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Property tax rebates at risk, emergency room desert, and overriding the executive branch

Plus, Pa. pensioners want a pay raise, too.

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A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
September 22, 2022
Shrinking benefits, amendment raft, cost of living, ER closures, hazing charges, child gambling, and legalizing Sunday sports. It's Thursday.
The number of people benefitting from a state program that helps older Pennsylvanians pay their rent and property taxes has shrunk by more than 25% over the past decade.

According to a Spotlight PA analysis, that works out to 160,000 fewer households getting help. 

The main issue? State lawmakers haven’t updated the income limits for homeowners to qualify in more than 15 years. For renters, it’s been more than 35 years. As incomes have gradually increased over time, buoyed mostly by inflation, it has become harder to qualify for a rebate.

Read the full report: Thousands of older Pennsylvanians at risk of losing property tax rebates because of legislative inaction

THE CONTEXT: The Property Tax/Rent Rebate program gives homeowners and renters who are 65 or over, or disabled, a partial refund on rent or property taxes paid the previous year, as long as they meet the income requirements.

For homeowners, who make up roughly two-thirds of rebate recipients, the income cutoff is $35,000. The threshold for renters is much lower, $15,000.

The program received a one-time, $140 million boost this year, paid for with federal pandemic aid — a move praised by Democrats and Republicans alike as a way to combat soaring consumer prices. 

But without changes to the income limits, more people will be left behind — people like Tracy Berryman and her husband, who are both retired and disabled, with an income roughly $1,000 too high to qualify.

“It’s either pay my property taxes, or do I not pay this bill or that bill — it’s always something,” she said.

"I'm always in pain with it. It's a matter of pain you learn to deal with."

—Cal Hollman of Harrisburg was shot 30 years ago and is among the survivors of gun violence still living with what PennLive calls "forever wounds"
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» THE STATE OF PA ELECTIONS: Join us Thursday, Sept. 29 at 6 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free Q&A with Acting Secretary of State Leigh M. Chapman, who oversees elections in Pennsylvania. Chapman will discuss how her agency secures and runs elections, explain the state's voting policies, and answer all of your pressing questions ahead of Nov. 8. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
A quick guide to all of Spotlight PA's 2022 election coverage:

»  Your complete guide to the candidates for governor
»  Where Mastriano, Shapiro stand on LGBTQ rights
»  How to vet the candidates on your midterm ballot
»  How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania's 2022 election
»  Tell us what election coverage matters to you

En Español:

»  Su guía completa de los candidatos a gobernador

Support Spotlight PA's vital election coverage by making a gift now.
» NBC: The six types of races that will decide control of the US House
» PENNLIVE: 'Prophet' who calls Biden 'antichrist' stumps for Mastriano
» POLITICO: Why we may not know who won the Senate on Election Day
» INQUIRER: Fetterman's social media spending dwarfs Oz's (paywall)
» FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: People of color are underrepresented on ballots
A big field of allergies along Swatara Road in Hershey, via Ed R.  Send us your photos, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.
BIG BILL: A constitutional amendment package that would let voters decide, via ballot question, whether to revoke the right to an abortion in Pennsylvania also includes a less-publicized provision that could make it easier for lawmakers to block environmental rules and executive orders, Capital & Main reports. Gov. Tom Wolf is suing to stop the effort and the ballot questions — the likes of which rarely fail.

PAY HIKE: Pennsylvania's state and public school retirees haven't seen a cost-of-living increase to their pensions since 2004. With state lawmakers set to receive potentially historic inflation-related raises of their own, the pensioners are urging the General Assembly to make the change, The Inquirer (paywall) reports. Co-sponsorship memos are circulating, but advocates know the odds are long.

CARE GAPS: Emails obtained by WHYY show Crozer Health is eyeing the closure of the emergency department at Delaware County Memorial Hospital and potentially the permanent end of emergency care at another facility amid financially motivated service cuts. Hours away in Berwick, a local ER under different owners is already gone. Residents told WNEP the closest ER is now 30 minutes away.

HAZING CASE: Ten students are facing charges in juvenile court over hazing activity at Middletown High School that led to the cancelation of the school's football season weeks ago. The charges, announced by Dauphin County prosecutors on Tuesday, include attempted sexual assault counts against two team members, the AP reports. Video of the incident was posted online.

ON THE FLOOR: A Poconos casino is facing a $160,000 fine after children as young as 11 were found gambling there, per Lehigh Valley Live. The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board said an 11-year-old girl played 10 slots at Mount Airy Casino Resort while both parents were present and cashed two vouchers, while two 13-year-old girls were found gambling at slot machines with their mother.

DEBT RELIEF: The White House says 1.7 million Pennsylvanians are eligible for student-loan forgiveness. Here's how to know if you're one of them — and what to do if you paid your loans off during the pandemic.

GAME ON: Technically, it's illegal to play baseball or football on Sundays in Pennsylvania except between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. But Capital-Star reports a bill to rescind the old and unenforced law is on the move.

THE BASE: Congratulations to Team Youse for its 15-13 win over Team Yinz in Tuesday's Capitol All-Stars Charitable Softball Game, played by Pennsylvania state lawmakers. And a hat tip to everyone involved in this play.

SPORTS DRINK: The beard is excellent, but what about the wine? The Inquirer (paywall) has a taste test of 76ers star James Harden's new line of accessibly priced vino. The verdict? "It wasn't the worst."

PET CAFE: Pennsylvania's "first pet cafe with bunnies" will open in downtown Pittsburgh this fall. Per Pittsburgh Mag, Hop Along Cafe is a sober space and a queer space focused on inclusivity and animal adoptions.  

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 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

*Bonus: Guess this week's theme on Friday for an extra chance at winning a shipment of Spotlight PA swag. 

Yesterday's answer: Saturation

Congrats to our daily winners: Michelle T., Mike B., Kevin M., Mary Jo J., Warren D., Don H., Barbara F., Starr B., Susan N.-Z., Craig W., Kimberly D., Judith D., John A., Ted W., John B., George S., Elaine C., Mark C., Johnny C., Kim C., Steve H., Nancy S., David W., Jody A., Wendy A., Eddy Z., Bethany R., Dianne K., Tom O., Bill S., Jim A., Joel S., Doris T., Jude M., Rick A., Becky C., Cynthia R., James B., and fitch387.
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