- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania’s newspapers:

COVID takes heavy toll on Pa. kids

Erie Times-News

Sept. 1

Medical treatment for child abuse injuries has spiked during pandemic.

We talk about the damage wrought by COVID-19 in terms of lives and jobs lost. But as USA Today Network reporter Candy Woodall detailed, the virus is taking a hidden toll on the most vulnerable among us - children.

They often might be spared from coronavirus infection. But isolation created by school closures and community shutdowns and the economic and mental strain the pandemic places on parents and caregivers has been accompanied by an alarming surge in child abuse cases.

Reports of suspected child abuse are down in Pennsylvania and that is no wonder, since some of those best positioned to spot abuse and neglect and report it - teachers - for long months could not see children except perhaps via video links.

But as abuse reports dropped off, the number of children treated by doctors for serious abuse-related injuries has jumped, Woodall reported.

In 2019, 144 children died or nearly died of abuse or neglect statewide, according to state data. In 2020, from Jan. 1 to July 15, that number had already surpassed the previous year’s total, climbing to at least 155. The number represents those referred to child welfare investigators, according to the state Department of Human Services.

Doctors at Penn State Children’s Hospital saw a surge of serious injuries begin in June, with some children winding up in critical condition in the intensive care unit. Dr. Lori Frasier, chief of the hospital’s child abuse pediatrics division, told Woodall that that added parental stress caused by the pandemic, including unemployment or having only one parent available to care for children, is leading to abuse.

In Philadelphia, Dr. Norrell Atkinson pointed to another form of injury to children on the increase, more cases of children ingesting toxic substances, including drugs abused by their parents.

Abusers don’t usually inflict violence or neglect in the open. They act in private and often threaten children to keep them from telling someone who could help.

Many children have or soon will return to in-person schooling. Putting them within view of teachers adds a critical layer of protection. But some children might remain at home and perhaps in danger.

This trend calls for all of us to remain alert to and report suspected signs of child suffering or neglect around us and lend support to the agencies that are on the front lines, offering services and support to abused children.

If you encounter families struggling under the pressures created by this pandemic, reach out.

The Children’s Advocacy Center of Erie County website, www.cacerie.org, lists resources to help people weather the pandemic safely, including information about the Safe2Say Something program, www.safe2sa.pa.org. It includes an app that puts users in touch with help at any time.

Online: https://bit.ly/2F3hhX6


If Philadelphia is taking gun violence seriously, it’s not showing

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Sept. 2

Philadelphia crossed a horrific milestone this weekend: 300 homicides before September, a number of homicides not seen for 13 years. More than 200 people were shot in each of this year’s summer months - the bloodiest months in years.

This is both a tragedy and a major failure for this city. Three years ago, Mayor Jim Kenney established the Office of Violence Prevention (OVP) in order to coordinate a disparate group of well-meaning but unproven initiatives across departments. Its current budget is $9.5 million a year.

Earlier this month, in a cringe-worthy hearing in City Council, OVP leaders had few answers to basic questions: How much did the city invest in violence prevention strategies last year? How much will it invest in fiscal year 2021? How much goes to social services vs. law enforcement? What services are offered? Since the Roadmap of Safer Communities was introduced in January 2019, how many people did OVP engage?

The hearing came nearly two weeks after OVP launched Group Violence Intervention - a rebrand of Focused Deterrence strategy that identifies high-risk individuals, increases their supervision, and offers them services. Even though the strategy was in planning since summer 2019, by the time of the hearing, OVP still didn’t have key details nailed down - including an itemized budget.

Vanessa Garrett Harley, deputy managing director for criminal justice and public safety, which oversees OVP, told Council: “Don’t mistake the fact that we don’t have the numbers as a lack of urgency or caring.”

Not having details and numbers is part of the Office of Violence Prevention’s history.

There has been a steady chorus demanding OVP to evaluate its programs from its inception. Even before OVP’s creation, Inquirer columnist Helen Ubiñas has been demanding the city require programs and organizations that receive gun violence prevention funding prove that their efforts work. This board has joined the call multiple times.

