Government Affairs & General Updates
July 18, 2023
1. What’s next as Pa. prepares to spend $1.2B on broadband - Before Pennsylvania can spend an almost $1.2 billion windfall of federal funding for high-speed internet, it must figure out how to use it. More than 270,000 locations across the commonwealth can’t get internet at speeds that meet the federal government’s minimum standard for broadband, hampering their access to government services, healthcare, and education. State-level efforts to improve broadband availability have long been stymied by a lack of funding, given the scope of the problem. Now, long-awaited federal grant dollars will give fast, reliable internet connections to thousands of residents. President Joe Biden’s administration announced the grant allocation in late June after months of anticipation. Earlier in the year, state and local officials scrambled to give feedback on the federal map used to decide how much money each state would receive. The Biden administration said the money will supply broadband to everyone in Pennsylvania. “People have been talking about the digital divide for decades,” Evan Feinman, the federal official overseeing the broadband grant program, told Spotlight PA. “We are going to close that divide once and for all.” Read More
2. State Supreme Court says it will weigh in on whether insurance companies should have to cover business losses from COVID mitigation measures. The fight over COVID pandemic mitigation efforts aren't over even if almost all of those mitigation efforts have been fading in the rearview mirror. The state Supreme Court last Thursday announced it will take up the appeals from disputes between a tavern owner and a dentist and their insurance companies over whether the businesses' insurance policies should have covered some of the financial losses they suffered during pandemic business shutdowns. The court's move comes after the Superior Court handed down - on the same day - different opinions in cases that sound identical. In the tavern's case, Allegheny County Court had originally sided with the tavern owner, but the Superior Court overturned that decision. The Superior Court ruled in favor of the insurance company, concluding that because the pandemic mitigation measures didn't cause physical damage to the tavern, the losses weren't covered. In the dentist's case, both Allegheny Court and the Superior Court sided with the dentist.
3. Pending state budget calls for $100 million shift in mental health funding. A sum of $100 million already appropriated for adult mental health needs is redirected for school mental health grants under the state budget bill awaiting final enactment over two weeks after the deadline. House Bill 611 redirects the $100 million of federal American Rescue Plan funds from mental health services to school mental health grants, according to a bill analysis by the House Democratic Appropriations Committee. This directive is in the supplemental appropriations section of Senate-amended House Bill 611 passed by both chambers, but yet to be signed by the Senate Republican presiding officer amidst a partisan budget dispute. HB611 includes another provision added by the Senate Republican Majority Caucus to appropriate $50 million in emergency relief for hospitals and health systems for several measures, including for expanded mental health capacity. The $100 million for adult mental health needs was first included in the Fiscal Year 2022-23 budget, the last of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf's tenure, but enabling legislation to spend the money didn't pass both the House and Senate before the end of the fiscal year.
4. Partnership to grow health care workforce in Central Pa. - A new partnership aims to fill the gap in the health care workforce. UPMC in Central Pa., Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, Cumberland Valley School District (CV) and SCPa Works are partnering with Emerge Education to provide UPMC employees and CV high school students access to health care certification programs. Emerge Education, which offers healthcare programs, custom program portals and tuition assistance management tools for the healthcare industry, said the partnership aims to increase employees’ skills and inspire students to start a career in healthcare. All online certification courses will be delivered through Harrisburg University, Emerge Education said. “Healthcare systems, like many industries across the country, are facing staffing and skills challenges,” said Lou Baverso, president of UPMC in Central Pa. “That’s why we are pleased to work with Emerge and our other partners to invest in area residents and help them develop into the next generation of health care workers who will provide outstanding care to central Pennsylvanians for years to come.” According to recent reports, healthcare occupations are projected to grow 13% from 2021 to 2031. However, Emerge Education said the healthcare industry is still experiencing significant staffing and labor skills shortages, which are driven in part by an aging population that requires more services and a growing number of individuals with chronic illnesses. Read More
5. Opinion | We fixed I-95 in 12 days. Here are our lessons for U.S. infrastructure. Infrastructure is the backbone of America, and our nation’s progress has often been tied to our ability to complete major projects that spur economic growth and create real opportunity. Yet today it often seems like every project — big or small — gets mired in a slog of reviews, permits and delays. This saps our innovative spirit, reduces citizens’ trust that government can get things done and ultimately slows our progress as a nation. After a critical stretch of Interstate 95 — one of the nation’s busiest highways — collapsed in Philadelphia in June, experts told me it would take months to get traffic flowing again. Instead, state and local leaders and project managers on the ground made decisions quickly, thought creatively and worked together to rebuild and reopen the highway in just 12 days. The playbook we developed shows that Americans can do big things again. And thanks to the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, states and cities now have billions of dollars to spend on everything from highway and bridge repair to broadband expansion and clean energy. Read More