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‘Unemployment cliff’ coming for 550K in Pa.

Plus, the little borough with a big police overtime budget.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
August 31, 2021
Unemployment cut, solar array, dropped calls, overtime pay, hidden grief, contractor case, and a bear attack quiz. It's Tuesday, thanks for checking in.
Expanded unemployment benefits expire after this week, ending a pandemic-era lifeline still relied on by hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians.

The Associated Press reports the extra $300 per week and extra 13 weeks of benefits made available under the expanded program will be no more

Benefits extended to the self-employed, freelancers, gig workers, and contractors — not groups typically covered by unemployment insurance — are also ending. 

The Associated Press says roughly 640,000 people in Pennsylvania stand to be affected. More than 550,000 of them are set to lose benefits altogether.

Gov. Tom Wolf's administration said Monday that there are sources of help for people who need it once their unemployment benefits run out, including federal rental assistance through counties, Medicaid, food stamps, and temporary cash assistance for low-income families.

THE CONTEXT: An estimated 11 million people nationwide stand to be impacted, and while normal state benefits remain for those who still qualify, roughly 7.5 million people will be cut off from jobless aid entirely.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh called cutting off the extra $300 weekly payments "appropriate," noting states still have large amounts of federal stimulus funds at their disposal. 

But in Pennsylvania, only 20% of federal rent relief funds available to the state had been distributed as of June, with thousands of applicants stuck in backlogs, Spotlight PA reported.

Meanwhile, a federal eviction ban for people living in U.S. counties with higher rates of COVID-19 transmission was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court last week. Local bans remain unaffected but also few and far between. 

"I'm going in there with 20 strong men, I'm going to speak to the school board, and I'm going to give them an option: They can leave or they can be removed." 

GOP candidate for Northampton County executive Steve Lynch threatening school officials who back mask mandates

COVID-19 UPDATE: Two Democratic state lawmakers want kids under 18 to be able to get a COVID-19 vaccine without parental consent; the European Union is eyeing a ban on nonessential travel from the U.S.; and anti-mask crowds have school board members calling it quits. To find the vaccine, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
» FUNDAMENTAL FLAWS: Join us Thursday, Sept. 9 at noon ET via Zoom for a free Q&A on addiction treatment oversight issues in Pennsylvania and how the state can keep people safe as they pursue recovery. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
Looking south from Colton Point into the Pine Creek Gorge, aka the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. Thanks, Gregg R. Send us your gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
POWER PLANS: There are so many large-scale solar-power projects planned for Pennsylvania they would generate more energy than coal or nuclear power if all came to fruition, the Post-Gazette reports. And that push means "an urgent need to educate landowners before a wave of land agents with solar leases in hand come knocking."

NO ANSWER: A shortage of police dispatchers in Philadelphia has left emergency calls unanswered and residents' faith in the city's emergency services shaken, Billy Penn reports. Nearly a dozen current and former dispatchers who spoke with the outlet said the shortage is driven by burnout, COVID-fueled illness, and sky-high turnover.

PAY GRADE: The average police officer in Dauphin County made $4,000 in overtime last year, while the average officer in Middletown Borough made almost six times that. PennLive wondered why the tiny town with a crime rate to match was spending so much on police overtime and reports the answer largely depends on who you ask

LIFE LOST: After profiling a Pennsylvania family racked by COVID-19 misinformation even as the disease tore through its ranks, WITF's Brett Sholtis revisited the story for NPR with a focus on "disenfranchised grief." The phrase refers to deaths considered controversial or stigmatized and can lead to grief with anger and shame

ON THE RECORD: A contractor whose work at York County Prison produced disturbing images and accusations of abuse was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in a British prison decades ago, York Daily Record reports. Joseph Garcia, then 21 and a member of the U.S. Air Force, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm in 1989.
TREE TROUT: Pennsylvania's state tree, the hemlock, is under siege and dying off. And York Daily Record reports that could shrink the highly sensitive brook trout’s habitat and numbers.

BEAR ME: With Pennsylvania's black bear population rebounding, it seems as good a time as any to share The New York Times' quiz on avoiding a bear attack. Pro tip: "Get closer to get a bear selfie" is always the wrong answer.

BILL TOWN: Williamsport isn't just the birthplace of little league baseball. The Undefeated reports it was also a stop on the Underground Railroad, thanks in part to a lumber raftsman named Daniel Hughes.

PIE LIFE: "Pittsburgh-style pizza" doesn't mean anything in Pittsburgh, but in Los Angeles, Eater reports, it's pizza that "channels the ethos of a blue-collar life," which doesn't really mean anything either, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. 

'NO GO: Pittsburgh-style taxidermy, meanwhile, is real and means leaving an apparently authentic rhino's head on a sidewalk in a neighboring borough. WTAE reports no one has come forward to claim it yet.
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: Antiquated

Congrats to our daily winners: Susan F., Craig W., Neal W., Michelle T., Beth T., Irene R., James B., Susan D., Susan N., Doris T., Becky C., Patricia M., Ronnee G., Eddy Z., Dennis M., Kim C., Marty M., Joel S., Heidi B., Karen W., Craig E., Elizabeth W., Dianne K., George S., Suzanne S., Diane P., Don H., Bruce B., Ron P., Daniel M., Judith D., Tish M., Mike B., Elaine C., David W., Bruce T., Alice B., Carol D., and John R.
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