Gov. Tom Wolf speaks at Lancaster Health Center on Friday, 7/24/20 (Office of the Governor)
Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
The dog days of August are officially upon us. And were this any other year, we’d have one eye on that weekend we’ve earmarked for one last bit of beach time and the other on the list of stories that we’d saved up for the inevitably slow news days in the run-up to Labor Day.
But this isn’t any other year.
As the first weekend of August dawned, millions of Americans lost $600 a week in enhanced unemployment benefits as Congress and the Trump White House deadlocked on a new coronavirus relief package. School districts across Pennsylvania began firming up their plans for the coming school year, with many, including Philadelphia, opting to open for remote learning for the first several months of the new term.
And as America bade farewell to the late John Lewis, and paid tribute to his titanic legacy as a champion of civil rights, the debate over racial justice and police reform continued on the streets and in the halls of power across the country.
So as this first week of August officially begins, here are three things to keep in mind on this very warm Monday morning.
1. No one agrees on anything anymore.
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin ventured to Capitol Hill on Saturday for a round of talks with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., which, while not producing a breakthrough, didn’t result in a catastrophic meltdown either. So they at least have that going for them.
Republicans, you might recall, have offered a $200 a week enhancement, buying time to come up with a 70 percent wage replacement that factors in a state-provided benefit. Democrats have dismissed the plan, pointing out that the HEROES Act, which was approved by the House in May and has been sitting in the Senate for two months, would extend the $600 weekly enhancement through the end of the year.
“We will be close to an agreement when we have an agreement,” Pelosi said, according to the Washington Post, providing some emphasis on how much daylight there is between Democrats and the White House.
Meadows wasn’t much sunnier: “We still have a long ways to go,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” the Post reported Sunday. Meadows added that he was “not optimistic that there will be a solution in the very near term.”
As the two sides negotiate, there are women such as Kimberly Snook, 56, of Phoenixville, Pa., who told the Capital-Star’s Stephen Caruso in a story we published Friday, that she was still waiting for her first unemployment check from the state after applying for benefits in March.
That story, the result of a nationwide investigation by reporters across the States Newsroom network (our parent organization) paints a vivid picture of the human toll that’s been exacted by the pandemic-provoked breakdown in the economy.
In Colorado, unemployed restaurant workers and labor groups held a mock funeral to mark the expiration of that enhanced benefit. The metaphor, according to Elise Gantzler, an unemployed restaurant worker, could not be more apt.
“Death,” she said. “That’s why we’re doing this funeral. This is literally a matter of life and death.”
Negotiations resume today.
2. Virtually in the classroom.
Over the weekend, the suburban Harrisburg district where my daughter goes to school circulated a draft reopening plan that calls for a mix of in-person and remote learning when classes resume in early September. As we move into August, more and more districts are rolling out their plans, with some large districts, such as Philadelphia, announcing that they’ve opted for online-only learning during the early months of the school year.
On Sunday, the Washington Post published a harrowing first-person account of the nightmarish choices facing school officials as they try to safely reopen schools.
Jeff Gregorich, the superintendent of a “high-needs district in middle-of-nowhere Arizona,” is frank in his conversation with the Post’s Eli Saslow, saying simply of the prospect of risk-free reopening: “I’m sorry, but it’s a fantasy,”
“Kids will get sick, or worse. Family members will die. Teachers will die,” he tells Saslow.
Indeed, after much talk about how invulnerable young people are to the virus, a teenager in Fresno, Calif., became the first child in the Golden State to die as a result of the pandemic. Details were scarce, according to ABC-30, but it is known that the youth had an underlying condition.
The news could not have come as much comfort to parents (including this one) who are sweating their kids’ return to class in a few weeks. There are simply too many unknowns, too much that we don’t know about this virus, that sending kids back to school seems like a roll of the dice that simply isn’t worth the risk.
3. An election — if you can keep it.
On Friday, President Donald Trump took a hard right-turn into the authoritarian fever swamps, floating the idea that the November election might have to be put off because of the non-existent threat posed by mail-in balloting. Congressional Republicans who are facing tough re-elects, and who know their salvation might well lie in absentee and mail-in ballots, immediately pushed back.
Trump can’t postpone the election. He doesn’t have the authority. Only Congress can do that. And if Republicans aren’t interested, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as long she continues to breathe, is even less interested in moving such a bill out of her chamber. So the issue, at least procedurally, is a non-starter.
And on Sunday, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows walked back the president’s remarks even further, saying the White House had no plans to try to delay the election.
But the entire debate does serve to underscore how methodically Trump has been working to undermine the credibility of mail-in balloting, and to build a case for questioning the legitimacy of the final result (whenever we know that). It also reinforces how utterly unserious Trump has been about supporting efforts to secure the vote, and how it’s been left to states and counties to ensure the integrity of the vote.