The Community Crisis Intervention Program, one of OVP’s flagship programs, deploys street outreach workers to defuse tensions before they escalate into violence. In September 2018, OVP said it expected the program to lead to a 5% reduction in shootings citywide within a year. Gun violence increased, and the program was never evaluated - its budget was expanded anyway to $1.5 million. OVP didn’t even start collecting basic data on CCIP until January 2019.

Group Violence Initiative is allegedly going to be different. But despite the program’s original start date in April, OVP has no answers on the status of a contract for an independent evaluation - or on basic figures on outreach to high-risk individuals.

The Kenney administration often touts its gun violence prevention programs as “evidence-based” with “proven results,” but that’s not precise - the programs are based on those that have proven results elsewhere. That does not mean that Philadelphia is implementing them with fidelity.

Seeing reductions in gun violence from GVI could take time. But time is running out for a blind trust in programs while homicides and shootings are in the sixth year of increase. On Thursday, City Council will hold another hearing on gun violence. If OVP can’t show reductions in shootings, they should at least be forced to show their work.

Online: https://bit.ly/2DnO5K5


The Super PACs are seeking your undivided presidential attention

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Sept. 1

OK, Pennsylvania, it’s your turn.

If the presidential election were like baseball, the regular season would be over. The wild card games are over. Thanks for playing, Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson. The divisions are done. We know who won the pennants. It’s all over but the World Series.

Just like the World Series, in the end, the presidential race always comes down to just a couple of key locations. After months of almost mattering in the primaries only to once again miss that mark, the Keystone State is taking its usual prominent place in the march toward November.

With 20 precious swing state electoral votes at stake, winning Pennsylvania is like winning a critical Game 5 in a best-of-seven. It might not win it all alone, but you can’t win without it.

And, boy, do the teams realize that.

On Monday, former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, visited Pittsburgh’s Hazelwood neighborhood. On Thursday, President Trump will be stumping in Unity.

But it’s not just about the big players. There is a deep and well-funded bench, too.

Super PACs, those political action committee heavy-hitters that brim with money and looser campaign finance rules than the official campaigns, are swinging for the fences in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

An 82-year-old grandma from Westmoreland County named Janie expresses her disappointment with Trump in two ads for American Bridge 21st Century, a Democratic group. A stocky union fracker named Shawn accuses Biden of working to put him and everyone he knows out of work for the Republican group America First Action.

Both sides are pouring millions into media buys targeting the state’s voters and issues. American First Action is spending $23 million on a four-state advertising campaign that includes Pennsylvania.

So what does that mean for residents?

A very long nine weeks.

Pennsylvania usually gets attention during these end days of a presidential race. This year, between the deluge of big-ticket advertising, the in-person visits from the candidates and their surrogates and a barrage of paid social media campaigns and pointed off-the-cuff comments that could be targeted for maximum viral impact, state voters could feel like they are being peppered with 95-mph fastballs.

What’s important is to filter out the crowd noise and the heckling. If we keep the game being played firmly in mind, it can make it easier to pay attention to the spin. We can take what we see in an ad and do the research to find out if it’s a line drive or a foul ball.

And we can remember the reason Pennsylvania is being taken to this ballgame is the millions of votes at stake.

Online: https://bit.ly/32PIWDd


Get back to work, Sen. Toomey

The York Dispatch

Aug. 28

Surely you’ve heard some of this before, senator.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., visited York on Wednesday to discuss the effects the coronavirus pandemic has had on the local economy.

Apparently, he wasn’t expecting to hear from local political leaders pleading for federal money.

York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler, a Republican, and York City Mayor Michael Helfrich, a Democrat, went to the forum Toomey and Rep. Scott Perry, R-Carroll Township, were holding with economic leaders, and both turned the conversation to the struggles local governments are having.

York City, which has been in a precarious financial positions for years, is facing losses in revenue of 5% to 10%, Helfrich said.

“I’m not hiring cops now because I have no money,” he said. “They’re retiring but I’m not hiring.”

Wheeler pointed to the inequities of funding for counties from the CARES Act, which was passed in March. Counties with more than 500,000 residents received money directly from the federal government, while funding for York County, with about 450,000 residents, was funneled through the state. As a result, York County, with a population that’s 83% of Lancaster County’s, received less than half of the $95 million Lancaster received.

