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

Transportation funding would benefit region

Altoona Mirror

Dec. 19

One need not like President-elect Joe Biden or the incoming chief executive’s choice for U.S. transportation secretary to recognize a possible major opportunity for Pennsylvania, including this part of the commonwealth.

If Biden is successful in proceeding with his $2 trillion plan to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, much of it related to transportation, the Southern Alleghenies region should be determined to outstretch its proverbial hand for a meaningful share of what money becomes available.

Whatever infrastructure money Pennsylvania receives would have to be funneled through the state, but leaders here should already be brainstorming possible worthy projects for serious consideration, including preparing arguments for justifying those proposals.

Even if Biden’s plan ends up being less than the $2 trillion on which he campaigned, this region nonetheless should have the information in hand to demonstrate how whatever federal money comes here would be put to exemplary use.

President Donald Trump proposed a $1 trillion infrastructure initiative, but that idea never materialized. Now it is too late for Trump to assemble anything of the scope.

Therefore, it presumably will fall into the laps of Biden, his choice for transportation secretary, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and other infrastructure-oriented officials to succeed where Trump did not.

Even though the Southern Alleghenies region was not a great supporter of the Biden candidacy, that does not disqualify it from expecting to be remembered when infrastructure dollars are doled out.

Biden has promised to work on behalf of all of the nation. Soon will come his opportunity to prove that.

It is important to acknowledge that Democrat Biden’s infrastructure initiative will deserve scrutiny by Republican as well as Democratic lawmakers, to justify whatever spending decisions are made. But no attempt should be made to destroy them simply on partisan grounds.

Meanwhile, getting Pennsylvania’s proverbial ducks in a row — its project priorities — needs to ramp up to high gear as quickly as possible.

Pennsylvania’s two U.S. senators, Democrat Robert Casey and Republican Pat Toomey, need to be involved in infrastructure discussions, going forward, as well as members of Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration and the Republican-controlled state Senate and House.

Get out your Pennsylvania highway map and focus on the six-county Southern Alleghenies region — Blair, Bedford, Cambria, Somerset, Huntingdon and Fulton counties — and consider how the region could benefit if, for example, the final leg of Route 219’s long-awaited connection to Interstate 68 in northern Maryland were in place, if Route 220 south of Bedford were upgraded to better accommodate the significant volume of commercial truck traffic that uses it, if a greatly improved/upgraded/rebuilt Route 22 were extended east from the Hollidaysburg area.

Then there are the bridges still in need of repair or reconstruction, as well as water and sanitary sewer systems.

If Biden’s proposal gets the green light — and Pennsylvania should be out front urging that it does — the state, bolstered in part by the Southern Alleghenies region, should be ready with worthy proposals in hand.

This is a potential opportunity that, if it materializes, must not be botched, especially on the basis of unpreparedness.

Online: http://bit.ly/34HtavZ

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Struggling Lancaster County residents finally will get some relief from Congress, but don’t thank Sen. Pat Toomey

LNP

Dec. 22

A $900 billion coronavirus relief package was approved by both houses of Congress Monday night. It will provide $600 direct payments to most individuals and increase weekly unemployment benefit payments by $300. Negotiations almost fell apart last week when Democrats objected to a provision by Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey. The provision would have “closed down more than $400 billion in potential Federal Reserve lending powers established under a relief bill in March,” and barred the Fed from restarting the lending next year, The Associated Press reported. Democrats said the provision would hinder the Biden administration’s ability to help the pandemic-damaged economy.

We’d say we were shocked that Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey nearly single-handedly derailed the desperately needed relief bill, but that wouldn’t be entirely true.

This is the kind of fiscal shortsightedness for which Toomey is known.

The U.S. senator — who has announced he won’t seek reelection in 2022 — has been a voice of reason on issues like gun regulation, mask-wearing and the legitimacy of the November election.

But the former Wall Street banker has made stinginess his brand. He has been Ebenezer Scrooge — before the transformational Christmas Eve visits from ghosts — for much of his career.

From 2005 to 2009, Toomey was president of the Club for Growth, which co-founder Stephen Moore said sought to be the Republican Party’s “tax-cut enforcer.” The organization supported CEO pay raises, but opposed the Affordable Care Act, the auto bailout and a minimum wage increase. Essentially, the belief is that ordinary folks should be left to their own devices — that’s what bootstraps are for. And if they lack the means to pull themselves up and get ahead, that’s their problem.

