Policy Committee hears testimony on concerns in Latino community

Testifiers detail status of housing, education, mental health

PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 15 – Community leaders detailed everyday life in their neighborhoods and underserved communities and how specific issues impact education, housing and mental health.

“We needed to hear from prominent members of the Latino community so we could place a spotlight on the issues our residents are facing every day – and discuss what could be done in Harrisburg to help alleviate the greatest concerns,” said Rep. Jose Giral, who hosted the hearing. “It’s our responsibility as lawmakers to ensure no community is left behind or forgotten.”

The House Majority Policy Committee hosted a joint hearing with the Pennsylvania Legislative Latino Caucus Friday morning at Esperanza. Esperanza founder Rev. Luis Cortés, Ceiba executive director Will González and Pan American Behavioral Health Services founder Frederick Ramirez testified before the committee.

“I learned so much from our panelists this morning, and I appreciate the work they are doing in our communities – specifically breaking down the stigma associated with mental health and particularly with the mental health needs of our children,” Speaker Joanna McClinton said. “So I appreciate all of our testifiers who are working to help people with challenges and needs. They placed a spotlight directly on the need for more services because of the positive impact they have in our communities in Philadelphia as well as throughout the entire state.”

The committee hosted the hearing on the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month, and part of the conversation focused on the many accomplishments and contributions made by Latino Pennsylvanians and what the state can do to improve concerns facing Pennsylvania residents.

“The committee heard from community leaders on a number of concerns, including displacement, affordable housing, education and overloaded mental health services,” Policy Chairman Ryan Bizzarro said. “However, testifiers also highlighted why underserved communities need resources. We are talking about communities with almost unlimited potential, considering the fact if local Latino businesses in Philadelphia experience even modest growth – and add only one or two employees – the state could see the creation of 22,000 new jobs.”

Testifiers detailed how a lack of affordable housing contribute to varied and troubling issues, including education issues for children, mental health concerns, substance abuse disorder and violence. Cortés detailed how great numbers of the people his organization serves had minor cannabis charges, and he explained how streamlining the expungement process would improve their lives – clearing the way for greater employment opportunities for these residents, their families and their children.  

“We held this public hearing today to underline the contributions of the Latino community throughout Pennsylvania and here in Philadelphia,” said Rep. Danilo Burgos, who is chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Latino Caucus. “Thanks to the growth of the Latino community in Pennsylvania, the state avoided losing more Congressional seats and avoiding experiencing an even greater decrease in its representation at the federal level. The growth of Pennsylvania and its ability to continue to prosper is directly tied to the growth of the Latino population.”

A lack of affordable housing in neighborhoods creates greater mental health needs and education needs in communities, according to testifiers. Ramirez detailed how schools are not equipped to handle the number of students that require mental health services. He recommends placing professional therapists inside schools to work as a team with the present school counselors and case workers.

“The status of mental health in our commonwealth today is worse than the public believes,” Ramirez testified. “It affects both ends of our population spectrum from our senior citizens to our children and youth. We can, however, proactively address this issue before it reaches societal crisis levels, and I welcome this opportunity to do so.”

Information about this hearing and other House Majority Policy Committee hearings can be found at pahouse.com/policy. Photos to be used for publication can be found at pahouse.com/PolicyCommittee/Galleries.