News

The VA Backlog Working Group has released a new report that shows wait times for care in the VA system are decreasing.

But chairs of the group, Sens. Bob Casey (D-PA) and Dean Heller (R-NV) said more needs to be done. To that end, they have introduced the 21st Century Veterans Benefits Delivery Act, legislation aimed at ensuring the VA can handle disability claims in slow and busy times, and provide accountability. One provision would require the controller general to audit the regional offices of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA).

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Dozens of members of the Service Employees International Union packed Pittsburgh City Council chambers Wednesday morning for a preliminary vote on a bill that would mandate increased training for security guards in the city.

Highmark has agreed to pay the approximately 30,000 outstanding medical claims filed by UPMC providers and facilities since January 1.

Gov. Tom Wolf called it a “major win” for patients. 

“My focus is protecting consumers caught in the dispute between Highmark and UPMC, and I have urged both companies to do the same,” Wolf said.

Sounding The Alarm For Volunteer Firefighters

May 6, 2015
Kate Lao Shaffner / WPSU

The idea of volunteer fire departments originated in Pennsylvania and it's certainly a hallmark of the state: around 90 percent of Pa.'s fire departments are volunteer. But these departments are facing big challenges. Volunteer numbers are down and for many municipalities, funding is an ongoing headache.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Applying for college seemed like the next logical step for Senque Little-Poole. The Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy senior said his educational experience has been a push to get a better grade, a better Grade Point Average and to get accepted into a good college.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA News

Last Tuesday, five local high school students engaged the community in a panel discussion focused on keeping classrooms relevant to students' everyday lives and their future goals. Recorded live at the Community Broadcast Center, panelists presented a critical reflection of the standards modern students are held to and how they sometimes overshadow learning. 90.5 WESA's Life of Learning series focuses on learning and education activities, opportunities and challenges in the Greater Pittsburgh area. 

Amma Ababio, for instance, voices concern about where -- and how -- schools and teachers place the emphasis on learning:

"So much of school is because of GPA, because you want to get into a good college for your GPA, because of the SAT test, and it detracts from learning. It detracts from actually learning material. It becomes 'How well can you memorize something in forty-five minutes? How well can you memorize something in two months?'" -- Amma Ababio


Is It Fair For City Workers To Use Overtime To Spike Their Pensions?

May 6, 2015
Lindsay Lazarski / WHYY

At the end of 2011, the city of Allentown had a problem. There was a gaping hole in its fire department.

No, not a literal hole. Forty-three of its firefighters retired at once. Not only did the city lose wisdom and experience. But suddenly, it owed millions of dollars more every year in retirement benefits it couldn't afford.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

It’s been nearly six months since Pittsburgh City Council introduced a bill that would require all rental property owners to register with and pay a fee to the city. A public hearing on the matter was held in early December, but the bill has continuously been held by council and has yet to come up for even a preliminary vote.

Flickr user Mike Licht

Allegheny County Council on Tuesday voted down a proposal to change the way the results of restaurant health inspections are communicated to the public.

The proposal would have tied existing narrative reports to number and letter grades, ranging from A to C, and posted those letter grades in conspicuous locations at the restaurant or food service site.

Only Councilman John Palmiere, chair of the Committee on Health and Human Services, voted in favor of the legislation.

On Tuesday, the city of Pittsburgh and the Port Authority of Allegheny County held the first of two public meetings to gather input on the proposed Forbes-Fifth Corridor.

About a hundred people attended the meeting to listen and share thoughts on the potential transportation infrastructure in the 5th/Forbes Corridor which links Downtown to Oakland, running through Uptown and part of the Hill District.

Airwolfhound / Flickr

The Pennsylvania Air National Guard’s 171st Refueling Wing will now be home to a KC-135 flight simulator.

That is the type of craft flown by pilots at the Moon Township facility. Previously, crew members would have to travel to the Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire to use a flight simulator, now they can stay in Pittsburgh and others will likely come into the region as well.

Larkin Page-Jacobs / 90.5 WESA

Making a living wage in the restaurant industry can be tough. Servers and bartenders rely on tips for the bulk of their income, and in the kitchen, the wage is set by the business owner.

