphia region isn’t flunking out when it comes to a just recovery. But with these grades on our report card, we aren’t going to be making it onto the honor roll either.

The regional leaders who responded to Generocity’s recent Regional Just Recovery Self-Assessment gave their highest marks — the equivalent of a solid A — to the region’s response to the health crisis of COVID-19; the lowest mark — a C or C- — went to the response to police reforms.

Those who received the self-assessment tool included 100 leaders from large social service providers and community-based organizations; civic and government leaders; and private sector representatives. The 53 respondents of the self-assessment offered ratings, relative to expectations, in response to questions in three categories: public health, community engagement and economic resiliency, with racial equity embedded across all the questions.

A snapshot of the region’s recovery in aggregate

The report card is part of Generocity’s year-long reporting project, TRACE, or Toward Response and Community Equity, which started tracking the region’s response to the pandemic, economic crisis and structural racism in July. The bar graph below charts the rating of each question, on a simple scale of 1 to 5:

(Graphic by Generocity)

The organizations represented among the respondents varied greatly in size — from tiny grassroots groups to large and very complex ones. While the majority of them are headquartered in Philadelphia, there were also respondents from Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties. They range in mission from the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia to Hopeworks Camden to the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey to the Gender Justice Fund to Philly Startup Leaders.

Not all respondents disclosed their organizational affiliation. Organizations represented among the respondents included are listed at the bottom of this article.

A closer look at the questions and responses

The full questions and their scores:

  1. How are we as a region responding to the immediate spread and health risks related to the current pandemic crisis? (4.4 out of 5)
  2. How are we as a region adapting practices involved in existing chronic issues, including opioid addiction and homelessness? (2.3/5)
  3. How are we as a region responding to incorporate racial equity into all aspects of public health? (2.6/5)
  4. How are we as a region raising awareness and assessing issues of racial equity in all public sector, and when possible across private sector, stakeholder efforts? (3.7/5)
  5. How are we as a region ensuring grassroots organizations from all parts of the city have a voice in their community? (3.4/5)
  6. How are we as a region improving equity in public, historic designation, material culture and other representation choices? (3.0/5)
  7. How are we as a region reforming police practices? (2.0/5)
  8. How are we as a region responding to housing insecurity issues (e.g. evictions) brought on by the health and economic crisis? (2.5/5)
  9. How are we as a region prioritizing the survival of locally owned businesses, with special focus on those owned by women, people of color and differently abled persons, during the health and economic crisis? (2.8/5)
  10. How are we as a region supporting strategies for entrepreneurship, economic growth and job creation during the health and economic crisis? (3.2/5)
  11. How are we as a region responding to make structural change in order to ensure we are more resilient when confronted with the next widespread crisis? (2.3/5)
  12. How would you rate your own personal and professional contribution to the region’s recovery? (3.0/5)

In addition to the questions, the self-assessment form allowed respondents to include anonymized comments at the end of each category. While some of the respondents chose not to write a response, others made clear where they felt efforts across various sectors have — so far — fallen short. A representative sampling:

On responses to the public health crisis

  • “We have been following the science and using real data. [Health Commissioner] Dr. [Thomas] Farley and his team have kept the public informed. We have not addressed systemic barriers to equity in how communities and different populations are being impacted.”
  • “The region has failed to see addiction and homelessness as a public health crisis and criminalizes poverty.”
  • “Responses seem very siloed to me.”
  • “Need some theater street teams to go into neighborhoods for public health measures.”
  • “Coordination among neighboring counties is hit or miss.”
  • “For all the talk about prioritizing health, safety and equity in the City budget negotiations, the money allocations told a different story. Philanthropic dollars are addressing immediate alleviation of suffering but not changes to policies that would embed equity into the distribution of dollars and other resources.”

On responses to community engagement issues

  • “I want to see city officials mailing flyers and door-knocking in our hardest-hit neighborhoods to answer questions residents have about their health and wellbeing. Also, my god, the city needs to hire people who speak different languages for their engagement work.
  • “A DAMN shame that the City isn’t doing more to defund the police.”
  • “While there have been some visible attempts to address racial/cultural equity issues it seems there has been little tangible change.”
  • “There needs to be a balance between preservation and the inability to develop historic buildings that then become blight and pull down communities — how do we accomplish both without being too dogmatic?”
  • “The City has improved somewhat in reaching out to Limited English Proficient (LEP) populations. However, as a practice, automatic default, ALL public information should be available in English and Spanish (the largest LEP population in the City).”
  • “City cannot or does not communicate with Latino Community, we are left to our own devices. Also, no recognition that we are the poorest and most afflicted with COVID. It is as if we don’t exist.”

