“A deluge of calls from constituents hit my offices, both in Philadelphia and Delaware County. People still aren’t clear on what all this really means and they want to know – and rightfully so,” Williams said. “This is a complex issue meant to help wade through complicated times. As an elected official, it is my job to help simplify and explain what all of this means to real people, in accessible ways.”
Williams partnered with the governor’s office, Reps. Vanessa Brown and Ronald G. Waters, and community organizations such as The 52nd Street Business Association, West Philadelphia Businesses Association Alliance, The 60th Street Business Association, Concerned Block Captains of West & Southwest Philadelphia and the Cobbs Creek Townwatch Community Organization. Williams will also offer a second meeting in Yeadon tomorrow for his Delaware County constituents.
Williams, Waters and Brown all delivered legislative updates about their recent projects in Harrisburg, followed by presentations by Pennsylvania Secretary of the Department of General Services James Creedon and Ernie Jones of the Philadelphia Workforce Development Corporation.
“In February, the governor asked me to take on this new role [coordinating Pennsylvania’s stimulus],” Creedon said, “because, in his words, I look at this as Pennsylvania’s chance, this is the countries chance, to prove that with this level of investment in our communities we can make a difference.”
The stimulus package, also known as The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), was signed into law in February, with federal agencies starting to use those funds in early March. Pennsylvania is expected to receive approximately $18 billion, which will help create or save 143,000 jobs over the next two years.
Creedon explained that half of that $18 billion will go directly to Pennsylvanians in the form of tax relief, extended and increased unemployment, and increased COBRA benefits. The additional $9 billion will help fund transportation and infrastructure projects, education, health care, job training programs and more.
Jones spoke about the various career opportunities for home weatherization, manufacturing and construction, job training options and other resources available through Pennsylvania Career Link. Jones and Creedon both emphasized the speed at which stimulus funds must be dispersed. “We have the obligation, with these stimulus funds, to spend it quickly and responsibly,” Jones said. “The money only lasts for 18 months, after that it goes away. So this is going to be a window of opportunity for us. The bottom line is, it’s there, and we intend to spend it.”
The speakers also opened up the floor for questions after each of their presentations. Questions ranged from how the stimulus will impact the housing crisis, to the need for programs and job opportunities for ex-offenders. “I felt that the information was very strong and that it is really going to help,” said Oscar Young, secretary of the 60th Street-West Market Street Business Association. “The weatherization jobs should be able to help a lot of young people.”
Williams expressed his concern over unemployment for Philadelphia County, which has risen 9.7 percent, and the need for jobs creation and stimulation for the economy. “The truth is when you go down certain avenues and streets in my district I know that unemployment is well past nine percent, maybe 50 percent or even 90 percent on some streets. There are generations of unemployed people in Philadelphia, and this our opportunity to some of those folks back to work.”
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