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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
January 7, 2022
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Rent money, Fairmount fire, secret siege, shale stoppers, 'sophisticated schemes,' pill pay, and the big butter sculpture reveal. It's Friday. Nice.
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INSUFFICIENT FUNDS

Pennsylvania's largest city is ending its rental assistance program, a lifeline for tens of thousands of households in the midst of pandemic-era economic upheaval, because the program is out of money, PhillyVoice reports.

Philadelphia has distributed more than $248 million to almost 39,000 households that needed help paying for rent and/or utilities because of the pandemic since May 2020, at one point averaging 1,500 new requests each week. New applications will be accepted until 5 p.m. today.

The city's much-touted eviction diversion program will continue under a new process outlined here.

Spotlight PA reported last year that Berks County had run out of emergency rental assistance money and that Philadelphia was close behind.

THE CONTEXT: As Berks and Philadelphia exhausted the federal relief funds that fed their emergency rental assistance programs, counties like Cumberland and Forest sat on millions in unused aid

A state spokesperson said the Pa. Department of Human Services is looking to redistribute unspent money to where it's needed most, but as of last month, it wasn't clear when that will happen, or how much counties might receive. 

A state survey from September found $41 million was available to be redistributed, while counties reported needing $286 million more.

NOTABLE / QUOTABLE

"We've been trying to pass school choice for the past 25 years ... I will be the governor that will sign a school choice bill on my desk the first year."

—Candidate Dave White, one of 13 Republican gubernatorial hopefuls to join the crop's first debate at Dickinson College on Wednesday
💉 COVID-19 NEWS
» NEW HIGH: Pennsylvania set a new record for COVID-19 hospitalizations on Thursday, with 6,446 people receiving care, surpassing the previous record of 6,346 patients set on Dec. 16, 2020, LNP reports.

» AIR SUPPLY: A UPMC spokesperson tells TribLIVE that if there is a silver lining to be found in the latest surge, it's that their hospitals have fewer people on ventilators than they did at this same time last year.

» ON GUARD: Medics and support personnel from Pennsylvania's National Guard will help federal "strike teams" sent to ease hospital overcrowding in Lackawanna and York Counties, per the Post-Gazette.

» LOW VACANCY: A New York Times tool uses U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data to track ICU bed capacity at hospitals near you.

To find a COVID-19 vaccine, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your zip code to 438829 (GETVAX).
📷 POST IT
A New Year's Day walk at Black Moshannon State Park in Centre County. Thanks, Don H. Send us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
DAILY RUNDOWN
FIRE REPORTS: Sources tell The Philadelphia Inquirer that a child playing with a lighter near a Christmas tree may have started a fire that killed 12 people, eight children among them, in the city's Fairmount neighborhood early Wednesday. The investigation into the house fire, one of the deadliest in recent American history, continues. An official cause has not yet been announced. Here's how you can help survivors.

OFF LIMITS: A day before the one-year mark of the U.S. Capitol siege on Thursday, a Bucks County school district sent a letter telling teachers not to talk about the events with students, even if they ask. WHYY reports the Pennridge School District note told teachers to instead say "the investigation is ongoing and as historians we must wait until there is some distance from the event to accurately interpret it."

FRACK FOES: Jo and Tim Resciniti of West Deer Township were worried when they learned that shale gas development was planned near them. They were also told there was nothing they could do about it. But in a surprise development, the Post-Gazette reports local officials were ultimately convinced to deny the project a permit, a rare occurrence made all the more possible by amateur research and a 2019 court ruling.

FRAUD FINDS: Officials say "sophisticated" schemes are being used to steal unemployment checks in Pennsylvania. But experts tell ABC27 the schemes aren't sophisticated at all: The state's new system just isn't secure. Meanwhile, delays are proving costly for those with legitimate claims, some of whom have been waiting months without seeing a single check. Fraud has also impacted those with no claims at all.

LOW COVER: Billy Penn reports the FDA's decision to permanently allow abortion pills to be obtained by mail may make abortions less costly and more accessible in Pennsylvania overall — a state where half of women live in a county with no clinic. But with rare exceptions, the pills won't be covered by insurance policies sold through the state-run marketplace, and the state's Medicaid program won't cover them at all.
IN OTHER NEWS

BUTTER BEAT: The 2022 Pennsylvania Farm Show butter sculpture has been unveiled. Gone is "Gritty", replaced this year by a more traditional theme: "Harvesting More." PennLIVE has a chat with the artists and, most importantly, a look at the half-ton, high-cholesterol carving.

NEW MANAGEMENT: Johnstown has had eight city managers in as many years, most on an acting or interim basis, as new candidates refused to move to the city, Tribune-Democrat reports. Now, a residency requirement is gone and city officials say a full-time manager should be in place by Jan. 31.

BLUE STREAK: Conneaut Lake Park's Blue Streak roller coaster was felled by fire this week. TribLIVE writes of the park and ride: "It was the place where the Northwestern Pennsylvania mills held their company picnics, and where generations of kids enjoyed their first plunge on a roller coaster."

FOR BETTY: The late, great Betty White was famous for lots of things — her animal-focused philanthropy among them. Now, one week after her death at the age of 99, the “Betty White challenge" is sweeping the nation and a Hermitage animal shelter is among those benefitting from her legacy.

OFFICIAL POET: Philly has a new poet laureate: Her name is Airea D. Matthews; she's a professor at Bryn Mawr and Rutgers, mom to one of Philly's past youth poet laureates, and, naturally, an accomplished wordsmith.

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.
 
T A Z A Z Z M R A Z
 
Yesterday's answer: Aggrandizement

Congrats to our daily winners: Susan D., Don H., Michelle T., Kimberly S., Craig E., Kim C., Alan V., Susan N.-Z., Doris T., George S., David W., Suzanne S., Bill S., Joel S., James B., Elaine C., Keith F., and Craig W.
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