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A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
July 26, 2021
No inquiry, fatal crash, Tioga targets, fraud claim, testimony trades, race lessons, and Pennsylvania's Olympic hopefuls. It's Monday. This is PA Post.
JOIN US: On Wednesday we're hosting a virtual Q&A about the millions of mostly hidden taxpayer dollars lawmakers spend on personal accommodations (register here); and on Thursday we're hosting a virtual panel about rental assistance available in Pennsylvania as the federal COVID-19 eviction ban comes to an end (register here).
POLICY PROBE
The country's top law enforcement agency will not open an investigation into whether Pennsylvania violated federal law by ordering nursing homes to accept residents treated for COVID-19.

The U.S. Department of Justice informed Gov. Tom Wolf's office of the decision last week after reviewing relevant information supplied by state officials, the Associated Press reports.

More than 250,000 COVID-19 patients were accepted by nursing homes nationwide in the 12 months through March 1, according to federal data, 12,300 of those in Pennsylvania. 

The orders by Wolf and three other governors, all Democrats, were criticized for potentially fueling the spread of the virus and drew the attention of then-President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice. 

Republicans, who wanted the DOJ to continue the push under President Joe Biden, criticized the decision not to launch a formal probe, saying grieving families deserve answers

THE CONTEXT: Pennsylvania nursing homes and long-term care facilities accounted for half of the state's COVID-19 deaths as of March. 

As Spotlight PA reported, longstanding deficiencies in Pennsylvania's oversight of such facilities were laid bare by the pandemic, and the state's response to nursing homes in crisis was marred by delays and misinformation.

A targeted vaccine rollout also got off to a sluggish start.

But the AP notes it's unclear that the state policy requiring nursing homes to accept residents treated for COVID-19 — the same policy scrutinized by Trump's DOJ — was directly responsible for outbreaks and deaths, adding, "No investigation or report has thus far pointed to the policy as a cause."
KEEP THEM HONEST
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.

We built Spotlight PA on the premise that you, our loyal readers, will step up and contribute to journalism that holds the powerful to account and gets results. Put another way, without your support, we cease to exist.

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

"It's honestly alarming we are, three years later, sitting here replacing the system they spent so much darn money to put in. But it just doesn’t work."

—Reading Parking Authority Board Chairman Timothy Profit on the replacement of parking garage gates the authority spent $1 million to buy

VACCINE UPDATE: The White House says booster shots are looking increasingly likely and necessary, especially for the most vulnerable Americans, as variants spread and immunity from past shots wanes. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
📅 UPCOMING EVENTS
>> THE HIDDEN TAB: Join us Wednesday, July 28 at 5 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free Q&A about Pennsylvania lawmakers spending millions of taxpayer dollars on personal accommodations, and how these expenses are obscured from the public. Register here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
 

>> HOUSING PENNSYLVANIA: Join us Thursday, July 29 at 5 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free panel on everything we know about rental assistance as the federal eviction ban lifts. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org

📷 POST IT
Sunset on the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County, as captured by PA Poster Robert N. Thanks for sharing! Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
DAILY RUNDOWN
FATAL CRASH: Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Gerow was involved in a crash on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Chester County last week that killed a motorcyclist and shut down the highway for nearly seven hours, Spotlight PA reports. A spokesperson confirmed Gerow was the driver and said he is "cooperating fully with the investigation."

THREATENED: Tioga County officials who bucked plans for a Trump-backed audit of their election results are receiving threats and extra security, Reuters reports. "One individual, in an apparent reference to the county's commissioners, called them traitors and said there were 'plenty of trees' in a nearby gorge to 'hang ropes from,'" the outlet reports. 

DEFRAUDED: After months of hearing from victims of unemployment fraud, state Rep. Natalie Mihalek (R., Allegheny) says she was targeted herself, receiving a letter from the state denying benefits she never applied for, WPXI reports. Such fraud has spiked in Pennsylvania during the pandemic and rollout of a new computer system.

CASE FILES: Informants say Philadelphia detectives traded sex and drugs for testimony in murder cases — and that innocent people are serving life in prison as a result, The Inquirer reports. The claims are the focus of a third installment in the paper's ongoing series about police investigations dogged by claims of coercion, fabrication, and lies.

COURSE LIST: The Mars Area School District is looking to ban teachings of "Holocaust denial, The 1619 Project, the 9/11 theory, and Critical Race Theory" unless approved in a public meeting, the Cranberry Eagle reports. Elsewhere, PublicSource wants readers to share how their schools are talking about race amid a weaponizing of the issue.
IN OTHER NEWS
SWIM FAN: Hali Flickinger is one of dozens of athletes with Pennsylvania ties competing in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Flickinger won bronze in the women's 400-meter individual medley on Saturday. Her grandma watched in Spring Grove, telling York Dispatch, "I was just so nervous the whole time."

MORE MASCOTS: The real caption for a one-in-a-million Post-Gazette photo reads: "From outside Rivers Casino, a groundhog jealously watches patrons gambling inside the North Shore facility." But fake caption ideas are welcome, too, as Pennsylvania considers adding a third famous groundhog to the mix.

ROLLING LOUD: After telling critics of his recreational fireworks law to "get over it," state Sen. Gene Yaw (R., Lycoming) is proposing changes that would guide "reasonable" local controls, restrict hours fireworks can be used, and increase penalties for improper use, USA Today's Capital Bureau reports.

NAME CHANGE: A hundred miles down shore from Erie, Cleveland's pro baseball team has a new name, the Guardians, which it announced in a Rust Belt-romanticizing video featuring actor Tom Hanks — arguably the team's most high-profile fan, per Cleveland.com. 

TV TOWNS: Like a "Mare of Easttown" for the west, the Pittsburgh area is getting its own brooding television drama, this one starring Jeff Daniels, who just so happens to resemble Allegheny County's chief executive. "American Rust" premiers on Showtime in September. Watch the trailer here.
THE SCRAMBLER
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.
 
Y E G R N E T I S O

Friday's answer: Olympians (Also accepted: Amylopsin)

Congrats to our weekly winner: Daniel B.

Congrats to our daily winners: Doris T., Myles M., Elaine C., Susan D., Heidi B., Michelle T., Irene R., George S., Craig E., Dennis M., Diane P., Susan F., James N., Barbara A., Bob R., John P., David W., Mary Ellen T., Ana G., and Ron P.
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