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New records reveal extent of Wolf admin failure

Plus, the state's two largest cities are searching for new school superintendents.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Spotlight PA Staff
September 29, 2021
Full impact, expressing doubts, mask bill, big departures, green money, child-care help, jail assault, and free stuff on a fake holiday. Welcome to Wednesday.
Good morning reader,

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The failure by Gov. Tom Wolf's administration to clarify federal rules around addiction treatment funding and medical marijuana caused even greater confusion than previously disclosed, a new Spotlight PA investigation found.

In September 2019, the federal agency that pays out hundreds of millions of dollars to Pennsylvania each year to combat the addiction crisis began warning recipients not to permit “marijuana use for the purposes of treating substance use or mental disorders.”

That was particularly serious here, in one of the few states to endorse cannabis as a treatment option for opioid use disorder.

The rules weren’t as restrictive as they might have seemed, however. A few months later, federal officials sent new guidance that said people could still use medical marijuana as long as they worked toward alternative treatment options.

But for 17 months, the Wolf administration didn’t communicate the change with local drug and alcohol offices directly responsible for delivering services to Pennsylvanians.

THE CONTEXT: It’s impossible to know the full scope of harm caused by the state’s delayed action.

But a Spotlight PA investigation — based on a review of hundreds of pages of documents and emails obtained through open records requests — revealed workers on the front line of Pennsylvania’s opioid epidemic faced conflicting messages, widespread uncertainty, and fears of losing critical funding.

Previous reporting by Spotlight PA found Tyler Cordeiro, a 24-year-old Bucks County man, was wrongly denied funding assistance in September 2020. He died of an overdose weeks later.
With so much on the line this fall — from redistricting to voting reforms to the GOP's review of the 2020 election — Spotlight PA's tough, nonpartisan journalism is more vital than ever. Give now and we'll DOUBLE it »

"I always think you should get the least amount of info that you need."

—State Treasurer Stacy Garrity, a Republican, on an election subpoena from members of her party that seeks partial Social Security numbers

COVID-19 UPDATE: Pfizer says its vaccine is safe for kids between the ages of 5 to 11; child cases are starting to surge in Pennsylvania; and fact-checking misleading claims. To find the vaccine, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
» CRISIS OF CARE: Join us Friday, Oct. 8 at noon ET via Zoom for a free Q&A on rising rates of Alzheimer's disease in Pennsylvania, the barriers to care, and the solutions urged by advocates. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
Thanks, Ardith T., for this shot of the harvest moon. Send us your gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
DOOMED BILL: Republicans in the state Senate on Tuesday advanced a bill that would give parents the opportunity to opt out of the state's school mask mandate. The Capital-Star reports that Gov. Tom Wolf will veto the measure if it reaches his desk. 

DEPARTURES: Pennsylvania's two largest cities are searching for new school superintendents. Billy Penn reports that William Hite will leave the School District of Philadelphia at the end of the academic year, while Pittsburgh's Anthony Hamlet has resigned following an ethics inquiry.

GROWING GREEN: State lawmakers want to use $500 million from March's American Rescue Plan Act to boost Growing Greener, according to the AP. The program provides grants for environmental projects including watershed restoration and abandoned mine drainage.

FINANCIAL HELP: Pennsylvania is using $655 million in federal stimulus money to provide grants to licensed child-care providers, WITF reports. More than 900 providers closed between March 2020 and the end of August 2021, and advocates say the pandemic has had a "significant impact" on the industry. 

REPORTED ASSAULT: Philadelphia officials are investigating an alleged jail assault against state Rep. Kevin Boyle, who was arrested for violating a protection from abuse order. "He allegedly was hungry and ate one of the other guys’ food," a source told The Inquirer.
POT PLAN: Two state House Democrats have put forth a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana use for Pennsylvania adults. Like a similar bill in the state Senate, it's unlikely to go anywhere in the GOP-led legislature

EAGLE UPDATE: The National Aviary in Pittsburgh is still looking for Kodiak, the Steller’s sea eagle that escaped Saturday. Officials believe he's close to home, and they're asking for the public's help to bring him home.

SAVING SNAKES: Fans of the *checks notes* eastern massasauga rattlesnake will be pleased to know the feds have approved a plan to save the venomous species. Yes, this is actually good news for Pennsylvania's ecosystem

GRATIS JAVA: It's apparently National Coffee Day, a completely made-up holiday. Still — you can get a free cup today at Wawa, Starbucks (with a reusable cup), and Panera (if you're a parent or caregiver).

IT TAKES A VILLAGE: Two Central Pennsylvania groups are building 15 tiny homes for homeless veterans in Dauphin County. The $3.5 million "village" will also include a community center.
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: Antediluvian

Congrats to our daily winners: Susan F., Eddy Z., Neal W., Michelle T., Kevin M., Susan N-Z., Suzanne, Rob K., Susan D., Joel S., Kimberly S., Beth L., Don H., Lex M., George S., Karen W., Elaine C., Ann and John, Bruce T., Bill S., Tim B., Doris T., David W., Kim C., and Craig E.
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