But tax cuts for the well-to-do? Toomey has been enthusiastic about those. He championed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, asserting that “federal budget deficits will shrink as a result of this legislation.”

Federal budgets deficit ballooned. But according to the Center for Public Integrity, corporations saved $150 billion in taxes in 2018 alone, and stock prices soared. And wealthy members of Congress did pretty well, too.

Late last week, according to The Morning Call, as members of Congress tried to get a relief bill over the finish line, Toomey pushed to include a provision that would limit the Federal Reserve’s “capacity to establish lending programs similar to the ones Congress authorized in March to mitigate panic in the financial markets.”

Toomey’s provision would have limited the options of the incoming Biden administration, as it sought to deal with the ongoing pandemic and still-crushed economy.

“For a while this weekend,” The Morning Call noted, “it appeared that the Pennsylvania Republican’s stand might blow up the deal.”

Why? For what purpose? To reestablish his deficit-hawk credentials as he finishes out his term in the Senate and seeks a soft landing place? To make a point about the deficits that his party utterly failed to control under President Donald Trump?

We expect to see other Republicans remember suddenly that they are opposed to deficit spending once Joe Biden is in the White House. But Toomey’s aim to curtail the ability of the new leaders of the Treasury Department and the Fed to lend money during a national health crisis belongs in a special category of twistedness.

The Federal Reserve has offered low-interest loans to state and municipal governments. It’s not that big of a stretch to imagine a cash-strapped municipality needing to lay off police officers in the new year because it couldn’t meet payroll and couldn’t get a federal loan. In such a case, Toomey’s proposal effectively could have defunded the police.

Fortunately, its language was reworked in the final version of the relief bill.

Toomey told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” on Monday morning that he just wanted credit programs of the sort launched by the Fed in March to require congressional approval moving forward.

“These are unprecedented, extraordinary powers, and they’re only justifiable in a real emergency,” Toomey told CNBC. “We are clearly not in a financial crisis at this point.”

Tell that to the state and local government officials who, in the face of pandemic-related revenue shortfalls, are trying to figure out how to pay the bills.

Earlier this month, Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney — who was among the moderates to push a compromise stimulus bill — said he didn’t “like spending money we don’t have. But the time to borrow money, maybe the only time to borrow money, is when there is a crisis. And this is a crisis. We want to help people at this particular time.”

That should have been the priority of every member of Congress whose constituents are struggling — and likely will continue to struggle until the pandemic is in the rearview mirror.

But our elected officials seem to have a problem establishing priorities that put ordinary folks first.

We’re glad Congress has found a way to get relief to Americans, but $600 is a pretty paltry amount. And although $325 billion — including $284 billion in new loans through the Paycheck Protection Program — sounds like a lot, the “small business aid is only expected to cover less than three months of payroll costs ... while many employers don’t expect to resume normal operations for more than six months,” the website Politico reported.

We’re glad that the relief deal will extend the federal eviction moratorium to Jan. 31 — especially as Spotlight PA has reported that “Pennsylvania tenants and homeowners missed out on roughly $108 million of $175 million in federal coronavirus relief because state programs distributing the funding made it too hard to access.” This is inexcusable.

The federal relief package will increase food stamp benefits by 15%, but will not expand eligibility in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Politico points out. This is a shame, because a lot of people — including Lancaster County residents — are having a hard time putting food on their tables right now.

But don’t worry: According to Jeff Stein of The Washington Post, the White House has secured a tax break for corporate meal expenses — the so-called “three martini” deduction — in the relief package.

Priorities.

Online: http://bit.ly/2KLBVhv

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Bishop-elect Larry Kulick, a shepherd who knows his flock

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Dec. 19

Whenever someone comes into a new position, there is usually a learning curve. We don’t expect Monsignor Larry Kulick will have that with his new role.

On Friday, Pope Francis named him the new bishop of the Greensburg Diocese.

He already knows the mechanics of the office. He has been the diocesan administrator since September when Bishop Edward Malesic became the bishop of Cleveland. He spent previous years as the diocese’s vicar general.

But he knows more than that. This is about more than just the work — the important work — of the office or the honor of wearing the bishop’s miter.

The job is less about the hat and more about the bishop’s crosier — the staff that symbolizes a shepherd’s crook. It speaks about the faithful as a flock.

