Erika Beras

General Assignment Reporter

Erika Beras was 90.5 WESA’s Behavioral Health reporter and now does General Assignment and Feature reporting. Her work has aired on NPR, the BBC and other networks. She has won local and national awards for her reporting; among them a fellowship from The International Center for Journalists to travel to Poland and report on shale and energy in 2012. Prior to coming to Pittsburgh Erika was a reporter at The Miami Herald. She is a graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.


Ways to Connect

A new report from environmental advocacy group PennFuture says that in Pennsylvania alone, $3.25 billion went to subsidize the fossil fuels industry in the 2012-2013 fiscal year. The report breaks down that that comes to $794 per taxpayer.  

Much of that subsists of tax subsidies to energy industries, such as shale gas development and legacy costs of oil, gas and coal.

The Cultural Trust announced their line-up for the EQT Children’s Theater Festival.

Pamela Komar, manager of Children’s Theater Programming at the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, said they select the participating theatrical groups critically.

“We look at the ages of children in Pittsburgh, we look at their current interests and we try to balance and bring in art forms that will be of interest to all kinds of people from all different backgrounds and all different abilities in Pittsburgh,” she said.

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner announced Thursday that her office has found an additional $1.44 million in unpaid car rental taxes and penalties.

This is in addition to the $743,107 that her office found in January during a routine audit. Hertz paid the amount promptly plus penalties and interest, and Wagner expects them to do the same this time.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

Lynn Lightfoot’s kids have an easy commute to class.

It's down a flight of stairs and onto couches in a room crammed with everything from books to DVD’s to board games. Her teenagers, Aleeshyah and Noah, aren’t just her children — they’re her students. They are two of about 21,000 children who are homeschooled in Pennsylvania.

The Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority for the city of Pittsburgh met on Wednesday afternoon for its regular quarterly meeting. Among the topics discussed were efforts by City Controller Michael Lamb to move paper invoices to an electronic format.

Lamb said this project would save the city $115,000 annually. Of the $25,000 they originally had for this project, he said they had spent $18,000 on the E-Docs system, had $7,000 remaining and requested an additional $16,000. The ICA agreed to grant them this money.

According to a recent poll conducted the Pennsylvania Medical Society, there have been changes in the experiences people have had accessing health care.

“It seems that most patients are able to access health care within a reasonable period of time,” said Karen Rizzo, a practicing physician and President of the Pennsylvania Medical Society.  “It seems that their out-of-pocket expense is increasing for about 37 percent of the patients surveyed.”

Of the 700 people polled, 53 percent said their out of pocket expenses were about the same, and 8 percent saw a reduction in cost.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

Righting the wrongs of the past appeared to be the theme at a groundbreaking for the Lower Hill redevelopment infrastructure, which will be a 28-acre mixed-use development.

“This project will directly benefit our local economy and residents of the Hill District for decades to come through additional development and job creation,” state Sen. Wayne Fontana said at Monday's groundbreaking.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

In Jim Seagriff’s classroom at Taylor Allderdice High School, there are a half dozen furnaces and boilers. A small closet area is set up the way a basement would be. Goggle-clad teenagers adjust knobs on mock refrigerators.

These are HVAC students in the Career and Technical Education program.

On Thursday UPMC announced they would be acquiring Family Hospice and Palliative Care, Pennsylvania’s largest nonprofit hospice service into its health care system.

Family Hospice will be part of UPMC Community Provider Services. That means all 250 employees will become UPMC employees, although Family Hospice will continue to operate under the Family Hospice name. The acquisition also includes Presbyterian Senior Care.

Family Hospice and UPMC have worked together for the past 15 years. 

The city of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership announced Envision Downtown on Thursday, a public-private partnership that aims to create more “complete streets” downtown. That means a better experience for pedestrians, improved transportation and better use of land.

The city of Pittsburgh is looking for interns, and unlike in years past, all prospective interns must apply through the Department of Personnel and Civil Service Commission.

“It was not a centralized process or program at all," said Todd Siegel, director of the city's Department of Personnel and Civil Service Commission. "Each individual department should they have had a need for interns whether they be paid or unpaid went about securing their interns on their own.”

If they were paid, the personnel department was involved to process the paperwork.

State Sen. Sean Wiley (D-Erie) has introduced Senate Bill 128, which would address the cost and performance of cyber-charter schools that aren’t related to school districts. In those schools, each is paid the same amount per student per district. That fluctuates depending on the district.

In one part of the state you’d be paying $6,000 per student, and in other parts of the state the payment is as high as $15,000 per student. That adds up to over $400 million a year.

“This is a complete draw on our public school system,” Wiley said.

On Thursday, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that Pittsburgh is one of six cities designated as a pilot site for a national initiative to strengthen and improve the relationship between law enforcement and the community.

It's called the National Initiative for Building Community, and it’s a partnership between the Department of Justice and legal experts from institutions such as the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Yale Law School.

On Thursday, Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) and Carlow University signed an agreement allowing students to earn their associates degree at CCAC and then seamlessly transfer to Carlow University.

“In so doing, together our two institutions are helping to ensure that future graduates have the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in our diverse and changing world,” said CCAC President Quintin Bullock.

Pennsylvania Sen. David Argall (R-Schuykill-Berks) recently introduced a bill which would limit insurers to a year to challenge a bill to a provider.

