Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from Pennsylvania’s newspapers:
Census Bureau needs more time, and Congress must act fast to make sure everyone gets counted
The Philadelphia Inquirer
A pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans, and the toxic politics of a presidential election year, have disrupted the taking of the 2020 Census. That’s worrisome for anybody whose life is touched in some way by federal spending — meaning, pretty much everybody. The census is not a quaint tradition or historical artifact; it’s a research project to gather, analyze, and certify data that the federal government will utilize for a decade — including for apportionment of Congressional seats. The pandemic’s effects could linger for some time, so information from the 2020 Census will be essential in helping the country get back to something that resembles normal.
Federal support for education, health care, infrastructure, and dozens of other programs is allocated to states based on census data. According to an analysis by the GW Institute of Public Policy at George Washington University, the 2010 census yielded $39.1 billion for the Keystone State and $27.2 billion for the Garden State in 2016 alone. To ensure equity, as well as the wisest use of federal resources, the count —required by the 14th Amendment to include “all persons” residing in each state — needs to be as accurate and complete as possible.
The economic and political implications of undercounting communities of all kinds will last for a decade or more. Census numbers are used in calculating state and local shares of $1.5 trillion annually in federal support for homeland security, job training, nutritional assistance, and veterans assistance programs.
Unfortunately, much as President Trump has done to the US Postal Service, and to voting by mail, he has launched politically motivated attacks on the census. That includes not giving the bureau the extra time it says it needs. Congress must act now to extend the deadlines for completing census field operations from Sept. 30 to Oct. 31, and for final data reporting from Dec. 31 to April 21, 2021.
Doing so would ease the administration’s tighter-than-usual deadlines. But the extensions also would help ensure better counts in rural areas of Pennsylvania as well as red states that traditionally vote Republican. Adding four weeks to field operations that have been impeded by COVID-19 restrictions would give rural, as well as urban and suburban, communities of color a better chance to be thoroughly counted.
According to Pa. Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, a Philadelphia Democrat, the city’s “abysmal” response rate of 55% could jeopardize future federal assistance equivalent to $2,000 in spending annually for every resident. For the poorest of America’s largest cities, with fully one-quarter of all residents living below the federal poverty line, such a shortfall would be painful indeed.
In a year of painful reckonings with the stain of racism and its enduring effects, particularly on Black people, a census process that has historically undercounted communities of color ought to be expanding, not limiting, efforts to account for everyone. Political leader and voting rights advocate Stacey Abrams recently launched an effort focused on the census (www.faircount.org). Residents of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and other states need to contact their Congressional representatives and persuade them to support the deadline extensions — so the Census Bureau can get the job done right.
Politics should not interfere with Gov. Wolf’s efforts to save lives in a pandemic
Harrisburg Patriot News
A group of Pennsylvania doctors has taken an extraordinary stance to protect what we all should consider sacrosanct – science and medicine.
An estimated 170 Pennsylvania doctors who are members of the national Committee to Protect Medicare are alarmed at what they see as politics interfering with sound medicine. They also are alarmed at efforts to tie the hands of responsible government officials during a public health crisis of the magnitude of COVID-19.
Pennsylvania voters elected Gov. Tom Wolf to protect the commonwealth and to take all measures needed to protect its people during an emergency. COVID-19 is nothing short of an emergency that already has claimed almost 8,000 lives in the state and sent thousands of others into emergency room.
More than 153,000 Pennsylvanians have tested positive for the virus, and the numbers continue to mount.
It’s worth remembering there is still no vaccine and no treatment for COVID-19, and much about this virus’s long-term effects on the human body is still unknown. We still don’t know with scientific certainty who will get the virus, but not know they have it; and who will die in the ICU stuck to a ventilator.
These physicians are rightly concerned about politics interfering with the governor’s ability to respond forcefully to save lives, especially if COVID-19 goes into warp speed again this fall. And they are rightly calling out Republican lawmakers and a 41-year-old federal judge for deeming unconstitutional Gov. Wolf’s moves to shut down businesses and keep people home to contain the coronavirus.
U.S. District Judge William S. Stickman IV, who made the ruling, had no judicial experience before President Donald Trump appointed him to the federal bench last year.
Dr. Max Cooper, a Chester County emergency room doctor, put it bluntly: “As physicians, we’re concerned that blind, unquestioning loyalty to President Trump by elected officials in Harrisburg is getting in the way of good public health policies and endangering people’s lives.”
