PA aims to simplify health coverage for kids with Medicaid waiver

Danielle Smith – Keystone State News Service 

proposed waiver would eliminate Medicaid issues by ensuring uninterrupted coverage for qualified children until they turn 6.

If approved by the federal government, the Section 1115 waiver would leverage Medicaid funding for various social programs, helping to insure about 145,000 Pennsylvania children without health insurance.

Patrick Keenan, policy director for the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, said the waiver is a request from Pennsylvania to change specific rules and includes four main options.

“One is ensure that kids have eligibility that doesn’t get interrupted because of paperwork, errors or other kinds of things,” Keenan outlined. “Second is increased kind of access to healthy foods for folks that have certain medical conditions where food can really be the best medicine.”

Keenan noted option three helps people find and keep stable housing that fits their health needs, and the last step helps people coming out of incarceration get connected to Medicaid immediately. The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services applied for the waiver in January, and it is expected to be approved in the fall.

Keenan pointed out paperwork errors or missed documents have resulted in children being disconnected from coverage during the pandemic. He argued it is essential for children to have continuous coverage to avoid issues when needing to see a doctor.

“Kids receiving Medicaid, that can often mean that they lose their Medicaid coverage, and they don’t get the immunizations, they don’t get the well visits that they need,” Keenan explained. “Then the worst instances they break an arm or have some kind of other accident that requires emergency attention and don’t have health coverage when they need it the most.”

Keenan added his statewide organization assists about 10,000 Pennsylvanians annually with health insurance questions, medical bills, finding doctors and enrollment in Medicaid, CHIP and Pennie, the state insurance marketplace.

Operations of the hotly contested East Coast natural gas pipeline can begin, regulators say

FILE – Construction crews bore beneath U.S. 221 in Roanoke County, Va., June 22, 2018, to make a tunnel through which the Mountain Valley Pipeline will pass under the highway. The hotly contested East Coast natural gas pipeline was given the go-ahead Tuesday, June 11, 2024, to start operating, six years after construction began at more than double its original estimated cost. (Heather Rousseau/The Roanoke Times via AP, File)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A hotly contested East Coast natural gas pipeline was given the go-ahead Tuesday to start operating, six years after construction began at more than double its original estimated cost.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the 303-mile (500-kilometer) Mountain Valley Pipeline project across rugged mountainsides in West Virginia and Virginia over longstanding objections from environmental groups, landowners and some elected officials. Project developers told regulators on Monday that the pipeline was complete.

“We are pleased with the agencies’ decisions and the related communications regarding in-service authorization for the MVP project,” Natalie Cox, a spokesperson for the pipeline’s leading developer, Equitrans Midstream Corp., said in a statement Tuesday night. “Final preparations are underway to begin commercial operations.”

The $7.85 billion project has withstood weather delays, a maze of court and construction permit challenges and regulator scrutiny. It is designed to meet growing energy demands in the South and mid-Atlantic by transporting gas from the Marcellus and Utica fields in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Congress ordered that all necessary permits be issued for the pipeline last year as part of a bipartisan bill to increase the debt ceiling. President Joe Biden signed the bill into law last June. Among the key votes for last year’s sweeping legislation was U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia independent. Manchin has called the pipeline “a crucial piece of energy infrastructure” that is good for global supply and American energy security.

Last July, the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the pipeline’s construction to resume after a federal appeals court had blocked the work despite congressional approval.

Environmental groups argued that Congress overstepped its authority and have challenged the pipeline over its potential impact on endangered species. They also say it causes climate-altering pollution from greenhouse gases and contributes to erosion that will ruin soil and water quality. Part of the route includes national forest land.

“By allowing MVP to advance despite all these serious hazards, the system meant to protect our communities, land and water has failed,” Jessica Sims, the Virginia field coordinator for the environmental group Appalachian Voices, said in a statement.

On Monday, the pipeline developers told FERC in a filing that multiple shippers were prepared to start the flow of gas along the pipeline, “which further heightens the need to prompt authorization to meet market demands.”

First proposed in 2015, the pipeline’s route includes 11 counties in West Virginia, six in Virginia and three compressor stations in West Virginia. It has been cited over the years for dozens of violations of environmental laws meant to control erosion and sedimentation.

