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Low child care demand could be bad economic omen

Plus, Wolf admin doubles down on disputed explanation for medical marijuana confusion.

A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA

March 10, 2022 | spotlightpa.org

Enrollment decline, mail voting arguments, map reasons, open records chat, continued confusion, police settlements, hate speech, and COVID-19 fears.
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Enrollment in a state program that helps low-income families find affordable child care reached a record low during the past two years.

It's unclear what's behind the drop, Spotlight PA's Ed Mahon and Kate Giammarise of WESA report, but the decline suggests poor parents — particularly women — continue to face the painful choice between earning a paycheck or looking after a child.

Also this week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard arguments for and against the state's popular mail voting law. Republican lawmakers — including some who voted for it — say the law violates the state constitution and should be struck down, Angela Couloumbis reports.

And finally, each of the high court's seven justices released opinions explaining why they agreed or didn't agree with the court's congressional map pick. Kate Huangpu runs down the justices’ arguments for and against the map.
"Walmart can raise their cereal by a dime or McDonald’s can raise their cheeseburger. We can’t raise child care enough to compete from a wage perspective."

—Stephanie McIntosh, director of Creative Learning Childcare in Erie County, on low pay in the child care industry
» FOR THE RECORD: Join us Wednesday, March 16 at 6:30 p.m. ET via Zoom as our reporters and other experts discuss Pennsylvania’s open records law, how it impacts our coverage, and how you can use it, too. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
» Spotlight PA launching first-ever regional bureau based in State College

» 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

Wolf admin offered to 'set the record straight' on medical marijuana confusion. It didn’t.

The leader of a state agency that failed to clarify rules around addiction treatment and medical marijuana — an action that had serious consequences — continued to deny blame while speaking before state lawmakers this month.

Jennifer Smith, secretary for the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, also doubled down on an explanation that shifted responsibility to the federal government and county officials — without acknowledging that both federal and county officials dispute her claims.

“I thought her response was totally inadequate,” state Rep. John Lawrence (R., Chester) told Spotlight PA, after questioning Smith.

A series of investigative stories by Spotlight PA last year revealed that state officials failed to clarify federal rules around addiction treatment funding and medical marijuana use, sowing widespread confusion among workers on the front line of Pennsylvania’s opioid epidemic. In one case, a 24-year-old Bucks County man was wrongly denied opioid addiction treatment funding and died from a drug overdose a few weeks later.

During a March 3 budget hearing, Lawrence read from Spotlight PA’s coverage for nearly three minutes.

“I want to know why DDAP sat on this federal guidance for 17 months and didn’t share it with other state and county agencies,” Lawrence told Smith.

“Thank you for asking that question,” Smith replied, “and for giving me the opportunity to set the record straight based on perhaps some inaccuracies or misleading … reporting by Spotlight PA.”

She did not specify what she considered inaccurate or misleading about the reporting. Prior to publishing its investigations, Spotlight PA shared detailed questions and findings with her agency.

Smith acknowledged that the department received clarifying information from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in a January 2020 email — 17 months before her department shared the guidance. But she claimed her agency was not given “permission to distribute that information beyond the attendees of the call, which was restricted to one individual from each state.”

Emails obtained by Spotlight PA show a federal official invited the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs’ deputy secretary to a Q&A session “on the marijuana language” and other issues in November 2019. 

The federal agency then sent written clarification to the department on Jan. 1, 2020, emails show. A spokesperson for the federal agency previously said it shared the written guidance with Smith’s department and similar agencies that coordinate addiction treatment services in other states. 

In neither the November 2019 nor January 2020 emails did the federal agency say state officials could not share the information with other agencies.

And federal officials have insisted they considered the January 2020 email a formal communication that the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs had the authority to share.

“SAMHSA wanted to make sure states knew how SAMHSA funding could and could not be used,” a spokesperson for the federal agency told Spotlight PA in September. 

Smith also told lawmakers that her department encouraged county drug and alcohol offices to reach out directly to the federal government to clarify the issue — an account that leaders of those offices have disputed. That was a recent change, they told Spotlight PA in September.

Ed Mahon, Spotlight PA

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

LEGAL SETTLEMENTS: Six Philly police officers generated 173 lawsuits that cost the city $6.5 million, the Washington Post found. Some 50 additional lawsuits are pending, many alleging misconduct dating back more than a decade, a legal department spokesperson added. The city paid $136 million in settlements between 2010 and 2020 overall, 59% involving officers named in multiple payments.

HATE SPEECH: Pennsylvania led the nation in reports of hate propaganda last year, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Some 473 instances of hateful propaganda — signs, stickers, graffiti — were posted here in 2021. That's nearly 100 more than in the next closest state, Virginia, LNP reports. ADL linked most to a handful of groups, including the Keystone Nationalist Active Club.

SELF-CARE: Two years have passed since the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in Pennsylvania, and state officials are now preparing their endemic phase response. But as indoor mask rules are rolled back, immunocompromised people are left to make weighty decisions and risk assessments on their own. Maggie McGinn of Philadelphia, for one, told WHYY she's "terrified" about returning to the office.

AID OPENING: Gov. Tom Wolf wants to spend some $1.7 billion in unspent federal aid money on immediate relief for households and businesses, including one-time payments of up to $2,000 to qualifying individuals and families. And while Republicans have resisted tapping into the unspent aid, the Morning Call reports a top Senate Republican has signaled Wolf's proposal may not be entirely out of the question.

MAP RULING: The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against Republicans who sought to overturn the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's choice of congressional map. The justices are allowing the map — which is slightly more favorable to Democrats than the last — to be in effect for the 2022 elections, but they signaled a desire to revisit the role of state courts in the redistricting process at a later time, the AP reports.  

» AP: Calls to suspend gas taxes grow as prices surge

» CAPITAL-STAR: Wolf calls on legislature to divest from Russia 

» INQUIRER: Dangerous sedative contaminating Philly’s drug supply

» LNP: Ex-Ephrata lawyer pleads guilty to planning to kill U.S. officials

» REUTERS: U.S. Supreme Court nixes bid to reinstate Cosby conviction

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.

DAY TRIPPER (Case No. 137)Saturday is one day before two days after the day before tomorrow. What day of the week is it today?

Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.

Last week's answer: A river (Find last week's clue here.)

Congrats to Seth Z. who will receive Spotlight PA swag. Others who answered correctly: Jon N., Marisa B., Dan H., Michele M., Philip C., Elizabeth W., Jeff W., Rebecca D., Jeffrey F., George S., Peter S., Irene T., Judy A., Geoff M., Kenneth J., Michael H., Joseph M., Scott S., Johnny C., William D., Susan N.-Z., Donna D., Connie K., Karen K., Michelle T., Linda A., Lou R., Dennis P., James D., David T., Dennis F., Hagan H., Jonathan T., Ken S., Steve N., Deborah L., Kevin H., Barbara M., Tish M., Joseph P., Fred O., Bruce B., Beth T., Jay W., Annette I., John H., Jeff B., Richard S., Alberta V., Mary B., Eddy Z., Andrea H., Lindsey S., Sherri S., Doris T., Laura B., Lynda G., Mark C., Mark R., Terry A., and Robert K.
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