Cooper and the other doctors are showing desperately needed leadership and courage in calling attention to what they clearly see as an imminent danger to public health.
“Physicians have a responsibility to speak out when we see harm being done,” Cooper said, “and harm is being done right now to the people of Pennsylvania.”
Gov. Wolf and Secretary of Health Rachel Levine have won acclaim throughout the nation for taking strong action that prevented more people in our state from contracting COVID-19 and dying. Poll after poll has shown the majority of the people of Pennsylvania supported these moves and were grateful for their leadership. Dr. Cooper and his colleagues are convinced the restrictions Wolf ordered prevented needless suffering and saved lives.
The governor already had relaxed most of the shutdown orders Judge Stickman deemed unconstitutional, but the doctors don’t want his hands tied in case strong measures are needed this fall.
We thank Dr. Cooper and his colleagues for speaking up. Gov. Wolf has said he will file an appeal and seek a stay to prevent the court decision from being enforced. We urge the Wolf administration to use all measures to curtail his ability to protect Pennsylvanians in times of crisis when decisive and speedy action is imperative.
Gov. Wolf and Dr. Levine have shown they respect both science and medicine. And most Pennsylvanians clearly want them to put public safety above both politics and purse.
Let’s keep focus on suicide prevention
Each September mental health advocates, prevention organizations, survivors, allies and community members unite behind a common message aimed at saving lives.
While it’s impossible to underestimate the importance of a matter of life and death, one could argue that the message of Suicide Prevention Month is even more pertinent than ever this year. The coronavirus pandemic is taking a serious toll on mental health. Illness fears, isolation, the loss of routine and profound, abrupt changes to life as we knew it have been hard on so many of us. Mental health experts are concerned that this could lead to an increase in suicide attempts.
Statistics make clear that this was already a serious problem before this year’s tragic events.
Nationally, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, claiming more than twice as many lives each year as homicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says 48,344 people died from suicide in the United States in 2018, the most recent data available.
Pennsylvania reports that 2,017 people took their own lives in 2018 (up from 1,272 suicides in 1999). That amounts to a 43.3% increase in the age-adjusted suicide rate. According to the CDC, Pennsylvania’s suicide rate was 15.7 deaths per 100,000 population, higher than the national rate of 14.8 deaths per 100,000. And Pennsylvania’s highest suicide rates are in rural counties such as Carbon and Elk. As with other societal ills, no area is immune.
For every person who dies by suicide, more than 25 others attempt to kill themselves. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, about 10.7 million adults report having serious thoughts about suicide. About 1.4 million adults attempt suicide annually in the United States. An estimated 2.1 million adults in the United States reported making plans for suicide in the year preceding the survey but did not act on those plans.
These are frightening statistics that demand action rather than hand-wringing. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that most individuals communicate suicidal intentions in advance. That means all of us must learn the warning signs and how to respond.
Much of this work is being done at the governmental and nonprofit level. This month Pennsylvania issued a detailed new suicide prevention plan, and local task forces devoted to the issue are doing outstanding work to bring attention to it and steer people to the resources they need.
But suicide prevention ultimately depends on all of us watching out for the people we love and taking note of signs of trouble.
The Suicide Prevention Lifeline says warning signs include talking about wanting to die, expressions of hopelessness and unbearable pain; talk of being a burden to others, increased alcohol or drug use, anxious or agitated behavior, sleeping too little or too much, withdrawing from others and displaying extreme mood wings.
Here’s are some suggestions from the Lifeline on what individuals can do when a loved one seems to be a risk:
Ask: People who are having thoughts of suicide often feel relief when someone asks after them in a caring way.
Keep them safe: When lethal means are made less available or less deadly, suicide rates by that method decline.
Be there: Listening without judgment can make a big difference.
Help them stay connected: Creating a network of resources and individuals for support and safety.
Follow-up: Supportive, ongoing contact can be important for individuals discharged from professional care.
And take note of valuable resources that are there to help in a crisis:
Visit ruOK? Berks www.ruokberks.com/resources/, text “ruOK” to 484-816-ruOK (7865) or call the Berks County 24-hour crisis hotline at 610-236-0530.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255.
