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Feds tweak addiction treatment rule after Pa. death

Plus, a Pa. guide to rent relief and the new eviction ban.

A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

August 5, 2021 | spotlightpa.org

Rolled back, cannabis questions, eviction freeze, voter intimidation, audit update, PSERS ally, crypto keepers, and why DAs are suing the state's AG.
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A federal agency that sends billions of dollars to states to help them respond to the opioid crisis is rolling back part of a policy that caused widespread confusion in Pennsylvania, wrongly preventing at least one person who later died of an overdose from accessing addiction treatment.

Ed Mahon reports the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has eliminated language that prohibited grant recipients from providing federal funding "to any individual who or organization that provides or permits marijuana use for the purposes of treating substance use or mental disorders."

In Pennsylvania, the guidance was incorrectly applied to medical marijuana users like 24-year-old Tyler Cordeiro, of Bucks County, who was denied addiction treatment funding through a state program because he had a state medical marijuana card, his family said. He died weeks later from a drug overdose.

Also from Mahon this week: Almost three years after making opioid use disorder a qualifying medical marijuana condition, Pennsylvania remains an outlier, and the debate about cannabis' medical efficacy continues.

The policy has met fierce resistance from some medical groups, who warn the state's endorsement of cannabis could lead patients to pass over more proven medications. Some former opioid users, meanwhile, say their lives have been transformed by cannabis.

Finally, join us at 5 p.m. to discuss the new, targeted federal eviction ban and Pennsylvania's rental relief program. Read on for a preview of what renters need to know.

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA
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"The immediate risk of countless, unnecessary evictions demanded this extraordinary action."

—Joshua Goldblum, of Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania, on a state Supreme Court-backed pause on some evictions in Bucks County
» HOUSING PENNSYLVANIA: Join us at 5 p.m. ET today via Zoom for a free panel on everything we know about rental assistance and the new federal eviction ban. 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

» Feds roll back ‘confusing’ addiction funding rules that had deadly consequence in Pa.

» Pa. patients swear by cannabis as a tool to fight opioid addiction. The research still isn’t there.

» High court gives Pa. county OK to delay eviction cases while tenants wait for rental relief

What you need to know about the new eviction ban

It's been a nerve-racking week for many Pennsylvania tenants, after the expiration of a federal freeze on evictions, a failed effort by House Democrats to extend it, and then — in a surprise reversal from the Biden administration — a new, targeted ban.

Spotlight PA will discuss in detail what renters need to know today at 5 p.m., but here are the basics. —Charlotte Keith, Spotlight PA

Who is covered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's new eviction freeze?

As of Thursday morning, tenants in roughly half of Pennsylvania counties were safe from being evicted if they've fallen behind on rent because of the pandemic and have tried to apply for government aid to catch up.

The new eviction ban only applies in counties where the spread of COVID-19 is "substantial" or "high." Right now, that covers 31 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties, although that number will likely change.

If a county doesn't have substantial or high transmission rates for 14 days in a row, the order no longer applies — unless transmission rates increase again and reach the CDC threshold.

As with the previous eviction ban, tenants have to fill out a declaration form and give it to their landlords. 

How long will this eviction ban be in place? 

The renewed federal eviction ban is in effect until Oct. 3, but could be extended again "based on public health circumstances," according to the CDC.

The new order could also be cut short by legal challenges. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court voted narrowly to keep the prior eviction ban in place. But Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote that he believed the CDC had exceeded its legal authority by issuing the eviction ban and that any extension would need to come from Congress. 

What if my county isn't covered by the new eviction ban? 

Even if your county isn't currently covered, you might be protected by a local court order.

As of Thursday morning, COVID-19 transmission in Berks County didn't meet the threshold for federal eviction protection, but residents there are covered by an order allowing judges to postpone eviction cases for up to 90 days if a tenant can show they have applied, or are about to apply, for help.

Earlier this week, the state Supreme Court green-lighted a request from Bucks County to issue a similar order, opening the door for other local courts to do the same.

What if I haven’t applied for rent relief yet? 

If you're at risk of eviction, apply for rental assistance immediately. There's an unprecedented amount of federal relief funding available — $1.5 billion in total — and the local governments and nonprofits administering the program are under pressure to get it out to landlords and tenants as quickly as possible.

You can find a list of rental assistance programs in each county here

A longer version of this article will appear on spotlightpa.org.
ELECTION INTEGRITY: A self-proclaimed "election integrity committee" stands accused of voter intimidation after members reportedly knocked on doors across York County to ask how residents voted and for whom, the York Dispatch reports. York is one of three counties being targeted in a separate, Trump-backed audit of Pennsylvania election results. 

AUDIT WEEK: It was a busy week for that aforementioned Trump-backed audit of Pennsylvania election results. State Sen. Doug Mastriano's partisan push for a third-party examination of balloting in three Pennsylvania counties saw a deadline pass with no compliance, a civil rights warning from the DOJ, talk of looming subpoenas, and criticism from within the GOP.

PSERS ALLY: Lawmakers, board members, and educators are furious with Pennsylvania's scandal-plagued public school employee pension fund. But a powerful teachers union is not. Per The Inquirer, the Pennsylvania State Education Association has remained loyal to "the PSERS plan's embattled executives and their controversial investment strategies."

COIN FLIP: New cryptocurrency rules in the U.S. Senate's $1 trillion infrastructure bill have drawn the attention of cryptocurrency investor Pat Toomey. The Pennsylvania Republican called the provisions "unworkable" and said he'll offer up an amendment. Per Bloomberg News, the $1 trillion bill would raise cryptocurrency tax rules to help pay for itself.

TOP COPS: Top prosecutors from Allegheny County and Philadelphia are now both suing Pennsylvania's top cop, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, over an opioid settlement they say isn't good enough. TribLIVE reports DA Stephen A. Zappala Jr. and Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner say a settlement with $1 billion for the state is too small and too slow to pay out.

» CITY PAPER: Pa. progressives want takeover of local Dem committee

» CHALKBEAT: Some race data allowed at statewide school funding trial

» CENTRE DAILY TIMES: Spanier released from prison for home arrest

» WITF: Advocates say hunger strike leads to retaliation in York prison

» ROLL CALL: Conor Lamb expected to join U.S. Senate race in August

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.

FAMILY PORTRAIT (Case No. 104)A man looks at a painting in Penn State's Palmer Museum of Art and says aloud, "Brothers and sisters I have none, but that man's father is my father's son." Who is in the painting?

Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: They were all married couples. (Find last week's clue here)
Congrats to Karen K., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Michele M., Jon N., Beth T., Dan H., George S., Michelle T., Judy A., William D., Kevin H., Michael H., Annette I., Dennis P., Ken K., Connie K., Jodi A., Deborah D., Roseanne D., Joe M., James D., Mark C., and Mary B.
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