Speaking to the Brennan Center last week, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said extra federal funding to secure the election is critical.
“With extra funding, and given the pandemic, I think we should also, if possible, provide for pre-paid postage for ballots,” she said. “That would help voters avoid, for example, having to wait in line in a public space to get a stamp. I would also love to send applications to every voter. I do think that extra funding is absolutely critical for us to have the most effective election in November.”
On Friday, the Wolf administration announced that it was picking up the tab for postage on mail-in ballots, a cost that, depending upon turnout, could run into the millions of dollars. The state is dipping into unspent stimulus money to cover the cost.
Mail-in balloting, as the MSNBC host Joe Scarborough is wont to observe, is an 80-20 issue. While there are partisan divisions, more voters support it than oppose it. But as is the case with police reform and the fight over Confederate monuments, Trump is on the wrong end of this issue, too.
If it’s a sop to the base, and it surely is, then one has to wonder why he’s working so hard at it. If there’s any voting bloc that should be onside, it’s the hardcore Trumpistas. But it’s the other voters — independents and Obama backers — who were so key to his 2016 win that Trump should be worrying about.
And he should be especially worried about Pennsylvania, where voters gave him dismal marks in a Franklin & Marshall College poll last week.
Less than half of Pennsylvania’s millennials own a home, Cassie Miller writes, as she dives into the data for this week’s edition of The Numbers Racket.
With classes moving online, Elizabeth Hardison looks at the sudden — and very stiff — competition for students between Pennsylvania’s public schools and the state’s online charter schools.
Cheyney University has partnered with the Wistar Institute to offer an expanded suite of STEM classes, our partners at the Philadelphia Tribune report.
On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Dick Polman wonders whether ex-Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who’s backing Joe Biden, can build a bridge to disaffected Republicans, and get them to vote against President Donald Trump. And one education innovator in Philadelphia says the pandemic has given us an opportunity to completely reimagine public education.
En la Estrella-Capital: La administración de Wolf reprende el memorando del censo de Trump sobre inmigrantes indocumentados. Y en la nueva encuesta, los votantes de Pa. se dividen en las líneas del partido cuando se trata de usar mascarillas.
PhillyMag examines the impact the pandemic is having on Philadelphia’s real estate market.
PennLive wonders whether Pennsylvania’s colleges and universities will be able to survive the pandemic.
New polling data says Pennsylvanians think it’s important to follow pandemic safety guidelines. But are they walking the talk? The Tribune-Review takes up the question.
Three members of Allentown City Council are calling for censure of two of their colleagues over their participation in Black Lives Matter protests, the Morning Call reports.
The Citizens-Voice runs down the reopening plans for schools across NEPA.
Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:
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WHYY-FM looks at some of the unconventional methods being used to get undercounted neighborhoods included in the census.
Students in the State College Area School District rallied over the weekend to get officials to address bias and inclusivity issues, WPSU-FM reports.
PoliticsPA runs down last week’s winners and losers in state politics.
Stateline.org looks at how the lack of public data is getting in the way of fighting the pandemic.
Josh Marshall from Talking Points Memo chats with author and Never Trumper Tom Nichols.
What Goes On.
The Senate Majority Policy Committee meets at 10 a.m. at Monongahela Valley Hospital in Monongahela, Pa.
The Senate Democratic Policy Committee meets at 11 a.m. Its session will be live-streamed.
Gov. Tom Wolf holds a 1 p.m. presser at the Susquehanna Twp. Police Department in suburban Harrisburg to talk about the role that law enforcement plays in containing the spread of COVID-19.
What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
State Sen. Joe Pittman holds a 10 a.m. golf tournament at Indiana Country Club. Admission runs $100 to $6,000.
You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Belated best wishes go out this morning to longtime Friend O’the Blog, Wayne County Clerk Andrew Seder, who celebrated on Saturday, ditto for PennLive’s Wallace McKelvey. Additional belated best wishes go out to another longtime Friend O’the Blog, Stephen Drachler, who celebrated on Sunday. Congratulations go out this morning to Brendan Schubert, of Triad Strategies, in Harrisburg, who celebrates today.
We’ve had this song wedged sideways in our head since we heard it on Friday. Now it’s your turn to join us in Ear Worm Land. From Peach Tree Rascals, it’s the preposterously catchy “Mariposa.’
Monday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Hockey came back big over the weekend, with an amazing three games a day in the bubble cities of Toronto and Edmonton. There’s really only one game that matters: Carolina takes on the New York Rangers at noon today. A very on-form Hurricanes squad bested New York 3-2 on Saturday in Game 1 of their Stanley Cup qualifier. We have a phone. Don’t expect us to answer it any time after noon today.
And now you’re up to date.
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