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Pa. kept major jobless error secret for years

Plus, breaking down the expensive, crowded race for Pa.’s open U.S. Senate seat.

A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

July 15, 2021 | spotlightpa.org

Under wraps and overcharged, transparency pledge, high anxiety, Senate race, audit exit, school suit, defunded radio, misconduct data, and PSERS travel.
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Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's administration knew about a mistake that saw thousands of people overcharged millions in unemployment interest payments and only released the findings of an internal investigation into the matter this week, four years after the probe's completion, amid questions from Spotlight PA

Angela Couloumbis reports the Office of Inspector General released a one-page summary of its inquiry and blamed the overcharges on "human error" and a lack of oversight.

Rebecca Moss first broke the story for Spotlight PA and learned the Department of Labor and Industry had for years applied an inflated interest rate when collecting money from people who, for various reasons, had been overcompensated in unemployment benefits.

The department on Friday said 250,000 people "were affected by the interest overcharge" and estimated that it owes at least $14 million in refunds, which it said amounts to less than $50 for most people.

But former department employees say much more is owed in reality. 

And finally this week, Sarah Anne Hughes reports this year's redrawing of Pennsylvania's congressional map will look different than the past, with the House GOP committed to making the process the "most transparent" ever and, advocates hope, less prone to extreme gerrymandering as a result.

State Rep. Seth Grove (R., York) said his committee will hold at least eight public meetings across Pennsylvania and accept suggestions for the map through a new website.

He's kicking off a series of regional meetings later this month as lawmakers wait for the U.S. Census Bureau population data needed to create new districts.

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA
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"The people that are most affected by this are the people who are living at or below the poverty line."

—Melissa Evans, attorney at Neighborhood Legal Services in Pittsburgh, on the return of work-search requirements for Pennsylvania's unemployed

>> THE HIDDEN TAB: Join us Wednesday, July 28 at 5 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free Q&A about Pennsylvania lawmakers spending millions of taxpayer dollars on personal accommodations, and how these expenses are obscured from the public. Register here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org


» COVID-19 UPDATE: Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, or find where to get the COVID-19 vaccine

» Jobless Pennsylvanians, attorneys fear more problems as work-search requirement returns

Pa.'s 2022 U.S. Senate race: What we know so far

One of Pennsylvania’s two U.S. Senate seats is up for grabs in 2022 as two-term Republican incumbent Pat Toomey prepares to step aside and the state braces for a particularly high-stakes election year.

The Senate opening has drawn plenty of interest from Democrats looking to shore up a narrow congressional majority, Republicans looking to limit key aspects of the Biden agenda, and observers believing the seat is likely to flip or too close to call. The race will be exceedingly expensive either way. —Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA


With less than a year to go until the primary (unless the date is changed because of redistricting issues), several higher-profile Democrats are officially in the running — others are rumored to be waiting in the wings.

Montgomery County Commissioner Valerie Arkoosh (website | Twitter) is in the former category and running to be the first woman senator from Pennsylvania. She brings a high-profile Emily's List endorsement to the race and a significant amount of cash on hand.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (website | Twitter) has declared his second run for Toomey's seat in six years, this time with burgeoning household-name status, way more money, and more scrutiny, too. 

State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (website | Twitter) — the first openly gay Black man to be elected to the state legislature — brings rising-star momentum, progressive bona fides, and a string of viral moments to compete with Fetterman's fundraising juggernaut. 

State Sen. Sharif Street (website | Twitter) — the pro-gun reform, pro-retail politics Philadelphia lawmaker — formally announced his intent to run but has yet to file a financial report with the FEC. Pennsylvania hasn’t had a Black U.S. senator before.

U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb reportedly told donors and supporters to expect a Senate run but hasn't taken additional public steps. Lamb's interest comes with his current job possibly set to be drawn out of existence.

Find a list of other declared Democratic candidates here.


Kathy Barnette (website | Twitter) of Montgomery County is a Fox News fixture and former congressional candidate who embodies the pro-Trump aspirations some in the GOP have for Toomey's successor. 

Jeff Bartos (website | Twitter) is a Mont Co.-based real estate developer who lost the race for lieutenant governor to Fetterman in 2018 and comes to this very costly Senate race with the backing of a monied new PAC and comparatively moderate footing.

Sean Gale (website | Facebook) is a Mont Co.-based attorney who's running on a pro-Trump platform with unfettered disdain for the seat's current Republican occupant, Toomey, whom Gale calls a "RINO" and "swamp rat." (Toomey voted to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol siege.)

Sean Parnell (website | Twitter) is a Trump critic-turned-Trump favorite who earned the former president's blessing in a failed bid for Conor Lamb's 17th congressional district seat in 2020 and who's trading barbs with Bartos this time over their respective conservative credentials.

Carla Sands (Twitter) is Trump's former ambassador to Denmark and a well-connected and well-financed investment CEO. The Cumberland County native spent much of her adult life residing in California.

Find other declared Republican candidates here.

A full version of this Q&A will appear on SpotlightPA.org.

AUDIT UPDATE: Tioga County tells Reuters it won't participate in a Trump-backed audit of Pennsylvania's last two elections after state officials, citing security risks, formally warned against it. A GOP Philadelphia commissioner estimates the city would have to spend $40 million to replace voting machines compromised by the Arizona-style audit.

LEGAL MOTION: State Republicans are trying to block evidence of racial disparities in academic achievement ahead of a landmark school funding trial. GOP attorneys claim the evidence is irrelevant, per Chalkbeat, but plaintiffs say they're just stalling. The case centers on a claim that Pennsylvania fails to provide equal opportunities for all as constitutionally required.

ZERO PLEDGE: Pennsylvania public radio stations went from receiving millions in state budget support to zero this year amid a multibillion-dollar surplus and one station's hard-line approach to calling out election-denying lawmakers. GOP legislators say the cut was Wolf's idea, but Wolf's office told the Capital-Star that's not how it works.

POLICE DATA: Pennsylvania has launched a statewide police misconduct database departments must consult when considering new police hires, per City & State. But the public can't access the data, which is possible in some neighboring states, and advocates say while a positive step forward, the database does little to further public accountability.

TRAVEL COSTS: Pennsylvania's Public School Employees' Retirement System pension fund is trying to rein in travel costs detailed in eye-popping reporting by The Inquirer. Under scrutiny and investigation, the fund's board wants staff to skip pricey hotels where financiers host meetings for cheaper rooms within walking or driving distance.

» AP: Pa. overcounted vaccine doses given by half a million shots

» CAPITAL-STAR: Pa.-owned university merger unanimously approved

» COURIER TIMES: Pa. lotto lets winners stay anonymous, despite rules

» STATEIMPACT: Pa. moves closer to contested greenhouse gas program

» TIMES OF ISRAEL: State budget cut support for hate crime targets

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org. Love the riddler? Chip in and become a member of Spotlight PA so we can keep the good times rolling.

SPELL BOUND (Case No. 101)How high do you have to count before using the letter "A" to spell a whole number in the English language?
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: The trains are 100 miles apart one hour before they pass each other.
Congrats to Irene T., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: William H., George S., Michael H., Kenneth J., James D., Jyotin S., Jon N., Kevin H., Edward F., Paul H., Annette I., Joe S., Beth T., Steven B., Robert K., Brian P., Kenneth B., Dennis F., Michael S., Johnny C., Bruce B., Hagan H., Joel S., Lynda G., and Marvin S.
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