A good bishop should be like any good priest or pastor. He should care for and understand the people in his care. Steering the spiritual life of the 126,000 or so Catholics in the diocese is a job that Kulick, 54, is well suited to do. Over the past 28 years, he has tended congregations in Greensburg, Irwin, Kent, New Kensington and New Alexandria.

But more than that, Kulick is rooted in this region. A native of Leechburg, he was raised in the close-knit St. Martha’s congregation, founded by Slovak immigrants. He went to St. Joseph High School in Natrona Heights. He went to college and seminary at Saint Vincent in Unity.

He has spent his entire career ministering to the needs of people he understands because he is one of them.

It is that kind of unity that the church needs at any time, and especially in these difficult times, as it atones for a clergy sexual abuse scandal and seeks to maintain the moral authority of the church in the larger society. The faithful need to know they matter to the church, and there is no better way to show that than to elevate a longtime and committed servant from within.

“I anticipated that my mother would be emotionally overwhelmed. Instead, she was so delighted that I was staying in the region. That was her response, ‘You’re staying, you’re staying here,’ ” Kulick told the Tribune-Review.

The whole diocese could say the same.

Kulick will be installed as the sixth bishop of the Greensburg Diocese in February. He takes the seat with the earned respect and affection of his church and the goodwill of the entire region, which welcomes the work of a native son tending to the spiritual needs of his flock and beyond.

Online: http://bit.ly/3hfiytj

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An urgent appeal to help people without homes – or about to lose them – during this pandemic

Harrisburg Patriot News/Pennlive.com

Dec. 18

Here’s the stark reality, millions of Americans could become homeless this winter. And the coronavirus has made it more difficult than ever to help.

PennLive reporters Ivey DeJesus and John Luciew said three factors are aligning to create a catastrophic situation here and across the country: millions of people are losing jobs, COVID-19 is still spreading, and landlords who haven’t been paid in months are ready to evict.

The federal moratorium on evictions is set to expire on Dec. 31. Unless Congress extends the moratorium, or local governments act as has the City of Harrisburg, thousands of people like Bobby Mitchell, 61, will have to pay their rent soon or move out – in the dead of winter. This is a looming disaster that should disturb all Americans.

Nationwide, an estimated 6.7 million people could lose their homes this winter. Many likely will turn to area homeless shelters for help. And there’s a real threat they could be turned away.

As DeJesus and Luciew report in a series of articles on PennLive, there just aren’t that many beds available in our region to offer to those without a place to sleep in December. COVID-19 has only worsened the situation as churches and other organizations have closed, and as fewer people are able to volunteer in a pandemic that has claimed more than 300,000 lives nationwide, with more than 13,000 of them in Pennsylvania.

Organizations such as Christian Churches United are hard at work making sure people who sleep under bridges are still connected to the outside world.

Darrel Reinford and Aisha Mobley, with Christian Churches United, are making sure people without homes who become sick in this pandemic can get treatment. They’re making sure people without homes can get a shower, make a phone call and have a place to get mail. And they’ll be helping them fill out and mail the federal forms to apply for stimulus checks we all hope will appear soon.

But if congress doesn’t act soon, Reinford and Mobley likely will be overwhelmed by the sheer number of families who will be begging for help.

DeJesus says her reporting on this project has taught her one startling truth – there is no one face of homelessness. Anyone can find herself homeless and in need. Anyone can lose a job as well as healthcare and be kicked to the curb with their furniture.

Those of us with family and friends may have a cushion of protection for a while, and that is what is masking the real toll of COVID-19 and its shadow of job losses and suffering.

Thousands of people have moved back in with parents, shacked up with relatives or are sleeping on the sofa of friends. But, if truth be told, many of them are homeless.

Homelessness in the era of COVID-19 is a bigger social issue than just the people in the shelters and in tents under the bridges. And it’s likely to get bigger.

The good news is there are many organizations preparing for what they fear is a looming crisis. But they need community support. They need more help from corporations in our region – not just to write check, Reinford said, but to share expertise. So, if you can help these good folk turn a warehouse into a homeless shelter, they could use your help.

We join Christian Churches United and the Capital Region Coalition to End Homelessness in an urgent appeal to our entire community. They need donations now, during this bleak winter, to serve those who are most vulnerable to both the cold and COVID-19.

And we join them in asking businesses with resources and know-how to support their efforts to help people who are homeless this winter.

If you’re wondering what organizations to contact or how to reach out, DeJesus has compiled all the information you need. Check out her story now on PennLive and answer this most urgent appeal for help.

Online: http://bit.ly/34D7OzQ

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