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Few Pa. recovery homes have applied for a license

Plus, we need your help to investigate possible health hazards at Pa. schools. 

A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

April 7, 2022 | spotlightpa.org

School safety, the numbers, broken rules, recovery oversight, climate change, student loans, privacy warrior, settled suit, and Russian tycoons. 
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Nearly 2 million Pennsylvania students spend hours a day in thousands of schools across the state. They breathe air that circulates through the buildings, drink water from hallway fountains, and touch surfaces in spaces from classrooms to restrooms.

Years of surveys, policy research, and media reports suggest that some of these buildings likely pose health risks to students and staff, but there are no centralized safety records, Jamie Martines reports. That's why we need your help.

In an effort to locate overlooked or underreported school infrastructure problems, Spotlight PA is asking for input from community members, students, families, school faculty, and staff. Your submission will inform our reporting and help us identify problems affecting students across the state.

Also this week, Danielle Ohl runs down the numbers of Pennsylvania's broken compassionate release law. Despite being on the books for 13 years, only 31 people have successfully petitioned to leave prison because of serious illness.

Finally, Spotlight PA and its founding partners have announced they are hosting a GOP gubernatorial debate on April 19 with four candidates: Joe Gale, Charlie Gerow, Melissa Hart, and Nche Zama.

Four campaigns required a Republican moderator and other criteria rejected by the nonpartisan sponsors to preserve the credibility of the event. A fifth did not respond.
"It’s fragmented because there’s no requirement for it not to be."

— David Lapp, of the education nonprofit Research for Action, on the lack of centralized information about Pennsylvania school building safety
» BROKEN RULES: Join us Thursday, April 14 at 6 p.m. EST via Zoom for a free discussion on Pa.’s medical release law for state prisoners, who the law impacts, and the strain it places on people in prison, their families, and taxpayers. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
» A guide to the primary race few voters are paying attention to

» Pa. election 2022: Tell Spotlight PA what coverage matters to you

» Pennsylvania’s 2022 race for governor: What we know so far

» Pennsylvania’s 2022 U.S. Senate race: What we know so far
Oversight of Pa. recovery homes will soon have teeth

The Wolf administration is preparing to enforce its long-awaited licensing system for addiction recovery homes, which have operated with limited oversight for years. 

But with only two months before a major deadline, only a few dozen houses have submitted applications for a license, raising concerns that not enough operators will get on board with a reform meant to provide greater support for people struggling with addiction.

These homes are supposed to offer safe places to live, while enforcing rules to help people avoid drugs and alcohol. They vary in size, but eight to 12 residents is a typical range, advocates told Spotlight PA, and homes are often privately owned.

They provide an important service. But recovery advocates say some homes take advantage of vulnerable residents, crowd people into rooms, and condone illegal drug use.

In 2017, lawmakers gave the Wolf administration the power to license recovery homes. But Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs officials missed a deadline to formally introduce the rules for the new licensing system, and when they did, they received strong pushback from some recovery home operators, advocates, and county officials who warned requirements, like financial audits, placed too much of a burden on homes.

The department eliminated the financial audit requirement, scaled back other rules, and began accepting recovery house applications in late 2021. While operators will be able to apply for a license at any time, requirements under state regulations take effect in early June.

No one knows exactly how many recovery homes there are in Pennsylvania, but they are believed to number in the thousands. Last year, the Wolf administration estimated about 600 houses would seek one of the state’s new licenses. But applications got off to a “slow start,” Jennifer Smith, secretary for the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, recently told lawmakers.

“I think a lot of the hesitation is fear of not knowing what that process looks like and thinking that it might be more daunting than what it really is,” Smith said at a March 3 budget hearing. 

She suggested those concerns will fade as more homes go through the licensing process. 

As of April 4, there were two licensed homes — one in Monroe County, and another in Philadelphia — and 32 applications under review, according to a department spokesperson. 

Incomplete applications for about 90 more recovery houses were in the state’s online application portal but hadn’t been submitted yet.

“There’s clearly a long way to go,” said William Stauffer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Recovery Organizations Alliance, which advocates for people in recovery. “And I think the jury is out. Will we have enough that can afford to go through it?”

Licensed homes will have to pay an annual $250 fee. The homes must comply with increased staff training requirements, follow other department policies, meet certain safety standards, and pass state inspections.

Applying for a license is voluntary, but there are incentives. Only licensed homes, for instance, can receive referrals from state agencies or state-funded facilities, and only licensed homes can receive funding from federal, state, or county agencies. Beginning June 9, unlicensed homes receiving public funding could receive fines of up to $1,000 per day, the department recently warned. Ed Mahon, Spotlight PA

A full version of this story will appear on spotlightpa.org.

CARBON RULING: A court has blocked Gov. Tom Wolf from implementing a carbon fee on fossil fuel-fired power plants, a cornerstone of his climate change agenda, AP reports. The ruling came one day after Wolf's regulation survived a last-ditch override attempt in the state Senate. The Commonwealth Court ruling blocks the fee from taking effect.

DEBT BURDEN: A federal program meant to help low-income people pay off student loans is beset by recordkeeping gaps and failing to live up to its promises, per NPR. Loan servicers like the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency are a part of the problem. They fail to track borrowers' progress, keeping them on the hook longer than needed.

PATIENT PRIVACY: Early on in the pandemic, state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin) proposed a rollback of medical privacy protections for COVID-19 patients, a position very much at odds with the personal-freedom-warrior persona he's cultivated ever since, Capital-Star reports. His opponents in the Republican race for governor are weighing in.

PRISON DEBT: A lawsuit pitting a Pennsylvania man against the law enforcement agencies that wrongly imprisoned him for murder has settled for $8.75 million, months after the man died, TribLIVE reports. David Munchinski spent 26 years in prison before his conviction was ultimately overturned.

TOO RICH TO FAIL: An intensive investigation by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reveals how Russian tycoons and their businesses for years moved billions of dollars through U.S. banks "in patterns that set off alarms among the bank experts charged with detecting financial crimes." The activity continued even with pre-2022 U.S. sanctions in place.

» AP: Pennsylvania State Police settle profiling, immigration suit

» CAPITAL-STAR: Fulton Co. official 'clarifies' election probe response 

» LEHIGH VALLEY LIVE: DA won't prosecute 2020 election law violations

» PUBLICSOURCE: Three houses highlight tax inequality in Allegheny Co.

» WFMZ: DOJ looks to join misconduct suit against county commissioner

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.

MATCH POINT (Case No. 141)Susan and Lisa decided to play tennis against each other. They bet $1 on each game they played. Susan won three bets and Lisa won $5 (a net gain). How many games did they play?

Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: 3 ducks (Find last week's clue here)
Congrats to Phil C. who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Michael H., Lynda G., Starr B., Matt P., William D., Jon N., George S., Rebecca D., Hagan H., Joe S., Jodi A., Annette I., John H., Elizabeth W., Dennis F., James D., Connie K., Joel S., Beth T., Robert K., Marisa B., Tish M., Susan N.-Z., Mary B., Johnny C., Lou R., and Alberta V.
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