Recently the restaurant Bar Marco made waves by announcing it would pay all of its workers a living wage. But at least one restaurant in Pittsburgh — Dinette in East Liberty — has been paying above industry standard for years.

Courtesy Nature Climate Change

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is slated to finalize its Clean Power Plan this summer, spelling out new carbon emissions standards for America’s 2,400 fossil-fuel-fired power plants.

According to a new paper published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change, Pennsylvanians are among those who stand to benefit most from the health impacts of lower carbon dioxide (CO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions.

“We find that there are health benefits in all of the 48 states that are modeled, but the states with the greatest benefits are Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas,” said co-author Dallas Burtraw, senior fellow at Resources for the Future, a DC-based research institute focusing on the environment and economics.

The state’s Independent Fiscal Office is not revising its estimated commonwealth spending gap of $1.6 billion for the current and upcoming fiscal years.

That’s in spite of a spike in revenues observed in the IFO’s latest report.

Tax collections have yielded $594 million more than the agency expected, but the lion’s share of that money is from corporate net income taxes, and it’s still a mystery why the haul is so large.

Are Young Municipal Workers Bearing The Brunt Of Pension Reform?

May 5, 2015
Kate Lao Shaffner / WPSU

Many Pennsylvania municipalities are already taking steps towards reforming their pension plans. Because municipalities cannot legally break pension obligations already promised, reform usually means changing the pension plans for new employees while older employees' pensions remain intact. So what does that mean? Is the younger generation bearing the brunt of pension reform?

Robyn Lambert

If walls could talk could be the premise for a tour of vacant homes taking place this weekend in Wilkinsburg.  The Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation  and Carnegie Mellon University students are combining their efforts to attract potential residents to the borough. How do they plan to accomplish this task? We’ll find out from Wilkinsburg CDC Communications & Outreach Coordinator Marlee Gallagher and Carnegie Mellon School of Public Policy and Management at Heinz College student Kenneth Chu.

Gallagher says that although they're encouraging a change in the area, the community's overall well-being and identity is still in the forefront of the initiative:

"I don't think it is gentrification necessarily. At the WCDC something that we strive to do and will continue to strive to do is to help the existing businesses that are in Wilkinsburg. We're working on a big small marketing campaign to show the Pittsburgh region and beyond what is in Wilkinsburg, what Wilkinsburg has to offer; and we do want more businesses to move in but its not necessarily to push out the businesses that are there. That's not something we ever want to see happen." -Marlee Gallagher

Also in the program, the Austin-based innovation movement titled "Black Sheep" stops in Pittsburgh to hear stories of renewal on its "America's True North" tour and business contributor Rebecca Harris puts a spotlight on Wilkinsburg. 

Shona Na. / Flickr

Twenty-five counties across Pennsylvania are splitting $2 million in funds from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in an effort to fight West Nile virus and the mosquitos that carry it.

Allegheny County received $171,400 this year to study and control the infected insect populations, while Philadelphia County received the most with a $244,340 grant.

Flickr user Walter Lim

There are currently five bills in the Pennsylvania state Legislature that propose raising the minimum wage, and the most recently introduced is also the most ambitious, calling for the current minimum wage of $7.25/hour to more than double, to $15/hour.

Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Delaware, Montgomery) last week introduced the “One Fair Wage” bill, for which he is currently seeking co-sponsors. Leach said the bill would do three things.

The Pennsylvania Insurance Department held a public hearing in Harrisburg Monday on a request Highmark made to transfer $175 million dollars in the form of a grant to Allegheny Health Network.

Highmark requested the grant in March for capital investments.

It's been two years since the Pennsylvania Insurance Department approved the creation of the Allegheny Health Network, bringing together what was the West Penn Allegheny Health Network and Highmark and forming the region’s second biggest health care provider.

Eight Facts To Know About The Shale Gas Industry’s Air Pollution

May 4, 2015
Natasha Khan / PublicSource

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection recently released data on air emissions from the shale gas industry in 2013.

PublicSource looked into the data and built a series of interactive charts so you can more easily explore the information.

