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News You Can Use - Jan 19, 2022

January 19, 2022

News You Can Use - Jan 19, 2022

The MLK tug-of-war:

Last week we wrote about the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King and the importance of taking time to rest and reflect on how we continue to bend the moral arc of the world towards justice. While our readership has grown, that message didn’t seem to get through to powerful people who use social media to misquote the Reverend Doctor. Despite being one of the “white moderates MLK warned us about,” Hillary Clinton really thought she did something with this tweet while the government organization that destroyed him in life felt safe tweeting about his death. As we push for the justice our families need, we remember the histories that brought us here and that those who designed the systems keeping us down are still in charge.

Re: Districting

The conversation over redistricting continues as everyone awaits final approval of the new State House and State Senate maps. This week the Penn Capital Star reports on some communities of color that are objecting to the new maps. At issue is the question of the best way for Black and Brown communities to have a powerful voice in State Government. Is it better to have one district that’s 80% Black or to have two districts that are each 40% Black? Which gives the Black community more power in Harrisburg? The newly proposed maps tend to favor the latter approach. House Republicans are particularly upset by the new districts created in Harrisburg, Lancaster, Allentown and Reading.

Saleem Holbrooke, Executive Director of the Abolitionist Law Center, weighs in on prison gerrymandering in a new op-ed: “Prison gerrymandering takes the practice to new depths, beyond the three-fifths compromise of 1787, by wiping out prisoners’ voices altogether, counting them as residents of the counties where the prisons are sited, not the communities they call home, and to which most will eventually return.”

For the new federal district map, Wolf and Republicans in the General Assembly are no closer to a deal than before. In response to a GOP proposal last month, Wolf has released his own proposed new maps. Wolf’s maps would give a slight edge to Democrats statewide, and would create a newly competitive district that would encompass the cities of Harrisburg and Lancaster. Neither Wolf’s proposal nor the GOP’s has any real likelihood of passing. If the two parties can’t agree on a map by January 30th, a map will be imposed by the State Commonwealth Court. In such a scenario, the primary election might have to be delayed in order to accommodate the confusion.

COVID response

The Biden administration has officially launched it’s COVID testing website that will allow Americans to order 4 free rapid tests per household per month. This effort appears to be too little and too late as much of the country appears to have peaked from the recent Omicron surge and last week the head of the FDA, Dr. Janet Woodcock,  testified before Congress that everyone will likely get COVID.

Facing increasing scrutiny from experts, the Biden Administration has also announced a plan to distribute 400 million, free N95 masks through community health centers and retail pharmacies beginning late next week.

They also faced scrutiny from the public. Much like his predecessor, Biden has appointed business leaders in charge of White House COVID response where there should be medical professionals. You can sign on to this open letter to Jeffrey Zients to demand more from this administration in Plague Year 3.

ARPA funds:

Friends of the pod at the U.S. Treasury Dept have released their final rule on American Rescue Plan Act funds for state and local governments. These ARPA funds are used to “fight the pandemic and support families and businesses struggling with its public health and economic impacts, maintain vital public services, even amid declines in revenue, and build a strong, resilient, and equitable recovery by making investments that support long-term growth and opportunity.” This final rule has expanded what these funds can be used for as well as simplifying some of the reporting processes for smaller local governments.

The Treasury has provided an easy to understand overview of the final rule on it’s website. In some of our cities, the money is going towards capital investments and not our suffering neighbors. Chapters like Lancaster Stands Up are speaking out at commissioner and council meetings to demand that the money is used for its intended purpose. You can too! What could your community do with the money?

Candidates:

Every year is an electoral year and our chapters have started their endorsement processes for some local and state races. Reclaim Philadelphia released their candidate responses last week ahead of their membership vote. If you want to get in on the endorsement action with a chapter near you, you can contact them to find out more about dues membership!

Fair Funding

In Harrisburg, the hearing for fair public school funding continues. While to some, it seems like a no brainer that public education desperately needs more funding, lawyers for the defense argue that some students are undeserving of basic knowledge. A lawyer for Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman asked “What use would someone on the McDonald’s career track have for Algebra 1?”

In Lehigh Valley, organizers are planning a watch party for students to answer that very question, and see how the people that represent them feel about their future. Set your own watch party wherever you are in the state using these resources.