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Wolf quietly steers $40 million to 4 universities

Plus, meet Spotlight Pa’s new rural affairs reporter.

A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

July 28, 2022 | spotlightpa.org
University boost, unemployment fix, budget event, rural affairs, point person, book policy, marriage vote, redlining case, and little known. 
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Gov. Tom Wolf plans to quietly give Pennsylvania’s four state-related universities including Penn State and Pitt a one-time $40 million boost using stimulus money that he has the sole power to direct.

The move follows opponents of abortion access in the state House unsuccessfully attempting to block funding for the schools over Pitt’s research using fetal tissue.

As Stephen Caruso reports, Wolf plans to direct a one-time 5% increase to the schools using stimulus money that the legislature voted to give him this summer. The bill appropriating the money states only that it is for “pandemic response.”

In response to Caruso's reporting, Doug Mastriano, the GOP nominee for governor, called on the four universities to freeze tuition. The schools are rejecting the call, pointing out that the money is only a one-time appropriation. 

In other news, Pennsylvania lawmakers have failed to adopt a policy change that supporters say would bolster the state’s pandemic-battered unemployment program against future spikes in jobless claims while also avoiding huge draws on taxpayer money to prop up the system.

"Pitt is probably laughing their ass off at us right now because they got their money."

—State Rep. Jerry Knowles (R., Schuylkill), who led the effort to block Pitt’s funding over the school's research using fetal tissue


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Meet Spotlight Pa’s new rural affairs reporter

Hey, y’all! I’m Ashad Hajela, and I’m really excited to be the rural affairs reporter for Spotlight PA’s State College regional bureau.

Small towns and rural communities across Pennsylvania face declining populations, shrinking economies, and disinvestment. This means people in these communities are losing access to crucial resources like health care and education. At the same time, addiction remains a major issue as the opioid crisis rages on, and every year climate change makes agriculture more unpredictable.

I hope to cover the impact that the loss of crucial resources has on these communities, along with the historic issues that have allowed these challenges to become more pervasive.

I’m able to do this reporting thanks to Spotlight PA’s first-ever partnership with Report for America, a service program that places journalists in newsrooms across the country. As a corps member, I will also be doing a service project in the community.

I started my career covering crime and criminal justice in Raleigh, North Carolina, after graduating from New York University. I wrote about the Black Lives Matter protests following the police murder of George Floyd, the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on prisons and jails, and gun violence in Durham. A story I wrote about crime at motels in Raleigh inspired a policy change from the city’s mayor and won a top award from the North Carolina Press Association.

Most recently, I spent a year as a Stabile Fellow at Columbia Journalism School, where I investigated the parole system in New York and problematic hospitals and nursing homes in North Carolina and New Hampshire.

Since moving to State College, I have traveled across north-central Pennsylvania, speaking with people from Jefferson County to Tioga County. I would love to hear from more people across the region! Feel free to contact me at ahajela@spotlightpa.org or 215-581-1271 to discuss issues in the region and story ideas.—Ashad Hajela, Spotlight PA

POINT PERSON: The New York Times reported this week that GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano was the Pennsylvania "point person" for the Trump campaign as it assembled slates of "fake" electors loyal to the former president and that he sought assurances about the plan's legality. Some Republicans involved in the effort disagree with that characterization, per WESA. Mastriano has yet to comment.

'UNPRECEDENTED': A policy that would remove books deemed "inappropriate" from Central Bucks School District libraries was adopted by the district's board on Tuesday after months of pushback from critics who call it a de facto book ban. The policy targets books flagged for unspecified "sexualized content," WHYY reports, and is "unprecedented for Pennsylvania," per the American Library Association.

WEDDING GUEST: U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson, a Republican based in Centre County, attended the wedding of his gay son just days after voting against a bill that would codify federal protections for same-sex marriage, NBC News reports. Thompson’s press secretary previously told the Centre Daily Times the Respect for Marriage Act is "a messaging stunt" for Democrats. The bill passed the House 267-157.

REDLINING CASE: A Chester County-based company owned by billionaire Warren Buffett will pay millions to settle claims that it discriminated against potential Black and Latino homebuyers in Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Delaware, the AP reports. The $24 million redlining settlement is being called the second-largest in history and was announced Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Justice.

LITTLE KNOWN: In 2021, there were 18,000 petitions for protection from abuse orders against relatives, household members, and intimate partners across Pennsylvania. That same year saw just 285 cases involving a relatively new state law that grants sexual violence victims similar protection against defendants. PublicSource and City Cast Pittsburgh documented one such case involving two Pittsburgh police officers.

» CHALKBEAT: Landmark education funding trial now in judge's hands

» PUBLICSOURCE: Water woes follow 'frack out' in Greene County

» TRIBLIVE: 2.2 million COVID vaccine doses have been wasted in Pa.

» WESA: Anxious Pa. Planned Parenthood workers turn to unions

» YORK DISPATCH: Town hires ex-officer who mocked Floyd's murder

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

PINK EVERYTHING (Case No. 157): A one-story pink house has a pink cat, a pink fish, a pink computer, a pink chair, a pink table, a pink telephone, a pink shower — pink everything. What color are the stairs?
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
Last week's answer: Two minutes, one for the front of the train to pass through the tunnel and another minute for the rear (Find last week's clue here)
Congrats to Roseanne D., who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Lindsey S., Michael H., Philip C., George S. (left off last week's list), Peter S., Ken M., George S., Carl A., Robert K., James D., Annette I., William D., Alberta V., Fred O., Susan N.-Z., Joe S., Gigi B., Bruce B., Kenneth J., Jim W., Suzie M., Rick A., Austin S., Bill G., Jon N., Jay G., Beth T., Johnny C., John D., and Ken S.
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