On responses to the economic crisis

  • “Each sector has its own plan, but no overarching leadership or convening around a bold vision for the future.”
  • “We need a comprehensive response to the comprehensive problems of homelessness and poverty. I would love to see us stack policies — rehab, housing vouchers and rent subsidies, children’s savings account, renters equity, long-term affordability through homeownership equity models, etc. to achieve significant change in our system of housing and community development.”
  • “The City was one of the first to do a small business grant program and assisted over 2,000 small businesses, over 60% diverse and prioritizing low income and historically disadvantaged. A second program supported businesses impacted by civil uprising, over 90% diverse recipients. State program in partnership with CDFIs also very successful in meeting needs of most vulnerable. Federal resources are badly needed to meet the vast need.”
  • “Grants to small Black-owned businesses to help marketing, joint purchases, employee recruitment. These businesses unlike white businesses do not have family to invest due to wealth inequality. Instead, grants, not loans should be distributed. Partnerships with nonprofits for grant management should be considered.”
  • “Allow businesses to open up. Most have good, smart plans. Stop the madness.”
  • “Good ideas, good execution, and good results are three different things. Metrics almost non-existent on economic initiatives?”

Additional feedback on the recovery

  • “The problems are so entrenched, so widespread, that it feels like no amount of philanthropy could make a serious dent, tbh. It has to start with a visionary mayor, unafraid to spend money and stand up for what is right in order to feel like there’s hope for widespread change. We don’t stop fighting, regardless, but this current administration lacks imagination and leadership.”
  • “We need more corporate anchors and more wealth in hands of local and diverse residents if we are to have the resources and capacity to truly build back better.”
  • “I’m really unclear on how localized efforts intersect with some of these things beyond bandaids. How do we intersect with national/regional/collaborative responses.”
  • “As an African American organization, our budget was lower anyhow. The pandemic has caused undue stress on delivering services to the most vulnerable. We have responded to the food crisis and need to have more resources.”
  • “Philadelphia thinks it can make progress as a city while leaving behind the almost 50% of the population that doesn’t earn enough to survive, let alone thrive (we all know the Federal Poverty Level is way too low). This is a mistake. We’ll never get anywhere by focusing our efforts on big businesses and developers that don’t prioritize our communities. Without a focus on community resources, schools, housing, health, etc. the problems we have won’t go away.”

We will ask these same questions of the same 100 regional leaders three more times over the next year as part of the project.

The deeper dive into the topic

Beyond the snapshot these numbers and comments present, Generocity publisher Chris Wink interviewed TRACE reporter, Lynette Hazelton, whose weekly reporting on the just recovery provides additional insight, in this video. As the TRACE project editor, I chime in with my observations as well.

Here are all the orgs represented among the respondents:

  • AccessMatters
  • Alfred and Mary Douty Foundation
  • Brandywine Foundation
  • CEO Council for Growth
  • City Year Philadelphia
  • Coalición Fortaleza Latina
  • Committee of Seventy
  • Economy League of Greater Philadelphia
  • Econsult
  • Esperanza
  • Free Library of Philadelphia
  • Gender Justice Fund
  • GreenLight Fund Philadelphia
  • Haverford College Center for Peace and Global Citizenship
  • HealthSpark Foundation
  • Hopeworks Camden
  • Indonesian Lantern
  • Kensington Voice
  • Philadelphia Community Bail Fund
  • Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau
  • City of Philadelphia Dept. of Commerce
  • Philly Startup Leaders
  • Reclaim the Sector
  • Samuel S. Fels Fund
  • Scattergood Foundation
  • Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians
  • WHYY
  • Wyncote Foundation
  • United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey
  • Uptown Entertainment and Development Corporation
  • Urban Affairs Coalition
Companies: City of Philadelphia / Committee of Seventy / Economy League of Greater Philadelphia / Econsult / Free Library of Philadelphia / Generocity / GreenLight Fund / Hopeworks / Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau / Philly Startup Leaders / United Way of Central Maryland / Urban Affairs Coalition / WHYY
Series: Generocity / Coronavirus

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