by Stephanie Singer, Philadelphia City Commissioner
Last month I paid a visit to the Lenfest Center in Hunting Park. I walked down a dreary stretch of Erie Avenue and then up a few blocks of a typical narrow North Philly street lined with rowhomes. Suddenly, there it was — the huge, bright, remodeled former Police Athletic League building that houses an afterschool program where neighborhood kids learn to play squash on professional-quality courts. The chance to participate fully in the sport motivates kids to keep their grades up.
The Lenfest Center is the squash version of a tradition seen all over Philadelphia in various forms: a non-profit supported in large part by charitable contributions using sports to motivate kids to focus and do well in school. My personal favorite, because I love horses, is the Work-to-Ride program in West Fairmount Park, not far from the Belmont Mansion, which fields an awesome polo team made up of Philly kids who earn their saddle time by getting good grades and mucking stalls.
At the end of my visit to the Lenfest Center, I was introduced to one of the young staff members as a City of Philadelphia official. He had an idea to create a similar program for youth, centered around a bike racing track, and wanted to find out if there might be government support for it. “The City of Philadelphia,” he asked, “Is that the same as the ‘government’?”
Many people ask the same question, though usually not so bluntly. Neighbors expressed surprise that I went to work despite recent the “government” shutdown. While many of us learned in school of the three-part nature of American government — legislative, executive and judicial — many fewer of us are aware of the other three-part nature of American government — local, state and federal.
Some government activities fall neatly into one of the three categories. The IRS rules that determine what you can deduct from your taxable income are decided by the President, the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court and other people who work for the federal government.
Employee issues are mostly state business. Rules about employee rights and unemployment compensation are made by the Governor, the Pennsylvania State Legislature, Pennsylvania courts and other people who work for the Pennsylvania government.
Trash pickup and sewer service are done by local government, overseen by the Mayor, the City Council and other people who work for the City of Philadelphia.
The young man’s bike racing track will bring him in contact with all three branches — city, state and federal. He may discover that government can help him find money to turn his dream into reality. He may also find that government, in order to protect his employees and the children he wants to serve, will require him follow certain rules. I hope to see his dream become reality. If he, or anyone else with a dream for the community, needs help navigating government, my office stands ready to help.