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Senator breaks traffic law, moves to change it


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
June 25, 2021
Eviction ban, dealmakers, crash case, stepping down, college anxiety, quality concerns, and the controversy at Conneaut Lake. It's Friday. Weekend ahead.
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The Biden administration has once again extended a nationwide ban on evictions — this time from June 30 to July 31 — to help millions of tenants behind on rent payments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Officials are clear, though: There won't be another respite.

Instead, the administration says it will use the final month to launch an all-out blitz aimed at preventing a new wave of eviction filings.

Finding ways to distribute nearly $47 billion in available state and local emergency rental assistance money is central to that goal, but much of the money is still tied up in bureaucratic logjams.

In Pennsylvania, where a recent Census Bureau survey found 351,000 residents with no confidence or only slight confidence they'll make their next rent payment, officials have struggled on this front.

An initial round of COVID-19 rent relief ended with two-thirds of the $150 million pot going to shore up state budgets instead of helping tenants, Spotlight PA reported. 

A second round is moving at a glacial pace. The state's Emergency Rental Assistance Program, created in February, had allocated just over $15 million (less than 3%) of its $564 million total as of April 30. 

THE CONTEXT: There have been bright spots: Philadelphia's own diversion program — deemed "revolutionary" and "elegant" — has seen evictions brought to historic lows there. 

It requires all property owners to apply for rental assistance on behalf of a tenant, wait 45 days, and be offered mediation before filing for eviction. Just yesterday, the city took another step, moving to prohibit landlords from rejecting a person solely based on low credit scores or past evictions.

It is that kind of wholesale reimagining of the process and tenant protections that housing advocates hope to see become fixtures of American life, even after the pandemic and related stopgaps are gone. But The Inquirer's editorial board notes that requires money and, perhaps just as crucially, political will.

If you live in Philadelphia and have questions about the city's diversion program, find answers here

If you live elsewhere in Pennsylvania and need help with rent or utility payments, start here.
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"Senate leadership refused to speak with us. We wouldn’t take no for an answer."

—Philadelphia Councilmember Helen Gym who was detained at the Capitol Wednesday during a protest for more education funding

VACCINE UPDATE: A CDC working group says there's no evidence yet to suggest that a COVID-19 vaccine booster shot is needed, but that could change. One question that will need to be answered before it does: What evidence and metrics should be used to make the call? For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
Smoke stacks and the moon meet in a photo courtesy of Harrisburg photog @yatsko. Thanks for sharing! Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
DRIVE TIME: President Joe Biden says he's struck a deal with a bipartisan group of senators for a $579 billion infrastructure plan, some $109 billion of that earmarked for road and bridge repairs. Some members of his own party say the downsized deal is too small. But PennDOT says any additional funds could help Pennsylvania's limited state dollars go further amid an $8.1 billion annual shortfall, per YDR. 

CRASH COURSE: State Sen. Mike Regan (R., York) has pleaded guilty to driving an unregistered vehicle too fast for conditions following a motorcycle crash that left him seriously injured in March, ABC27 reports. Regan maintains he wasn't speeding and plans to introduce legislation that would change the law to require more legwork by police and "a full investigation to determine a driver's alleged speed."

MOVING ON: Two top aides to Gov. Tom Wolf are headed to the private sector. The Capital-Star reports Mike Brunelle, Wolf’s chief of staff since 2017 and part of the administration since Wolf’s first term, is leaving next Monday, reportedly for a job with Amazon. Jen Swails, the governor's budget secretary, is also moving on. Next year is the term-limited governor's last in office, with his position up for election in November 2022.

BAD TO WORSE: Lock Haven University staff worry a planned merger with three other state universities could hasten its demise. This as a survey finds most students are less likely to attend Lock Haven if they have to take some classes online post-merger, as proposed, and faculty fear further enrollment drops could see the university phased out altogether. "A slow death, that’s what I fear," one professor told The Inquirer. 

BAD AIR: Residents of Neville Island, just outside Pittsburgh, say the air quality is so bad some days that they have to close their windows and stay inside. Things only got worse after an April fire at a metal recycling facility. But Gazette 2.0 and PublicSource found that while unofficial air monitors detected huge spikes in pollution, a lack of official monitors is impeding the enforcement of the government's own standards.
SINGULAR VOICE: David S. Wisnia, who survived three years at Auschwitz-Birkenau, singing to keep from being killed by the Nazis, died last week at a senior facility in Langhorne. He was 94. "Most of all, when I think about his life, the thing that runs through it is music," a grandson told The Inquirer.

FRIENDLY COMPETITION: Childhood friends and teammates from Hempfield Township are in Eugene, Ore. for a shot at making the U.S. Olympic team. Maddie Holmberg Nickal and Bridget Guy Williams are competing for spots in the pole vault and something called a heptathlon, per TribLIVE.

SECRET PARK: The phrase "Pittsburgh's hidden Central Park" sounds oxymoronic. Pittsburgh Orbit explains it's not. "The tiny off-the-books greenspace has no directional signage from nearby Fifth Avenue and exists at the back of a one-way-in/one-way-out single block of row houses."

PARK PLAN: The new owner of Conneaut Lake Park bought it out of bankruptcy for $1.2 million in March and hopes to have it open again as soon as July 2. But his willingness to raze old buildings and decommission old rides is rubbing some diehards the wrong way, Cleveland.com reports.

DRINK UP: In a sea of partisan Harrisburg rancor, there is consensus on lemonade. The state Senate voted 50-0 to send Gov. Tom Wolf a bill designed to protect the rights of kids to sell lemonade, brownies, and cookies in public "without fear of retribution from their local municipality," PennLive reports.
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: Monologue

Congrats to our daily winners: Neal W., David I., Myles M., Irene R., Michelle T., Elaine C., Susan D., Nick F., Paul H., Becky C., Beth T., John A., Bill C., Heidi B., Bruce T., Mike B., Christine M., Bob R., Steve D., Dennis M., Al M., Barbara A., Craig W., George S., Lex M., Dianne K., Tish M., Suzanne S., James B., Elizabeth W., Karen W., Mary Kay M., Patricia M., Don H., Joel S., Mary Ellen T., Rick D., David W., Doris T., and Johnny C.
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