On top of that, York County last month resorted to setting aside $14 million of its $40.5 million CARES Act allotment to focus on small businesses, restaurants and nonprofits after the federal Paycheck Protection Program failed to reach too many small businesses that most needed it.

“We have 14,836 businesses in York County. Ten thousand of those are small businesses,” Wheeler said. “We anticipated that 70% of those 10,000 small businesses did not receive PPP.”

In York County, at least $232 million in loans were doled out under the program. Of that, loans of less than $150,000 accounted for roughly $62 million, or 27%. About $170 million, or 73%, went to firms seeking more, up to $10 million.

Still, the senator argued that restrictions on CARES Act funding were put in place deliberately. Offering local governments unchecked freedom in regards to how those funds are spent “doesn’t seem quite right,” he said.

“When we go back and say, ‘OK, well now we’ll change the rules, and do whatever you’d like with that money,’ it’s just a complete windfall for dozens of states,” Toomey said.

He also said the initial restrictions to make sure the aid was used only to reimburse COVID-19-related expenses were expected to be at least partially lifted by now but haven’t been.

There are a lot of other things that were supposed to happen by now but haven’t, senator. When the CARES Act was passed in March, the thought was the pandemic would be over within weeks, but here we are five months later with case numbers still rising.

On May 15, the House passed the Heroes Act, which would roll out $3.4 trillion in aid to extend increased unemployment benefits, provide another stimulus check, give aid to schools as they reopen, fund the U.S. Postal Service and more.

This happened, by the way, with no help from Perry, who voted against the Heroes Act, along with Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, and nearly all other Republicans in the House.

And nothing in terms of COVID-19 aid has moved in Congress since then. There were negotiations between the Democrats and the Republicans and the White House. There were various deadlines that came and went.

Now, the Senate hasn’t been in session for three weeks, even as expanded unemployment benefits expired and the Aug. 31 moratorium on evictions grows closer and local governments struggle.

We can’t imagine that all of this has escaped Toomey’s notice. Pennsylvanians, the people he is supposed to represent, are in urgent need during this crisis.

We need him to go back to Washington and put pressure on his fellow Republicans in the Senate to make something happen for his constituents. The crisis isn’t going away. There’s no reason for senators to shirk their responsibilities any longer.

Online: https://bit.ly/2ETW4PL


On V-J Day, honoring our heroes

Altoona Mirror

Sept. 2

One wonders how many Americans know the significance of today.

It is the 75th anniversary of Victory over Japan, or V-J Day - and the end of the most horrific conflict the world has ever seen.

Though Japan’s surrender was announced on Aug. 14, 1945, the official observance in this country was set at Sept. 2. It was that day that Japanese and Allied dignitaries signed documents that officially ended the hostilities.

For many years, V-J Day has been an occasion for soul-searching among many Americans. Some contend the United States never should have used atomic bombs on the populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Few veterans of World War II seem to agree with that. They understand that had the bombs not been dropped, there was a very high probability they might have to invade Japan.

U.S. military planners had studied how that might occur. They estimated it would cost the lives of as many as 800,000 Americans. The lowest estimate as 400,000.

In addition, it was known that Japanese officials had prepared their population for fierce resistance to an invasion. It was estimated that had Allied forces landed in Japan, between five million and ten million Japanese would have perished.

But the debate will go on, perhaps for hundreds of years.

In contrast, our opportunities to thank the brave men and women who fought in World War II are limited.

More than 16 million of them were in the military during the war. Now, it is estimated fewer than 300,000 of them remain among us. Read the obituary pages of this newspaper for a few weeks. Chances are you will note the passing of more World War II veterans.

They are in their 90s or even older now - and many of them alone in that no one around them recognizes the terrible sacrifices they made and the horrors they witnessed and often endured.

This V-J Day, then, it behooves all of us to express our heartfelt gratitude to them once again. Thanks to them, after all, we can debate the decisions made in 1945.

Online: https://bit.ly/3bpnpVR


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