The Pennsylvania horse racing industry received more than $242 million from slot machine revenue in 2014, but interest in the sport is waning, according to an annual report released Tuesday by the Gaming Control Board.

Last year, 11 percent of the $2.3 billion generated by slot machines went to the Pennsylvania Horse Development Fund, which establishes racing prizes, in-state breeding incentives, as well as health and pension benefits for horsemen and their families.

courtesy BLK SHP

A traveling team of thinkers, artists and executives arrives in Pittsburgh this week in search of ideas for remaking the U.S. economy.

Members of the Austin-based BLK SHP group — pronounced “black sheep” — are traveling the nation by bus, meeting with entrepreneurs and community leaders, also known as "shepherds," in 20 towns and cities.

In planning the “Rediscovering America’s True North” tour, project director Alexa Clay sought out Rust Belt communities and other formerly industrial areas that are bouncing back from the recession through creativity and grass-roots innovation.

Irina Zhorov / 90.5 WESA

Standing in a sun-drenched room, Jim Rosipal pointed to a framed assemblage on the wall. In it, a police officer’s uniform shirt, a medal for valor, a gas cap cover from the Harley Davidson he rode, and valve stem covers in the shape of little pigs. “Back in those days we were called pigs every now and then,” Rosipal said. “Didn’t bother us at all.”

A panel tasked with creating a fairer way of doling out state funding to school districts in Pennsylvania is expected to wrap up its work in early June, just weeks before the state budget deadline, when lawmakers expect a crush of issues to crowd the negotiation table.

For the past year, the Basic Education Funding Commission has spent the past year studying funding methods and developing its suggestions for funding Pennsylvania education — a system with the largest gap between rich and poor school districts of any state in the country.

Jaime Dillen-Seibel / Flickr

It’s being called the “largest crowdfunding event in history,” and Pittsburgh has the most nonprofits participating.

May 5 is Give Local America day, in which nonprofits are asking individuals to log on and donate gifts.

The United States Geological Survey / via the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

Not much has improved five weeks after the Department of Environmental Protection declared a drought watch for 27 Pennsylvania counties.

Amanda Witman, DEP spokeswomen, said all of the original counties remain on a drought watch.

Fibonacci Blue / flickr

The six Baltimore police officers involved in the arrest of Freddie Gray have been charged with a number of crimes, including murder and manslaughter. Pitt Law Professor David Harris joins us to explain the details behind the charges and what they mean.

Considering the charges, Harris explains how they figure into the usual categories of homicide charges:

"In the universe of homicide charges, there are different possibilities. One is first-degree murder, one is second-degree murder, then you go to manslaughter and then, maybe, negligent homicide. ... Both of the types of homicide charges involved here do not involve intentional killing. They involve degrees of reckless behavior." -- David Harris

Also in the program, Nazila Fathi talks about her book "The Lonely War," which paints an intense and intricate portrait of post-revolution Iran, and Pittsburgh cartoonist Joe Wos explains Mazetoons, his newly syndicated puzzle/cartoon hybrid.

Congressman Keith Rothfus (PA-12) is once again trying to crack down on bonuses being handed out to senior executives at the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

“The VA is still failing veterans in Pennsylvania and across the country,” Rothfus said. “VA senior executives need to take responsibility, fix the problems and do their jobs.”

Michael Lynch / 90.5 WESA

The original Frick Environmental Center was lost in a five-alarm fire 13 years ago, but on Friday, workers placed the final beam on top of the new education facility that is being called “one of the greenest buildings on Earth.”

The $10.5 million center is expected to earn a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification, the highest possible designation, as well as a Living Building Challenge title, which requires the use of non-toxic building materials and measures water and energy consumption after construction is completed.

pittonkatonk.com

Pittonkatonk, Pittsburgh’s “May Day Brass Bar-B-Que” steps off Saturday in the Veteran’s Pavilion in Schenley Park.

Rich Randall, co-director of Pittonkatonk, describes the free event as a cross between a festival, and a family reunion. He and co-director Pete Spynda came up with the idea a couple years ago, and it's since taken off.

Pittonkatonk takes place from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday.

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