An ambitious effort aimed at addressing generational poverty in two south St. Petersburg neighborhoods suffered a setback last week when Gov. Rick Scott vetoed $1.6 million that legislators had dedicated to the program. But the goals of the 2020 Plan to reduce poverty in Midtown and Childs Park by 30 percent by 2020 are bigger than any one state budget. The group's focus now should be on refining its message and identifying specific investments needed to reach its goal.
The 2020 Plan isn't the usual poverty intervention pitch. The private group envisions its role more as coordinating efforts than delivering services itself. It recently celebrated its seventh anniversary, but it has picked up momentum with support from Mayor Rick Kriseman, City Council members and other community leaders. The plan builds on the findings of the 2012 countywide poverty survey that prompted the Pinellas County Commission last week to approve the Southside Community Redevelopment Area in south St. Petersburg, which will allow increases in property tax revenue from rising values to be reinvested there.
The 2020 Plan, spearheaded by magazine publisher Gypsy Gallardo, emphasizes successful programs and its clear-eyed view that changing lives requires more than just spending money. The 2020 Plan wants to find new resources to expand proven programs operated by public and private agencies. Its focus is on three main areas: jobs, families and education. The $1.6 million vetoed by Scott, for example, was to flow through the city and go toward hiring more low-income youths, funding microloans and expanding mentoring programs.
The plan's premise is based on the notion that anti-poverty efforts in south St. Petersburg have kept poverty rates from getting worse but are too small to create long-term change. Recent infrastructure improvements made in south St. Petersburg — for example the building of a grocery store (now run by Walmart), a credit union and post office in Midtown — have been benefits, but alone won't solve systemic problems. The plan's organizers estimate just 20 percent of the individuals that could benefit from services are receiving them.
What kind of programs? Those like the parental training provided by R-Club's HIPPY program — Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters — that has resulted in 82 percent of those families' children showing up at Pinellas elementary schools better prepared for kindergarten, a better ratio than for the district's overall number. But the program hasn't been able to expand to serve more families because it is drawing down the maximum in state and federal money. Plan 2020 wants to find a way to provide more public or private funding.
Other programs targeted focus on increasing job development and training efforts, bolstering the area's small business successes and expanding by 100 the number of local teenagers who take advantage of the public high school's career academies.
That's just a sampling of what is envisioned in the first year of implementation. Organizers are still trying to identify priorities and potential resources. The group also needs to be more focused in explaining its ambitions and identifying priorities. But the 2020 Plan has broad community support, as more than 200 showed up earlier this month at the Manhattan Casino to celebrate its seventh anniversary. Now the challenge is to make it to the next milestone: A realistic implementation plan that has the potential to help St. Petersburg's poorest citizens reach their full potential.