Frustrated residents complained the pipeline altered pristine landscapes and muddied their clear springs that supply drinking water. In some places along the construction route, protesters locked themselves to heavy equipment or blocked access, bringing work to a temporary halt. In one Virginia county last year, heavy machinery was set on fire.

After the pipeline operators initially asked FERC in April to issue the final authorization by May 23, a segment of pipe burst in southwestern Virginia on May 1 during pressurized water testing conducted to check for leaks and flaws. The damaged section was replaced and the operators investigated the cause of the incident.

The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors in Virginia asked FERC on May 13 to hold off placing the pipeline in service until safety testing and remediation was completed. Mountain Valley subsequently pushed back the targeted in-service date to early June due to the ongoing construction.

Virginia attorney and activist Jonathan Sokolow was among critics who claimed the pipeline was not ready to begin operations. He said Tuesday on the social platform X that no public information was available on the results of any pipeline inspections that have been done since April 1, including the area where the pipe burst.

In a phone call with FERC earlier on Tuesday, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, a unit of the U.S. Department of Transportation, said it had no objections if FERC were to authorize the pipeline operator’s request to begin service.

“We find that Mountain Valley has adequately stabilized the areas disturbed by construction and that restoration and stabilization of the construction work area is proceeding satisfactorily,” Terry Turpin, director of FERC’s Office of Energy Projects, said in a letter to Equitrans Midstream on Tuesday.

In March, Pittsburgh-based natural gas giant EQT Corp. announced an agreement to acquire Equitrans Midstream of Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, in an all-stock transaction.

Hot dog-eating champs Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi will go head-to head in a Netflix special

FILE – Joey Chestnut, defending champion of the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest, left, works to outpace former champion Takeru Kobayashi, right, July 4, 2009, in New York. Chestnut, a 16-time hot dog-eating champion, will face off with his frequent Nathan’s competitor, Kobayashi, in a live Netflix special on Sept. 2, 2024, the streamer announced Wednesday, June 12. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — After organizers for Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July hot dog-eating contest said Joey Chestnut wouldn’t compete this year because of a deal with a rival brand, Netflix swiftly announced a new hot dog-eating competition that will feature Chestnut and his “fiercest rival.”

Chestnut, a 16-time hot dog-eating champion, will face off with his frequent Nathan’s competitor, Takeru Kobayashi, in a live Netflix special on Sept. 2, the streamer announced Wednesday.

The contest, titled “Chestnut vs. Kobayashi: Unfinished Beef,” will feature the two chowing down on all-beef hot dogs, likely in a nod to reports that Chestnut’s rival brand deal is with Impossible Foods, which makes plant-based hot dogs.

Major League Eating, the organization that oversees the Nathan’s contest, announced Tuesday that Chestnut’s deal was an “exclusivity” issue, saying that it was his decision to step back from the competition he has participated in since 2005. “We love him. The fans love him,” said George Shea, a Major League Eating event organizer, adding: “He made the choice.”

Chestnut disputed that he made the choice, saying on the social platform X that Nathan’s and Major League Eating made the decision, adding that it would “deprive fans of the holiday’s usual joy and entertainment.”

He also wrote that fans could “rest assured” that they would see him east again soon, adding: “STAY HUNGRY!”

Impossible Foods has not confirmed a formal relationship with Chestnut, but he said in a statement on Tuesday they support his choice to compete in any competition, adding “Meat eaters shouldn’t have to be exclusive to just one wiener.”

Following Netflix’s announcement, Shea said the streamer was “trying to recreate the Nathan’s contest to some extent and you just can’t do that.”

“Imitation is the best form of flattery,” he added.

New York City Mayor Eric Adams joined the conversation via X on Wednesday, urging Nathan’s and Major League Eating to “stop being such weenies.” “It would be ‘impossible’ to have this year’s Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest without Joey Chestnut,” he wrote. “Let’s find a way to squash this beef and bring back the champ for another 4th of July at Coney Island!”

In a Netflix news release announcing the competition, Chestnut said he was eager bring the competition to the streaming service.

