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Counties seek clarity on opioid windfall spending

Plus, jury weighs synagogue shooter's fate.

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A daily newsletter by The logo of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Tanisha Thomas

Wednesday, August 2, 2023
Financial uncertainty, SAVE plan, records ruling, 911 'high utilizers,' death penalty decision, unhealthy air, and an LGBTQ+ sanctuary.

A state oversight board that’s responsible for allocating how counties spend hundreds of millions of opioid settlement dollars approved Lancaster County’s proposal to put $275,000 toward a drug task force.

But whether the county will actually do so is now unclear amid ongoing debates about how Pennsylvania's windfall should be spent.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Pa. counties face uncertainty as they grapple with how to spend opioid settlement funds.

THE CONTEXT: Agreements with Johnson & Johnson and three major drug distributors are expected to bring over $1 billion to Pennsylvania in coming years, most of which will go to counties. Other opioid cases are expected to bring even more. 

Spotlight PA and WESA reported in April that some counties want to use the settlement money to help police officers make arrests. But a range of advocates argue the money would be better spent on nonpolicing efforts. 

“These funds were intended to help individuals start rebuilding their lives,” Jason Snyder, an addiction treatment advocate, said.


“How on God’s Earth are we still burning fossil fuels after witnessing all this?”

University of Pennsylvania climate scientist Michael Mann on the litany of this summer’s weather extremes
Support vital journalism for Pennsylvania: The future of local news is in your hands. Donate now to Spotlight PA.
» HD-21 candidate's Facebook posts, J6 presence scrutinized, via WESA

» Pa. counties on budget wait 'at breaking point,' via @StephenJ_Caruso

» The state budget stalemate hits Pa. nonprofits hard, via WFMZ

» Study: EV fleets would save gov't up to $360M, via StateImpact

» House Dems rally against school vouchers in Philly, via Inky (paywall)

» How Local Gov't Works: Join us Thursday, Aug. 3 from 6-7:15 p.m. ET on Zoom for a free panel on oversight issues in local governments, how to hold officials accountable, and where you can turn to address issues with municipal services. Register here and submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org


A thriving Miss Kim lilac whose beauty, Beth L. of Reading says, "is only surpassed by its fragrance." Have a photo you'd like to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

A bush with purple flowers and green leaves in a grassy area.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.LOAN RELIEF: CBS News explains everything you need to know about SAVE, the Biden Administration’s new income-driven student loan repayment plan. The plan comes months after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked Biden’s effort to erase up to $20,000 in debt per student borrower. Pennsylvania's share of student debt is especially high.
  • RELATED: Pa. college aid expert says SAVE plan is 'a significant step in the right direction,' via TribLIVE
Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.REVERSED RULING: A Bedford County judge ruled a regional planning commission in southwest Pennsylvania can withhold public records and does not have to comply with the state's Right-to-Know Law. The Altoona Mirror reports the findings reverse a ruling that considered the commission a government agency subject to open records rules.
  • RELATED: A fight over public records could threaten novel approach to broadband in rural Pennsylvania, via Spotlight PA archives
Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.PRIMARY CARE: PublicSource offers a look at the Pittsburgh firefighters and other public servants who provide medical services to "high utilizers," people who regularly rely on 911 as their primary health care provider. One of those firefighters, Lt. Chad Hirosky, told the outlet, "If someone's calling 60 times, there's definitely a gap of care."

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.PENALTY DECISION: Deliberations began Tuesday to determine whether convicted Pittsburgh synagogue gunman Robert Bowers should receive the death penalty or life in prison. In their Monday closing arguments, prosecutors emphasized Bowers’ antisemitic beliefs, and the defense emphasized his difficult childhood.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.SECONDHAND SMOKE: In Western Pennsylvania, the health impacts of the smoke from the Canadian wildfires in June and July rivaled indoor secondhand cigarette smoke, researchers at Rutgers University found. One researcher noted climate change could make such air quality more common. Smoke from those ongoing fires is on the move again.
Investigative journalism that gets results: Spotlight PA's vital work depends on you. Donate now.

UNHOUSED REALITY: In 2022, York Dispatch (paywall) spent six months documenting the lives of unhoused people and the challenges they face in York City and surrounding areas. It's providing updates this week.

CREDIT TARGETS: Students and graduates of Pennsylvania universities are prime targets of credit card companies, according to a new survey. The findings come at a time when credit card debt has hit record levels.

BLACK TRAVEL: A virtual reality exhibit in Pittsburgh highlights the historical struggles of traveling while Black in the U.S using firsthand accounts.

SANCTUARY CITY: The Erie City Council adopted a resolution in late July declaring the city an LGBTQ+ sanctuary. It's also made enforcement of any state, county, or federal anti-LGBTQ+ law the "lowest priority."

MOVIE REUNION: Almost 30 years after starring in the Pennsylvania-set comedy That Thing You Do!, Jonathon Schaech tweeted a photo of a recent meetup with his co-star from the film, Tom Hanks.

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. Answers submitted by 5:30 p.m. on issue date will be counted.
Yesterday's answer: Extravaganza

Congrats to our daily winners: Kevin M., Becky C., Johnny C., Eric F., Barbara F., Susan N.-Z., Michael K., Ronnee G., Marty M., Ted W., Jane R., Jill M., Jodi R., Stacy S., Mark C., Robert K., Judith D., Sherri A., Tracy S., David T., Don H., Jennifer C., Carol S., Beth T., Kimberly D., Jon W., Elaine C., Julie K., Bruce B., Adrien M., Susan R., Mike B., Steve D., Michelle T., John F., Bill S., Georgann J., Daniel M., Susan D., Vicki U., Stanley J., Craig W., Ted B., Chuck M., Ben P., Geoff M., Theresa C., Marla C., Kim C., Joel S., Richard R., Dennis M., Vanessa J., Anthony W., Jill K., Craig E., Tish M., Victoria F., William Z., Sheila P., John E., David W., Pam A., Karen W., Leslie B., Ada M., Daniel S., Tom M., and Starr B.
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