This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
A group of Philadelphia teachers has started a petition asking their colleagues to donate the stimulus checks they will get from the federal government to help others, including lower-paid paraprofessionals who work in the schools but often have to take second jobs to make ends meet.
The petition, called the Philly Educators Solidarity Pledge, which went up Monday on Change.org, received more than 40 pledges in the first 24 hours, according to Adam Bailey, a 4th-grade teacher at Hunter Elementary School and an organizer of the project through the Caucus of Working Educators.
“The idea is that … everybody in the [Philadelphia Federation of Teachers is] still receiving our salaries; for most of us personally, our finances haven’t really changed,” he said, “with the exception being our paras. Some have a second or even a third job.”
The group is suggesting donations to several groups that “aid local Philadelphians most hard-hit by the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.” But it is focused on the Para Power Relief fund, an organization formed to help the paraprofessionals, who are PFT members and do varied jobs in schools, including working as aides in special education classrooms. Some work one-on-one with individual students.
Yet their pay comes to roughly $14 an hour, and their take-home pay can be as little as $500 every two weeks. If they work just three or four hours a day, as many do, take-home pay can be as low as $250 every two weeks, said Leah Wood, a long-term paraprofessional who helped organized Para Power and its relief fund.
Wood, who has worked in the District for 12 years, said that for paras with families, it is hard to make ends meet. Some qualify for food stamps, which, she said, “do not last the entire month, no matter how much couponing and saving you do. So we wanted to create a fund to help people get out of that situation.”
All PFT members are getting paid although they are working from home. But many of the paraprofessionals have lost their other jobs, or if they haven’t, are bearing more burdens, such as finding child care, Bailey and Wood said.
“As a single mom, there’s nothing more soul-crushing than the inability to take care of your children,” Wood said. “How can you take care of the children in your care at school if you can’t take care of your own at home? We lose so many wonderful paras because they can’t afford to stay.”
A Facebook post includes a video in which PFT members are urged to donate all or part of their stimulus checks “if you are financially able.”
The WE caucus, which wants to refocus the PFT toward “social justice unionism,” challenged union president Jerry Jordan and his team in the election this year and won more than a third of the total vote. One of the major issues of WE has been the low pay for the paraprofessionals in the union. The PFT contract expires at the end of August.
Through the CARES Act, the federal government plans to send checks of up to $1,200 per adult for those who earned less than $99,000 and $500 for children under age 17. They started sending out payments this week, based on income tax filings.
Among the other groups that WE Caucus suggests that teachers could donate to are VietLead, North Philly Peace Park Free Produce Program, Juntos, and organizations formed to help prisoners and their families, domestic workers, and queer/transgender people to weather this crisis.