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A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
July 30, 2021
Rent relief, spending tracker, mask guidance, 'integrity' knocks, Lamb's plan, bipartisan push, and the 'Gateway to the West' becomes a barrier. It's Friday!
JOIN US: Next Thursday, we're hosting a virtual panel about rental assistance in Pennsylvania as a federal COVID-19 eviction ban comes to an end. Register here.
DUE DATES
With a federal eviction ban days away from ending, thousands of anxious Pennsylvanians are still waiting for rent relief from the state amid a massive backlog of claims.

One Pittsburgh-area renter told Spotlight PA she is down to “$50 and a full tank of gas” after five months of waiting on rental assistance and an unemployment claim. Another said he's worried when help finally comes, it might already be too late, adding, "We shouldn’t have to wait until we are evicted."

Pennsylvania was given $870 million in federal funding for a second round of pandemic-era rent and utility relief, and officials vowed to improve on a disastrous first round that saw two-thirds of a $150 million pot used to shore up law enforcement budgets instead

But the second round has seen just $133 million — or roughly 17% of the available funds — distributed so far, and thousands of applicants are left waiting.
 
THE CONTEXT: At least 44,000 applications were pending at the end of June, while 17,500 had been completed.

Pennsylvania has delivered a larger share of its total allotment than most other states, and advocates agree this round of rental assistance is better than the last — though they say a patchwork of county-run programs led to uneven results. 

The stakes are dramatically higher now with the looming end of an imperfect-though-still-vital federal eviction ban, one President Joe Biden is urging Congress to extend past July 31, while claiming he lacks the authority to do so alone.

That ban has kept Stacey Horrocks in her house in Boyertown for 11 months. She applied for rent relief through the state in March, but her application stalled in April.

Now, Horrocks owes her landlord more than $18,000 and worries she could still be evicted for staying past the end of her lease even if the rent relief comes through. 
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

"The current attempt to discredit the 2020 election results runs headlong into an unmistakable truth. Donald Trump lost Pennsylvania because Donald Trump received fewer votes."

—State Rep. Dan Laughlin (R., Erie) on the push for a third-party audit of Pennsylvania's election results being urged and led by some in his party

VACCINE UPDATE: Pennsylvania's Department of Health will text reminders to some 254,000 people who never got their second dose of the two-shot COVID-19 vaccine. The campaign will begin early next week. 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

>> HOUSING PENNSYLVANIA: Join us Thursday, Aug. 5 — we've changed the date — 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
Thanks, Chris M., for this shot of lotus plants on the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
DAILY RUNDOWN
URGENT NEEDS: Spotlight PA's tallying of Pennsylvania's pandemic-related spending led us to the state's emergency procurement program — a faster and, critics say, less transparent way for agencies to purchase urgently needed supplies and services. Many requests were straightforward, like bulk orders of masks and gloves. Others were more controversial, and some were downright curious

MASK PLAN: Pennsylvania officials don't plan to reimpose mask rules but they are urging fully vaccinated people to follow updated CDC guidance and resume masking indoors in areas with substantial or high COVID-19 transmission rates. Track which Pennsylvania counties have substantial or high transmission rates currently, via the CDC.

ELECTION INTEGRITY: A self-proclaimed "election integrity committee" stands accused of voter intimidation after members reportedly knocked on doors across York County to ask how residents voted and for whom, York Dispatch reports. York is one of three counties being targeted in a separate, Trump-backed audit of Pennsylvania election results. 

IN LIKE A LAMB: U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb (D., Allegheny) is expected to formally launch his long-rumored U.S. Senate bid in August, three sources tell Roll Call. Lamb enters a crowded field and at an opportune time: His seat might be on the chopping block when legislators redraw the state's congressional map with new census data later this year

HURDLE JUMP: Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) voted in favor of taking up a nearly $1 trillion national infrastructure plan after a bipartisan group of lawmakers reached an early agreement on major aspects. Pennsylvania's other senator, Republican Pat Toomey, voted no. The plan ultimately cleared the hurdle but, as Axios reports, still has a long road ahead
IN OTHER NEWS
LONG RUN: It's been 85 years since a Connellsville native, Pitt freshman, and runner named John Woodruff won gold in Nazi Germany's Summer Olympics. Per NPR coverage from 2016, Woodruff was one of the Black U.S. athletes to win medals on Hitler's watch, only to return home as second-class citizens.

REAL BIG FISH: Aaron Jones of Camp Hill reeled in a 38-inch flathead catfish from the Susquehanna River in the shadow of the Market Street Bridge. The photo, shared by local magazine The Burg on Facebook, is impressive. The massive catch was returned to the water moments later.

MAD ONES: Tuesday's Volant Borough Council meeting began with members threatening to call the police on a reporter and ended in an unrelated parking lot argument between various people, complete with tongue wagging and the reported mocking of an official's serious illness, per New Castle News.

FEE FINDER: Fifteen years after a law made the Pennsylvania Turnpike help fund transit systems statewide, the turnpike commission made its final $450 million deposit this week and will now pay a comparatively modest $50 million a year through 2057. PennLive says toll hikes should get smaller, too.

WILD WEST: The one-time gateway to the west is now a barrier against the westward spread of rabies in raccoons. Allegheny County, home to Pittsburgh, is vaccinating the animals via bait, a project that "plays a critical role in rabies management and prevention in the U.S.," a manager told TribLIVE.
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.
 
L L E T A R A I B

Yesterday's answer: Homogenous 

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Michelle T., Bruce T., Jessica K., Elaine C., Suzanne S., John P., Irene R., Susan F., Neal W., Patricia M., Myles M., Susan N., Al M., Don H., Susan D., Heidi B., Dennis M., Barbara M., Steve D., Clayton L., Rick D., Dianne K., Kimberly B., Kevin H., Chris R., Diane P., Carol D., Bill S., Jill A., Mary Kay M., Karen W., David W., Barbara A., Beth T., Elizabeth W., Daniel M., and Anne R.
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Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and WITF Public Media.

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