Saturday, November 25, 2017
News Roundup

St. Petersburg officials hopeful antipoverty project will get favor with state legislators

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ST. PETERSBURG — Organizers of the 2020 Plan have an ambitious goal: reduce poverty by 30 percent in the city's poorest neighborhoods by the end of this decade.

They have been meeting with city and community groups to share their plan and recruit supporters. They also reached out to lawmakers in Tallahassee for support.

Rep. Darryl Rouson initially requested $2 million for the St. Petersburg project. As of Tuesday afternoon, the House had tucked away $650,000 for it. The Senate had yet to offer any money.

It is too soon to tell if the money will end up in the final state budget — or survive Gov. Rick Scott's veto pen after that.

But it may have a shot.

Local leaders say the plan is probably one of the most "shovel-ready" projects poised to attack generational poverty, a subject House Speaker Will Weatherford put on his priority list in recent months.

In fact, Weatherford himself came to town over the winter, taking a tour of some of the city's poorest neighborhoods.

During the visit, coordinated by Rouson, Weatherford sat through a presentation on the plan. His reaction gave locals a good feeling.

"We get a consistent reaction, and his was like the one spoken by many: that the plan was very refreshing, and that it was good," said community organizer Gypsy Gallardo, one of those behind the plan. "It's really a hybrid approach that's nonpartisan."

Others involved include local NAACP president Manuel Sykes; former Boys and Girls Club executive Carl Lavendar Jr.; and many local pastors. Several elected officials also signed on to help, including Rouson, Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch and St. Petersburg City Council member Karl Nurse.

Rouson said he was reluctant to talk about earmarks because it's far from a done deal.

Over the years, hundreds of millions of dollars have flowed into neighborhoods south of Central Avenue, mostly to improve basic infrastructure developments. But poverty persists in the area, which was highlighted in a 2012 report that determined Pinellas County spends $2.3 billion each year because of poverty.

The focus of the 2020 Plan is not to reinvent programs, Gallardo said, but to give more resources to those that have already proved successful in moving families out of poverty.

"This is about can we enter this large collaborative structure, and can we, for a four-year period, increase resource flows to these specific areas to move the needle?" Gallardo said. "We're like a dispatcher."

For example, under the plan, organizers would seek more funding for programs that seek to help Midtown residents get better jobs, or the city's existing teen jobs program, or the popular Rebates for Rehab program, which encourages infrastructure improvements.

Much of the money will flow through large — and existing — intermediaries, like the city, the Sheriff's Office, and nonprofits. Along the way, officials will collect data and evaluate whether benchmarks are met.

"We can get there a lot faster if we get a lot more efficient," Gallardo said.

The plan doesn't kick in until Oct. 1, but right now, officials are in what they call the "predevelopment" phase.

Securing state money is just one puzzle piece. Officials also are seeking federal funds, grants from large and small charitable foundations and local funds.

St. Petersburg, for example, budgeted $74,000 from this year's budget for the plan. Part of the money will go toward a six-month Urban League pilot program that focuses on delivering services to low-income families.

In recent weeks, Gallardo has been talking to local organizations and governments about the plan and how they can help. Mayor Rick Kriseman and his administration have embraced it.

"As we do these meetings we're seeing a lot of receptivity," Gallardo said. "We're excited about it."

Times staff writer Michael Van Sickler contributed to this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected], (727) 893-8643 or on Twitter @cornandpotatoes.

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