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Pa. renters face end of eviction ban without relief

Plus, a closer look at Pa.’s pandemic-era emergency spending requests.

A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

July 29, 2021 | spotlightpa.org

Slow aid, emergency spending, ethics case, fatal crash, spending tracker, opioid suit, election denial, road cash, bad data, race lessons, and audit abuse.
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Pennsylvania's second round of COVID-19 rent relief was supposed to improve where a first round sputtered, leaving millions in aid money unspent and thousands of tenants and landlords dismayed.

In reality, Charlotte Keith reports, the second round has not been the radical departure many had hoped for, with just $133 million of a $870 million pot, roughly 17%, distributed so far.

That's more than most states and certainly crucial aid for recipients, but thousands of applications remain backlogged with the end of a federal pandemic-era eviction ban days away. 

Some tenants fear that when they finally see a payment, it will already be too late. 

In other news, Jamie Martines reports Wolf administration officials are forging ahead with a plan for more than $100 million in new pandemic-related spending as they face scrutiny from state lawmakers about past COVID-19 contracts.

The House and Senate recently convened two hearings after Spotlight PA reporting found that the Department of Health was using the emergency procurement process, which allows state agencies to sidestep public bidding for contracts they say are urgent, to hire a new contact tracing company after the last one failed to prevent a data breach.

Administration officials say the need for such contracts and services remains urgent, while Republican legislators question whether circumstances now allow for a slower, more transparent process. (Keep reading for what Spotlight PA found in tracking scores of pandemic-era spending requests from state agencies.) 

And finally, Democratic state Rep. Margo L. Davidson, of Delaware County, resigned after being charged with theft and other crimes for allegedly requesting overnight reimbursements for time she did not actually spend in Harrisburg and reimbursements from taxpayers for expenses that had already been paid for by her campaign.

The case has prompted Davidson's former colleagues to launch reviews of the state law meant to protect taxpayer money against ethical lapses.

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA
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"That is not something you see every day. It was a big motorcycle, too. There were a bunch of sparks. And it was very loud."

—Eyewitness Nicholas Forgette on a fatal crash police say involved a motorcycle and a car driven by gubernatorial candidate Charlie Gerow

» HOUSING PENNSYLVANIA: Join us Thursday, Aug. 5 at 5 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free panel on everything we know about rental assistance as the federal eviction ban lifts. Register for the event 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

» Pa. GOP strategist running for governor being investigated for fatal crash on Turnpike

By the numbers: tracking Pa.'s pandemic spending

Spotlight PA's tallying of Pennsylvania's pandemic-related spending requests led us to the state's emergency procurement program — a faster and, critics say, less transparent way for agencies to purchase urgently needed supplies and services.

Not unexpectedly, that spending ballooned in 2020, with state agencies asking to spend $340 million, up from an annual average of $81 million. While these requests don't represent the totality of state agencies' spending in recent months — grants and other procurement processes were also used — they do shed light on how the administration responded to the pandemic and what was prioritized.

Many requests were straightforward, like bulk orders of masks and gloves. Other requests led to scrutiny from Republican lawmakers, and some requests were downright curious. Here are the highlights of what we found via a public records request. —Jamie Martines, Spotlight PA

Most expensive pandemic-related requests (click the links for more info): 
  • $40 million by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to hire AMI to provide community vaccination clinics

  • $28.5 million by the Department of Health to hire Curative to administer COVID-19 tests in long-term care facilities 

  • $25 million by the Department of Health to hire Insight Global to administer the contact tracing program

  • $13 million by the Department of Labor and Industry to hire Ernst & Young to assist with unemployment claims

  • $11.6 million by the Department of Health to hire consulting firm BCG to advise on the vaccine rollout

Most expensive requests not related to the pandemic response: 

  • $12.5 million by the Department of General Services to extend an existing contract with Meggitt Training Systems, which provides weapons training to law enforcement

  • $11 million to extend a contract with McKesson while a new pharmaceutical procurement is finished

  • $6 million by the Department of General Services to hire Inservco to administer insurance benefit claims 

  • $4 million by the Department of Transportation for motorcycle training providers

  • $3.8 million by the Department of Education to hire University of Kansas Center for Research to develop state tests 

Other notable requests:

  • $1.2 million by the State Department for two orders of "sneeze guards" in August and September to be used by county election workers during the pandemic 

  • $358,437 by the Department of Transportation to hire Textron Aviation to repair a plane damaged after it collided with a deer while taxiing at Chester County airport

  • $207,731 by the Game Commission to print the annual Hunting and Trapping Digest using Liberty Press

  • $81,264 by the Office of Attorney General to purchase "pole cameras" from Crime Point, Inc. to be used for surveillance during investigations

Agencies that made the most requests:

  • Emergency Management (89)

  • General Services (75)

  • Human Services (74)

  • Corrections (63)

  • Health (46) 

Agencies with highest estimated costs for requests:

  • Health: $104,362,681

  • Emergency Management: $100,354,737

  • General Services: $70,235,224

  • Human Services: $50,020,692

  • Transportation: $30,731,414

If you want to know more about a request, let us know at tips@spotlightpa.org

A longer version of this article will appear on spotlightpa.org.

OPIOID SUIT: Philadelphia's district attorney is suing Pennsylvania's attorney general over a national opioid settlement with $1 billion for Pennsylvania over 18 years. "This is a sellout," District Attorney Larry Krasner said, per WHYY. "The money is too low, the payments are too slow, and the money may never show.”

ELECTION DENIAL: Fox News fixture Kathy Barnette is running for one of Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate seats and benefitting from the profile boost that came with a months-long hunt to prove her 2020 loss was tainted by fraud. The Inquirer says that quest has "rippled across the election denial movement" and made Barnette a GOP contender.

ROAD PLAN: A transportation funding commission report meant to find new ways to raise billions more dollars for Pennsylvania road maintenance is expected to include recommendations for corridor tolling, goods delivery fees, higher vehicle fees, and a vehicle-miles-traveled fee. The AP says the report is likely to touch off years of debate.

BAD INFO: Key numbers are wrong on a Pennsylvania-run website meant to help desperate families compare the quality of addiction treatment centers, rendering the tool confusing and potentially dangerous, the Morning Call reports. After that report was published, officials said they will be taking down the portions of the website that contain the errors.

CRASH COURSE: As schools in Pennsylvania take steps to limit teachings on race and racism amid a national weaponizing of the issue, legislative attempts to do that more broadly could hinge on the outcome of the looming race for Pennsylvania governor. A teacher told Chalkbeat teachings on segregation, redlining, Juneteenth, and more could be impacted.

» CITY & STATE: Pa. experts warn against election audit abuse 

» THE INQUIRER: Informants say police traded sex, drugs for testimony 

» PENNLIVE: Legal win to pull back Pa.'s medical cannabis curtain

» PUBLICSOURCE: Pa. churches are more polarized than ever

» WESA: Aid money pulled for minority business owners after lawsuits

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.

LOVE BOAT (Case No. 103): You see a boat filled with people on Raystown Lake. You look again and don't see a single person on the boat. Why?

Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: The letter "R" (Find last week's clue here)
Congrats to Skip B., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Annette I., Catherine J., Michael H., John H., Jack F., Jeff W., Beverly M., George S., Michelle T., Irene T., Roseanne D., Jon N., Hagan H., Kathy M., Judy A., Alice B., Deborah D., Joel S., Bruce B., Jeff B., Beth T., Philip C., Burnetta S., Dave D., James D., Connie K., Karen K., George S., Nancy M., William D., Eileen D., Rebecca D., Mary B., Kenneth J., Deirdre E., Johnny C., and Leslie M.
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