Martin Luther King Day Jr. 2019 will go down as a day to remember for all who participated in it Philadelphia.
The ongoing federal shutdown — now in its 31st day as House Democrats and President Trump remain in a stalemate over border wall funding — stripped away some elements of the holiday. Federal locations typically used for events honoring King, like the Liberty Bell in Independence Park, were unavailable due to a lack of staff.
And while MLK Day often falls on a cold day of the year, 2019 was unusually arctic. Last year’s MLK Day was in the 30s, this year, it felt like 10 degrees below zero, due to a combination of already frigid temperatures and a powerful, gusting wind chill factor.
The weather also led to widespread delays on roads and modes of public transit, making travel to the region harder for the estimated 130,000 volunteers who came to Philadelphia to participate in some 1,800 service projects around the region.
But nonetheless, come they did — joined in a spirit of honoring the legacy of America’s greatest civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968) — and all the adversity posed by both the natural and political climate made the holiday that much more meaningful. Five thousand volunteers arrived at Girard College alone for its annual Day of Service event, one of the biggest in the city, where volunteers created birthday bags from donated books among other service projects.
Honoring the legacy of MLK by helping federal employees
As the Day of Service was underway, local leaders and private philanthropists cited King’s legacy as inspiring new steps to help some of the federal workers who are going unpaid due to the federal shutdown.
City Councilwoman Cherelle L. Parker decided help federal workers in honors of MLK Day. She partnered with Kitchen of Love Food Pantry in North Philly for MLK Day, and helped give away free bags of fresh vegetables, fruit and meat to furloughed federal workers on Monday morning.
Also on MLK Day, Mayor Kenney pledged to help furloughed federal workers with city bills, directing city agencies to offer flexibility and negotiations over due dates to anyone who was working without a paycheck.
“Martin Luther King Jr. understood that the civil rights movement and the drive for workers’ rights are forever intertwined,” Mayor Kenney said in an annoucement of his plan to offer aid to the roughly 12,000 federal workers in Philadelphia, out of 800,000 statewide. “On this day honoring his legacy, I pledge that the city will do its best to ensure that these workers don’t have to worry about matters like paying their water or gas bills while they are going without a paycheck.”
The city is directing any furloughed workers, as of Jan. 21, to reach out to the city’s Department of Revenue, Water Department and Philadelphia Gas Works (PGW) “if they need additional flexibility in paying their bills,” the city said.
PGW offers assistance programs, including payment arrangements, budget billing, and payment assistance through the CARES program.
“If you reach out to us, we can delay enforcement actions, including water shut off and foreclosure,” Revenue Commissioner Frank Breslin said in announcing the plan. “We can also waive interest, penalties, and any other charges that accrue once we receive payment when the shutdown ends. These workers need every break as the shutdown drags on, and we’re committed to doing what we can.”
See who to contact below:
Water & Sewer Bills: firstname.lastname@example.org or (215) 685-6300
Gas Bills: @MyPGW on twitter, 215-235-1000 or find your nearest PGW customer center at pgworks.com/residential/contact-us/our-locations
Real Estate Tax: email@example.com or (215) 686-6442
All other City Taxes: firstname.lastname@example.org or (215) 686-6400
–The Hebrew Free Loan Society of Greater Philadelphia is offering interest-free, no-cost loans of up to $1,250 to furloughed federal employees or workers who are working without pay and do not earn more than $65,000 a year, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
Funded by an anonymous $500,000 donation to the nonprofit, the Federal Worker Emergency Relief Loan Program was announced Friday, and extended on MLK Day through to Jan. 22, or whenever they run out of funds to loan.
Applications can be submitted at the National Constitution Center at 525 Arch St. from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 22. For more information or to find the application form, visit hflphilly.org.
–The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry is holding an “in-person resource fair” on Jan. 22 at the United Way’s offices in Philadelphia at1709 Benjamin Franklin Parkway for furloughed workers. They will offer assistance referring furloughed workers to unemployment offices, food banks, and other career and financial services. (Some of this information is also on their website’s Rapid Response Information Guide at dli.pa.gov.) Location: United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, 1709 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, 12:30 – 4 p.m.