Spanish-language National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-888-628-9454
Biden needs regional strategy
After Joe Biden secured the Democratic presidential nomination, there was a lot of talk about how he was going to campaign differently than Hillary Clinton, especially in Pennsylvania.
Pundits faulted Ms. Clinton for campaigning too much in the Democratic strongholds of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and ignoring the rest of the state, particularly former mill towns and coal-mining areas, which Democrats used to dominate.
Ms. Clinton’s strategy was an abject failure as she lost Pennsylvania to Donald Trump, paving the way for him to win the general election.
So how’s Mr. Biden’s strategy going? To the surprise of almost no one, his first campaign appearance in Western Pennsylvania was in Pittsburgh. He’s going to need to branch out if he hopes to capture the state.
In 2016, Ms. Clinton defeated Mr. Trump in Allegheny County by a margin of 107,559 votes. However, in the other 12 counties that make up Western Pennsylvania, stretching from Erie County in the north to Greene County in the south, Mr. Trump won by 249,992 votes.
Mr. Trump did exceptionally well in Fayette, Greene, Washington and Westmoreland counties, all former Democratic Party strongholds.
In the 2008 presidential election, all four counties supported Republican Mitt Romney over Democrat Barack Obama by a combined 59,718 votes. In 2016. Mr. Trump won the four counties by 102,928 votes.
With Mr. Trump winning the state by only 44,290 votes, it’s easy to see voters’ importance in the four counties.
Mr. Biden may not be able to win Western Pennsylvania, but he has to come close enough so he’ll be able to withstand Mr. Trump’s considerable margins in the northeastern and central parts of the state.
And to do that, Mr. Biden will also have to fine-tune his message. He can’t continue to attack Mr. Trump’s character endlessly. That might endear him to his base, but that will do nothing to help him win former Democrats and moderate Republicans.
He has to speak to them in concrete terms. It’s not enough for him to speak out against violence in racial protests. He has to speak out about how he’ll prevent the looters and criminals from taking over peaceful demonstrations, and detail the punishment he plans to dole out to them.
Mr. Biden also has to address business owners who’ve seen their stores and buildings destroyed by unruly mobs. He must spell out how he’s going to help them with programs, not just platitudes.
Don’t erode trust in high court
Rushing to replace Ginsburg on the election’s eve would be reckless and irresponsible.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death brought sadness at her loss, gratitude for her legacy and a deep chill that had nothing to do with the changing weather.
If we occupied a more principled moment in this grand American experiment, there would have been time to honor her pioneering contributions. Ginsburg, a tireless and courageous patriot, helped make it possible for women and others historically overlooked to participate more fully in the promises enshrined in our founding documents.
Instead, the country has been driven to a near breaking point by factors that made such decorum impossible. Amid changing demographics that promise to alter historic distributions of power, hostile actors sow fear and division, rather than help the country move forward as one. And we are led by a president whose path to power has been paved by ferociously leveraging those divisions.
With Ginsburg’s passing came the question: Would Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell follow the precedent he set in 2016 when nine long months before the presidential election, he blocked consideration of President Barack Obama’s nominee to replace deceased conservative Justice Antonin Scalia? Or would that stance, cast as principled defense of the people’s will, evaporate in the face of a power grab that could shape American life for generations, no matter what voters decide this fall?
It took him only about 80 minutes to say yes.
Virtually all the scenarios that could emerge from this strategy involve damage to this democratic cornerstone, the third branch of government, that holds meaning and force only if citizens trust in it.
McConnell seeks to install a justice backed by a GOP-controlled Senate that represents a minority of Americans and a president who lost the 2016 popular vote and who may be defeated in a matter of weeks. Worse, that badly tipped court could preside over the expected legal challenges to the election.
If the Democrats ultimately win the Senate and White House, they could seek to expand the Supreme Court. That would, like McConnell’s strategy, be legal and, perhaps, reasonable. But both would further erode public faith.
The nation seems trapped in a drama driven forward by tragic flaws to an inevitable, awful end. But we remain free to choose a different path.
Let the November election establish whether the GOP Senate and President Trump represent voters’ will.
Though they seem amnesiac on this issue, Republican senators, including Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, have a duty to country over party. Remember, in many, we are one. That’s not a platitude, but a difficult stance that underpins the survival of this wildly diverse nation.
Toomey in 2016 decried the politicking over Scalia’s replacement and said it must be decided by the next president.
Pennsylvanians should hold him to those words now.