“Through all of my years in competitive eating, Kobayashi stands out as my fiercest rival,” Chestnut said via the release. “Competing against him pushed me to be so much better. I know that fans have waited a long time for another chapter of our rivalry and I can’t wait for our massive showdown live on Netflix! It’s time to give the people what they want!”

Kobayashi, who has been rumored to be retired, said in the Netflix release that he is looking forward to facing off with Chestnut once more. The two have not competed since 2009.

“Retiring for me will only happen after I take him down one last time,” Kobayashi said. “This rivalry has been brewing for a long time. Competing against Joey live on Netflix means fans all over the world can watch me knock him out.”

The hot dog-eating competition is the latest of the streamer’s recent efforts to expand into live TV, and it highlights the company’s emphasis on sporting events, which will include Christmas Day NFL games starting this year and WWE’s “Raw” in 2025.

Young bear spotted relaxing on a hammock in a Vermont yard

WAITSFIELD, Vt. (AP) — Noah and Kristen Dweck have seen a number of black bears around their home in Vermont but this was a first: a bear relaxing on their hammock.

Noah Dweck took iPhone video of two young bears in their yard in Waitsfield on Tuesday with one sitting on the swinging hammock before he shooed them away.

“It was adorable. It was a funny sight,” he told The Associated Press.

Dweck said he was sitting at a desk with the screen doors open in their home near the Sugarbush ski resort when he heard the jingling of the hammock. He then realized there was no wind.

“So immediately I knew it was the bears,” he said. He ran upstairs and looked out the window and saw one bear looking curiously at the other bear who was hanging around on the hammock, he said. He took some iphone video and then scared the bears away. Burlington TV station WPTZ first reported on the sighting.

“We live in a very active bear basin. The bears are very used to human contact so I’m assuming they have found other people’s hammocks before,” Dweck said. “To be honest, it was pretty impressive that he didn’t fall off, or she didn’t fall off the hammock, and kind of knew how to do it. It was quite funny to see.”

Vermont has a healthy black bear population and sightings of and incidents with the animals have increased in recent years.

Sewickley Bridge Single-lane Restriction Saturday in Allegheny County

Pittsburgh, PA – PennDOT District 11 is announcing a single-lane restriction on the Sewickley Bridge (Route 4025) in Moon Township and Sewickley Borough, Allegheny County will occur Saturday, June 15 weather permitting.

Single-lane alternating traffic will occur on the Sewickley Bridge from 7 a.m. to approximately 5 p.m. Saturday to allow crews to conduct sealing and sidewalk plate installation work. Flaggers will assist motorists through the work zone.

Pedestrian access will be maintained.

Casey, Fetterman Introduce Legislation to Combat Student Hunger, Expand Access to Free or Reduced-Price School Meals

FILE – Second-grade students select their meals during lunch break in the cafeteria at an elementary school in Scottsdale, Ariz., Dec. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Alberto Mariani, File)

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and John Fetterman (D-PA) introduced two bills that would expand access to free or reduced-price meals for millions of American children. When children experience food insecurity, they face unique barriers that affect their ability to do well in school. The bills expand criteria for individual students to receive free or reduced-price school meals, lower the threshold required for districts to offer free school meals for all students, and increase reimbursements for schools to cover meal costs without compromising students’ access to meals.

“Children should be able to focus on learning without worrying about where their next meal is going to come from. Senator Fetterman and I are introducing these bills to fight for the 13 million children in our Nation who lack consistent access to food,” said Senator Casey. “I will keep pushing to ensure that all children have enough to eat.”

 

“Ensuring that our children have enough to eat is one of the most fundamental responsibilities we have,” said Senator Fetterman. “It’s simply unacceptable that children in our nation suffer from food insecurity because of excessive red tape and petty political games in Washington. We must do more to cut through bureaucratic hurdles and improve our nutrition programs. Both of these bills would go a long way to create a healthier, more equitable future for all of our children. I’m proud to partner with Senator Casey on this critical issue.”

The School Hunger Elimination Act would expand student access to free or reduced-price school meals on both the individual and district levels. Direct certification—a process used to identify and enroll students in free or reduced-price meal programs—would expand so that a broader number of students could qualify. The bill would also work on a district level by amending the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP)—a tool that allows schools in high-need communities to provide free school meals to all students. For a district to qualify for CEP, a certain percentage of the student population must be individually eligible for direct certification. The bill would also require that districts that adopt CEPs be reimbursed at a higher rate to help schools cover the costs of free meals.

