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Why two prosecutors are suing Pa.'s top cop

Plus, Pa. floats fix amid wave of phony jobless claims.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
August 3, 2021
Proof of ID, top cops, no foe, school ruling, 'immediate action,' retaliation claims, and why some Pennsylvanians are renting out their pools. It's Tuesday.
JOIN US: On Thursday, we're hosting a virtual panel about rental assistance in Pennsylvania now that a federal COVID-19 eviction ban, in place since September, has come to an end. Register here.
Pennsylvania officials have once again turned to an online identity verification tool as they work to counter a rise in fraudulent unemployment claims hitting the system at a time of historic demand. 

The Department of Labor & Industry says it's contracting with a vendor named ID.me to screen new applicants, per WHYY, and it's not the first time.

ID.me was brought on last year to help with a pandemic-specific jobless benefits program amid what state officials deemed a wave of targeted fraud.

But when the state launched a new computer system and claims website for its main benefits program in June — against the wishes of some experts and advocates — ID.me wasn't involved. 

Critics told WHYY the new site's easier-to-use interface lacked key controls, while state officials blamed media coverage they say drew fraudsters to exploit a system in flux. ID.me will vet new claims going forward, though it's unclear for how long or for how much money. 

THE CONTEXT: ID.me is being used by more than 20 state unemployment programs nationwide and allows a claimant to verify their identity by answering credit history questions, for example, or by using ID.me's facial recognition technology

The latter is not without controversy. 

Vice News reported on people in other states being locked out of benefits by ID.me's requisite app, while CNN reported on associated privacy concerns and facial recognition's built-in racial bias. (ID.me's cofounder says the app is more than 99% accurate.) 

In Pennsylvania, officials say the service will allow clerks to spend less time contending with fraudulent claims and more time getting legitimate ones into the pipeline.
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"The very premise that somehow this promise was made, it's not in writing and this very rich, well-lawyered person relied upon it and it's therefore enforceable, is crazy." 

—Nancy Erika Smith, a civil rights lawyer, joining critics of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision that saw Bill Cosby released from prison

VACCINE UPDATE: Twenty-five Pennsylvania counties were seeing substantial or high transmission of COVID-19 as of yesterday, and fully vaccinated people there should resume wearing masks indoors, per the CDC. Gov. Tom Wolf isn't planning new mandates but will continue work to get shots to the unvaccinated or partially vaccinated. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).

>> HOUSING PENNSYLVANIA: Join us Thursday, Aug. 5 at 5 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free panel on everything we know about rental assistance in Pennsylvania now that a federal eviction ban has lifted. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org

A five-lined skink is pictured getting low in Tionesta. Thanks for sharing, @johnmcculloughphotographySend us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
TOP COPS: Top prosecutors from Allegheny County and Philadelphia are both suing Pennsylvania's top cop, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, over an opioid settlement they say isn't good enough. TribLIVE reports DA Stephen A. Zappala Jr. is following Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner's lead in pushing back against a settlement with $1 billion in store for Pennsylvania, saying the amount is too low and the payments too slow.

PSERS PAL: Lawmakers, board members, and educators are furious with Pennsylvania's scandal-plagued public school employee pension fund. But a powerful teachers union is not. Per The Inquirer: "The [Pennsylvania State Education Association] remains what it has long been — a reliable bastion of support for the PSERS plan's embattled executives and their controversial investment strategies."

RACE BASED: Evidence of racial disparities will be allowed in a landmark Pennsylvania school funding trial after Republican legislators named in the suit unsuccessfully argued against its inclusion. Chalkbeat reports a judge ruled fair funding attorneys can present information on gaps in achievement and graduation rates but not "background evidence" on housing and employment discrimination or incarceration.

HOME AID: Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank says it will take "immediate action" to address tenant concerns at an affordable housing complex it owns in McKeesport, one week after PublicSource and WESA reported on surging numbers of health violations and 911 calls there. The nation's seventh-largest bank, with an estimated $469 billion in assets, PNC says it's seeking nonprofit partners, new tax credits, and federal help.
HUNGER STRIKE: Advocates say immigration agents and York County Prison staff are punishing migrant detainees who refused meals by taking away their access to phones, TVs, and showers, WITF reports. County and federal officials deny the claims. Advocates say dozens of detainees went without food in protest of their planned transfers to other detention facilities as York County ends its partnership with ICE.
OPEN SEAT: A special election to replace ex-state Rep. Margo Davidson, who resigned after being charged with theft and ethics code violations, will take place during the Nov. 2 general election, Capital-Star reports. Davidson, a Delaware County Democrat, allegedly misused taxpayer and campaign funds.

ICYMI: The above case has also renewed scrutiny of the state's lax rules around taxpayer-funded lawmaker spending on food, lodging, and other perks. For much more on the spending system and its glaring loopholes, watch this video of a virtual event hosted by Spotlight PA last week

PARTY FOUL: New Jersey's legalization of adult-use cannabis and a Dec. 3 directive from the state's attorney general have dramatically limited how and when police interact with partying teenagers up and down the Jersey Shore. And, The Inquirer reports, the police are none too pleased.

TIL: There's a new, Airbnb-style app that lets you rent your pool out to strangers. It's called "Swimply," and TribLIVE spoke with two hosts charging between $25 an hour and $45 an hour, depending on the day of the week. "They do this with RVs, homes — why not with pools?" one asked. 

TWINS: Months after the internet dubbed Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and actor Jeff Daniels doppelgangers, the two got together on the set of Daniels' new Pittsburgh-shot Showtime series to prove once and for all that they aren't, in fact, the same person.
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: Meaningful

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Susan D., Patricia M., Doris T., Becky C., Chris R., Neal W., Michelle T., Dennis M., Elaine C., Susan N., Marty M., Susan F., Steve D., George S., Suzanne S., Myles M., Don H., Diane P., Barbara A., Joel S., Irene R., Carol D., David W., John A., Kim C., Daniel M., and James B.
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