The legislation would require insurance carriers to review treatment plans, claim forms and bills within a year. It would also require a written statement from the insurer explaining the basis for any retroactive denial so the physician understands what the denial is.

According to the Pennsylvania Medical Society, inefficient claim processing and payment can take up 10-14 percent of work time for a physician.

Advocacy groups that work on behalf of prisoners' rights to free speech won a right to a trial on constitutionality of the Crime Victims’ Act, which was passed in October of 2014.

It was proposed and passed in the aftermath of when Mumia Abu-Jamal, who has spent the last 33 years in prison after being convicted in the homicide of a police officer, was invited to give the commencement speech at his Alma Mater, Goddard College via video recording of a phone call.

Abu-Jamal has maintained innocence.

Mike Mozart / flickr

Late last year, the Corbett administration increased the state's tax on liquefied natural gas, following a Department of Energy change in how LNG is measured at the federal level.

This week, Governor Tom Wolf reversed the tax increase and made it effective retroactively to January 1, 2015.

Coach Lewis / flickr

The University of Pittsburgh has strengthened its oversight of staff and volunteers involved with youth camps on its campuses. That’s according to a performance audit released Thursday by the Pennsylvania Auditor General.

“I want to commend The University of Pittsburgh for where they’ve come on this and the leadership they’ve shown on strengthening the safety of their camp structure,” said Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.

USDA Photo by Ken Hammond

 On Wednesday the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the King v. Burwell case. It’s the latest attack on the Affordable Care Act.  

King petitioners allege the IRS overstepped its authority by issuing regulations authorizing residents of states with federally run exchanges, such as Pennsylvania, to access premium tax credits. They say Congress limited access to tax credits to residents of state-based exchanges to encourage states to set up their own exchanges.

Ty Wright / Associated Press

A+ Schools, a non-profit that advocates for accountability in Pittsburgh Public Schools had a research firm conduct a poll in late January in which residents were asked targeted questions about what changes they would like to see to schools.

405 individuals were surveyed. 79 percent of them agreed with a statement that its possible for Pittsburgh to be known as a city whose public schools have high standards, great teaching and give all students, regardless of race or background, an opportunity for a great education.

When she stepped out of the Waterworks Theater Thursday afternoon, Pittsburgh Student Achievement Center 8th grader Denay Clemons called the movie Selma “an awesome portrayal.”

Denay was among approximately five hundred students from several Pittsburgh schools who were taken to see the movie about the marches in Alabama that preceded the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

“I only knew a little bit from school work and history but I learned a lot more about what happened actually like with conversation with the people who actually led the movement,” Denay said.

Morgue File

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has approved a six-week parental leave benefit for Allegheny County employees. The policy is modeled after Pittsburgh’s.

“We really like the policy as we look into it for our employees, we just really think paid leave policies really have benefits for children and families and we want to certainly be a family-friendly community,” said Fitzgerald.

Erika Beras / 90.5 WESA

A duplex on a residential street in Brentwood will now be a rotating home for homeless male veterans with children.

It’s Project Journey for Men’s first shelter, and it's emergency housing is for veterans in transition. The housing comes fully furnished. The men will receive assistance in getting benefits and getting a job and then 60-90 days later they will move out.

Brian Primack, a physician and researcher at The University of Pittsburgh, is the lead author on a content analysis published Friday in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

According to the analysis, the 70 most popular videos that depict drunkenness on YouTube have more than 330 million views.

Primack and fellow researchers searched YouTube for words synonymous with alcohol intoxication: drunk, buzzed, hammered, tipsy and trashed.

The University of Pittsburgh has debuted a new crowdfunding site where people can make gifts to specific projects and campaigns.

Through EngagePitt, donors can fund a medical musical the fourth-year students at the Medical School are putting on, or if they want to give to the Pitt Men’s Glee Club, that too is an option.

The Code for America fellowship program has officially started in Pittsburgh. Fellows will look at city procurement, the process by which government buys everything, from pencils to bridges. They’ll look at how the government organizes public bids and requests for proposals.

“What it means for Pittsburgh is an ability to put us ahead of other cities around the world when it comes to the way that we spend taxpayer dollars,” said Mayor Bill Peduto.

A recent Art Institute of Pittsburgh graduate will be showing a fashion collection at New York Fashion Week.

“A lot of the clothes that I design are a little bit avant-garde or experimental, so the collection that I did for New York Fashion Week is all surrounded by experimental silhouettes and a lot of different textiles in use together,” said Romina Vairo, who has never shown at Fashion Week before.

A slew of city officials on Tuesday announced a new initiative that they hope will increase public safety and improve community-police relations.

Safer Together, the brainchild of Pittsburgh City Councilman Ricky Burgess, has five similar goals to build relationships of respect, cooperation and trust within and between the Department of Public Safety and the community. It also aims improve education, oversight, monitoring, diversity, accountability and hiring practices for the department.

US Sen. Bob Casey (PA-D) will introduce this week an anti-bullying bill aimed specifically at schools.

The Safe Schools Improvement Act would require school districts to develop and implement locally-driven anti-bullying policies to protect children. It would also require states to report data on bullying and harassment to the US Department of Education.

Pennsylvania Resources Council hopes to increase recycling rates at local apartment complexes.

They’ll host trainings with residents in select complexes and provide additional recycling bins to make recycling more efficient.

The Mackey Lofts in Uptown, will be the first of 15 complexes in the county to be a part of this initiative.