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Wolf admin sat on 2017 jobless scandal probe

Plus, President Joe Biden makes voting rights plea in Pennsylvania visit.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
July 14, 2021
Human error, voting visit, emission check, school year, audit cost, Cosby case, and mac-and-cheese ice cream because why not. It's Wednesday, all day.
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Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration completed its internal investigation into a multimillion-dollar unemployment mistake in mid-2017, but failed to make the findings public until this week, according to newly released documents.

In response to questions by Spotlight PA, the Office of Inspector General late Tuesday released a one-page summary of its inquiry into a state error that resulted in thousands of unemployed Pennsylvanians being overcharged millions in interest payments over a decade.

The summary states that the inspector general launched its investigation in May 2017 after receiving a complaint from an unnamed state employee. The probe was completed three months later, finding among other things that the mistake was the result of “human error” and lack of oversight.

A spokesperson for the inspector general’s office did not respond to a request for comment about why the findings were kept under wraps for four years.

THE CONTEXT: In response to a Spotlight PA investigation, the Department of Labor and Industry last week admitted that, between 2006 and 2016, it charged hundreds of thousands of people an inflated interest rate if they, for various reasons, were overcompensated in unemployment benefits.

Minutes after the announcement, the agency told Spotlight PA in an email that the inspector general's office had agreed to the terms of how it was going to address the issue.

But a spokesperson for the inspector general said the office was unfamiliar with any investigation. The next day, the spokesperson said the office had completed a report but that he could not comment further.

The governor's spokesperson said Wolf only learned about the issue last week, "had discussions with staff over the weekend, and directed L&I to complete the correction process."

The Department of Labor and Industry says about 250,000 people had been overcharged and it would issue $14 million in refunds, with most people owed $50 or less. Former department employees told Spotlight PA they believe many people are owed far more.
Huge issues are being debated in Harrisburg, from voting changes to redistricting, that could have ramifications on our state for years to come. Now more than ever, we need unflinching investigative journalism in Pennsylvania.

And Spotlight PA is answering the call in a bold new way.

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If you value our vital investigative journalism, make a contribution of any amount and become a member now. 

"Those remains, no matter who they are, are going to be taken care of by us." 

—Sue Africa on human remains from Philadelphia's 1985 MOVE bombing that were recently returned to surviving members of the family
VACCINE UPDATE: More than 1 million people in Pennsylvania have not received their second COVID-19 shot as scheduled, which health officials say is especially necessary to protect against the Delta variant. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
Thanks, James N., for this shot of Loleta Dam in Elk County. The historic dam was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
VOTING RIGHTS: President Joe Biden declared the preservation of voting rights "a test of our time" in a speech at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Tuesday, promising a nationwide campaign to arm voters with information on rule changes and restrictions ahead of the 2022 midterms, the AP reports. The speech follows the stalling of a new voting rights bill in the Senate and included no mention of the filibuster.

GREEN LIGHT: Pennsylvania is one step closer to joining the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a key and contested part of Gov. Tom Wolf's plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The state's Environmental Quality Board voted 15-4 Tuesday in favor of the option now slated for further review. Pennsylvania would become the first major fossil fuel-producing state to put a price on carbon emissions, StateImpact reports. 

SCHOOL BELL: Tomorrow is the deadline for Pennsylvania students and families to request a do-over school year to cover pandemic-era learning losses. Not everyone was aware the option to repeat a grade existed, including parents who say communication around the state's new retainment law has left plenty to be desired, per Keystone Crossroads. 

AUDIT COUNT: A Republican Philadelphia commissioner estimates the city would have to spend $40 million to replace voting machines compromised by a Trump-backed audit of Pennsylvania's last two elections, per Reuters. State officials say any equipment subjected to a third-party audit would need to be replaced, same as in Arizona.

CROSS FIRE: The chief justice of Pennsylvania's high court defended its decision to free Bill Cosby and called the decision to prosecute him after a verbal agreement not to "reprehensible." The Inquirer reports that within hours, Cosby's lead prosecutor shot back, accusing Chief Justice Max Baer of spreading "misinformation." 
CALL OUT: The Pennsylvania Youth Congress is calling out Pennsylvania-based companies like Wawa, Dick's Sporting Goods, QVC, and Chewy for not doing more to pass statewide LGBTQ nondiscrimination rules, Philadelphia Gay News reports. Pennsylvania is the only northeast state without them.

BOX TOP: Gov. Tom Wolf wants to phase out the state's stagnant gas tax and asked for alternatives for funding upkeep of Pennsylvania's aging roads. One option being floated? Charging a fee for each package delivered by Amazon, FedEx, UPS, and others statewide, the Morning Call reports. 

PA SPECIAL: If you're new to Pennsylvania, welcome. Now, allow us to explain those liquor laws. Calling ours some of the most "frustrating and restrictive" in the nation, The Inquirer explains why you can't buy at-home beer, wine, and liquor in the same place here

PARK REC: A push is afoot to turn the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area into a new national park, Capital-Star reports. DCNR chief Cindy Adams Dunn says the location checks all the right boxes, with history, natural amenities, and four million annual visitors.

SAY CHEESE: A new macaroni and cheese-flavored ice cream from Pittsburgh-native Kraft Heinz and Brooklyn-based Van Leeuwen Ice Cream goes on sale today. And while the internet is full of schadenfreude-fueled skeptics, Eater says "this gimmick is actually delicious."
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: Interstellar

Congrats to our daily winners: Mary Ellen T., Susan D., Michelle T., Don H., Neal W., Barbara F., Susan N., Jessica K., Heidi B., Dianne K., Irene R., Doris T., George S., Diane P., James B., Wendy A., Elaine C., Kim C., Elizabeth W., Karen W., Suzanne S., Craig W., David W., Dennis M., Myles M., Theodore W., Beth T., and Craig E.


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