The Nutrition Red Tape Reduction Act would reduce the threshold for districts to qualify for CEP from 50% of student participation in the district to 25%. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ruled to expand the CEP to 25% in 2023. This bill would put the USDA’s ruling into law and increase the number of schools who are eligible to provide free meals to all students.

Both bills work together to address the critical child hunger issue by expanding access to free or reduced-price meals while also providing districts with sufficient reimbursement to cover costs of providing more meals at a reduced rate.

Aliquippa School Board hires new Special Education Director

Story by Sandy Giordano – Beaver County Radio. Published June 13, 2024 12:23 P.M.

(Aliquippa, Pa) Sarah Eileen McDowell was hired to be the Aliquippa School District’s new Special Education Director. She will begin her duties on July 1, 2024. The board approved her salary that will be $82,500.00 a year.

Beth Smith resigned as curriculum coordinator, and her position was eliminated by the board at Wednesday night’s work session.
High school special education teacher Marian Miller will retire from the district effective on August 8, 2024.
The board observed a moment of silence in remembrance of board member Leon Seaburn who died last week.
The next meeting will be Tuesday, June 18, 2024 at 6 p.m. in the Black Box Theater.

Aliquippa house fire causes extensive damage

Story by Sandy Giordano – Beaver County Radio. Published June 13, 2024 12:21 P.M.

(Aliquippa, Pa) An Aliquippa house fire caused extensive damage yesterday evening. Aliquippa Fire Chief Tim Firich reported that the department received a call for a house fire about 5 p.m. on Tuesday in the 1700 block of Grant Street on Sheffield Terrace. Firefighters from Ambridge Crescent Township, Center Township and the county’s strike team assisted Aliquippa. The chief told Beaver County Radio the fire was under control in about 20 minutes. No one was injured, and the cause was not reported.

Ambridge Council approves first payment for streetscape project

Story by Sandy Giordano – Beaver County Radio. Published June 16, 2024 11:03 A.M.

(Ambridge, Pa) Merchant Street’s streetscape project’s first payment in the amount of $97,918.97 was approved at Tuesday’s council meeting.  A $500 donation was made to the fireworks committee.

A turtle race will take place on Saturday, June 15, 2024 from 11 am to 3 pm in PJ Caul Park.
Council’s next regular meeting is on Tuesday, July 9, 2024 at 6:30 p.m.

Report: PA ranks 23rd among states in child well-being

Danielle Smith – Keystone State News Service

Pennsylvania ranks in the middle among states for the well-being of its children, at 23rd overall in the new Kids Count Data Book from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The annual Data Book ranks states in four categories: economic well-being, education, health, and community and family.

Leslie Boissiere, vice president of external affairs for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said the report found significant dips in the percentage of children who were reading proficiently by the end of fourth grade and in the percentage of students who were proficient in basic math.

“We know both those skills are critically important not only to academic success, but to make sure that young people are prepared for the workforce,” Boissiere emphasized.

Pennsylvania ranks 16th in education and showed improvement in high school students not graduating on time. From 2018 to 2019, it was14% and decreased to 13% from 2020 to 2021.

Boissiere noted the pandemic is not solely to blame for the country’s worsening educational outcomes. Educators, researchers, policymakers, and employers who track students’ academic readiness have been ringing alarm bells for a long time.

“For example the pandemic erased decades of increases in math scores,” Boissiere pointed out. “However, if you look over those 35 years that we’ve produced the Data Book we’ve never seen a significant percentage of children who were either proficient in fourth grade reading or basic math.”

The reported encouraged states and communities to examine several approaches to help improve the well-being of children and address some of the pandemic’s effects.

“We know some of the things that work,” Boissiere stressed. “Both in remediating or providing additional supports for kids who may have fallen behind such as high dosage tutoring, creating environments within schools where all kids feel like they can belong, and looking at evidence-based curriculum approaches.”

Boissiere added some states have delayed spending their share of the $190 billion in critical federal pandemic funding known as Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief, which could help boost achievement. The deadline to allocate — not spend — the funding is Sept. 30, 2024.