The Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity (CEO) is the Community Action Agency for Philadelphia. Community action agencies receive Community Service Block Grant (CSBG) funds to combat poverty. Due to Philadelphia’s high poverty rate, residents often ask how CEO determines its funding priorities.

Every three years, CEO and other community action agencies must develop a Community Needs Assessment. CEO’s assessment is submitted to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. The overarching goal is to show how the agency’s strategic priorities meet the needs of the communities we serve.

The assessment must meet state and federal requirements. It also guides CEO’s future efforts to create, sustain, and improve programs and opportunities for residents with low incomes.

Our last Community Needs Assessment in 2020 was prepared during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, the social and economic needs of residents have evolved since then. The 2020 assessment produced valuable information about the barriers that residents experiencing poverty and economic distress face. Using Census data, survey responses and focus group meetings with stakeholders and residents, CEO gained insight about the population in poverty. We also learned more about the primary issues and concerns residents had in the following six areas:

  • employment,
  • education,
  • income and assets,
  • housing,
  • social and health status,
  • and civic engagement.

Over the past three years, CEO has attempted to address the needs documented in the report. We have adjusted programs and policies where necessary. One example involves concerns about transportation. In the 2020 assessment, transportation was the most frequently cited barrier to finding and keeping employment. To help combat this issue, CEO advocated for the creation of transportation access for those with low incomes. Zero Fare launched in 2023 as a two-year pilot program that provides free transit access to over 25,000 Philadelphians experiencing poverty.

Another challenge for residents across income categories was the cost of utilities. Based on this finding, CEO partnered with the Philadelphia Water Department and Water Revenue Bureau during the pandemic. We have been conducting outreach so that fewer residents lose service because they cannot afford to pay their water bill. In 2023, alone, CEO made over 38,000 contacts with water customers and protected over 2,000 households from initial water shutoff.

We are currently working on the 2024 Community Needs Assessment. We aim to better understand and track how our efforts since 2020 are impacting those who need and use our services. CEO will be gathering survey data. We are also partnering with Reinvestment Fund and Community Capacity Builders to collect Census data and focus group feedback. With the information collected, CEO will continue working toward achieving our mission to advance racial equity and economic mobility for all residents.

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