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June 04, 2021

Advocate group rallies to increase Free Library of Philadelphia budget beyond pre-pandemic levels

The system has been allotted $42.6 million for the 2022 fiscal year; supporters want to add another $15 million

Government Budgets
Free Library Funding Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

The Friends of the Free Library of Philadelphia want city officials to allot another $15 million to the library system's budget for the 2022 fiscal year. They say the money would let libraries hire employees, help resume programs that had been stopped during the pandemic, and work towards reestablishing libraries as a safe places for youth activities.

The Free Library of Philadelphia was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic: Branches were temporarily closed, children's programming was canceled and the system's budget was slashed.

Mayor Jim Kenney's proposed budget for the 2022 fiscal year allots $42.6 million for the library system, which would be about the same amount the city contributed in 2019 but still less than the 2020 budget of $46 million.

The Friends of the Free Library of Philadelphia say more is needed. During a rally outside the Parkway Central Library branch earlier this week, members of the library advocacy group said they want the city to budget an additional $15 million, which would help the library system's 54 branches bounce back from the pandemic.

"Today we are fighting to bring our communities and our libraries back from the pandemic to recover what our communities lost and we need more money from the Kenney administration and City Council in order to do this," Yvette Hill-Robinson said, according to the Philadelphia Tribune. Hill-Robinson is a member of the Overbrook Park Library friends group.

More photos from our #FundOurLibrariesPHL rally and press conference yesterday. Tell mayor Kenney and city council that to recover from this pandemic our communities need fully funded libraries!

Posted by Friends of the Free Library of Philadelphia on Thursday, June 3, 2021

The investment also would help libraries hire employees – around 200 temporary positions were lost to the pandemic budget cuts, according to the friends group. It also would help resume programs that had been stopped during the pandemic and prior years, due to funding issues, and work towards reestablishing libraries as a safe places for youth activities among the current rise in violence in the city.

The city's budget for the Free Library of Philadelphia in 2021 was $39.3 million. Kenney's 2022 proposed budget increases that level by more than $3 million, though it is still $3.4 million less than the budget for the 2020 fiscal year.

The friends groups wants the city to take the additional $15 million from the $1.4 billion in federal pandemic stimulus funding that the city has received.

Sarah Peterson, a spokesperson for Kenney's office, told the Tribune that the money allotted for the library system in the proposed budget is enough to ensure all branches are open five days a week and expands after-school programs. She also said the $1.4 billion federal stimulus money is still $100 million less than what Philadelphia expects to lose in revenue during the next five years.

City Council has until the end of the month to pass the 20220 budget.

The Free Library locations in Philadelphia reopened most of its locations in January 2021.

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