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Fresh fears as Pa. unemployment claims expire


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
March 24, 2021
New benefits, insurrection story, abortion rights, sunshine state, toxic wait, and a trip to the Pennsylvania prairie. Welcome to Wednesday.

Tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians will reach the end of their state unemployment benefits this month and next as they approach the one-year anniversary of the date they first lost work during the pandemic. 

In mid-March, the state said many Pennsylvanians would need to file new claims to continue receiving benefits. Now, it says only people who worked and earned over a certain amount last year have to reapply.

While it's unclear exactly how large the resulting wave of new claims will be, Spotlight PA reports the most critical question may be whether an already strained state system can keep up

THE CONTEXT: Pennsylvania's Department of Labor and Industry has been beset by problems managing the state’s unemployment system since the onset of the pandemic and this month is poised to see those issues continue. 

Not only is the department still below the number of qualified claims examiners it needs, the job itself is getting more complicated with the state preparing to administer new federal benefits made available via President Joe Biden's $1.9 trillion stimulus package. 

Advocates fear what delayed or curtailed unemployment checks might mean for the individuals and families who rely on them to make ends meet.

“Hundreds of thousands of people who haven't gotten their benefits? That is an economic problem for the state, but it is a disaster for the families,” said Barney Oursler, director of the Mon Valley Unemployed Committee.

On a related note: If you helped process Pennsylvania unemployment claims in the past year, in any capacity, Spotlight PA wants to hear from you. A short survey can be found here. Your response won't be shared or published without your consent.


“I’m concerned that the rest of the state is opening up too much. I don’t think it makes sense for us to loosen up here.”

—Philadelphia Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley saying the city won't follow the rest of the state in easing COVID-19 rules on April 4 because of a spike in new cases and hospitalizations
VACCINE UPDATE: Gov. Tom Wolf's office says more than 100,000 Pennsylvania educators have been vaccinated in recent weeks and that 300,000 new doses have been shipped out for people in the statewide Phase 1A group. The state has also eased masking rules for fully vaccinated individuals. For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing.
» The Fettermans: Join Spotlight PA at 5 p.m. April 6 for a conversation and reader Q&A with Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Second Lady Gisele Fetterman on immigration, legal cannabis, racism, and more. RSVP FOR FREE

POST IT: The Susquehanna River is pictured on its journey through Harrisburg. Thanks, @yatsko, for tagging us! Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.
CROSSED PATHS: Three Trump supporters who grew up minutes apart in New Jersey found themselves on opposite sides of a police barricade at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 — leaving one dead and the other two charged as insurrectionists. The Inquirer details the commonalities between suspects Julian Khater, of State College, George Tanios, and Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who died hours after their fateful encounter.

ABORTION BILLS: Pieces of legislation that would impose heightened restrictions on abortion access in Pennsylvania are expected to be introduced as early as next month, PennLive reports. They include a so-called heartbeat bill and one prohibiting abortions over a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. Critics call the effort misguided and ill-timed, especially during an ongoing public health crisis.

POWER PLAN: Gov. Tom Wolf wants 50% of the energy used in Pennsylvania's government buildings to come from solar arrays built on farms in six counties, The Daily Item reports. Wolf says it's the largest such commitment by any state government in the U.S. Meanwhile, some Pennsylvania communities are pushing back against a growing crop of solar developers with big sun-powered plans.

TOXIC TRACT: The push to build homes on a heavily contaminated Chester County industrial site is no closer to fruition now than when the land was purchased 15 years ago, StateImpact reports. Instead, a court ruling could open the window for even more litigation and delays — a convergence of cases in one of the more heavily polluted corners of the country.

'WAR ON SLUMLORDS': Allentown's normally divided city council unified Monday, promising to wage "war on slumlords" as members confronted a local landlord outside an apartment building strewn with used needles, feces, and trash. The Morning Call says the news conference escalated into a fiery altercation as officials eye a long-term legislative fix.
PRAIRIE DOC: Pennsylvania's only prairie can be found at the Jennings Environmental Education Center near Slippery Rock. It can also be found in a new, short film all about the rare and sometimes threatened species that call the 20-acre protected site home, PennLive reports.

YEARBOOK: Approximately 900 Pennsylvanians from 58 counties answered First Lady Frances Wolf's call for their pandemic-life photos and stories. The result is a collection, available online now, that will be added to the state's official archives, which largely missed the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918.

CLOSE SHAVE: Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto is running for a third term and offering donors a chance to decide the fate of his divisive beard. The fundraising move comes months after the mayor offered feet pics in exchange for November voter turnout — pics he has yet to deliver

GOING STRONG: At 108 years old, Ruth Hopson is the oldest resident of Philadelphia and one of its newest COVID-19 vaccine recipients. WHYY says Hopson, who was six during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, felt “elated” to receive her first shot of Pfizer's vaccine last week.

TAKE FIVE: Maybe it's because I haven't been out much, but I keep watching the uneventful, quiet, almost ASMR-style videos of a YouTuber driving around Pennsylvania. From Lancaster to Philly to crosstown in Harrisburg, nothing happens on these trips, and maybe that's the beauty of it. 
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Yesterday's answer: Weathering

Congrats to our daily winners: Mary Ellen T., Craig W., Nichole H., Becky C., Caroline O., Dixie S., Patricia M., David I., Susan D., Elaine C., Jessica K., Neal W., Dennis M., Al M., Kevin H., Beth T., George S., Adrien M., Heidi B., Judy M., Jill A., Tish M., Cynthia H., Anna T., Patricia R., Joel S., Carol D., Suzanne S., Barbara B., Karen W., Irene R., Jill G., Laura B., Kim C., David W., Bob R., Lance L., Marsha B., Keith F., James B., and Diane P.
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