News & Brews July 9, 2021

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Despite Wolf’s scare tactics, emergency food assistance will continue

Before May 18, the Wolf administration tried to scare Pennsylvanians into opposing the constitutional amendments reining in a governor’s emergency powers by saying Pennsylvanians would lose $100 million per month in federal food assistance were Wolf’s disaster declaration to end. Turns out, not so true. To no one’s surprise, the Biden Administration will continue sending the funds to PA.

PSERS board aims to stop top staff’s lavish travel spending

Our state’s largest pension fund has been the source of seemingly endless stories lately—and not because of any responsible use of taxpayer funds. Now, PSERS board members are aiming to curb at least some of the waste by preventing staff members from spending lavishly on lodging as they travel the world checking in on the fund’s investments. The Inquirer reports that board members “now want to end the practice [of] allowing staff to stay at highly expensive hotels where Wall Street financiers host meetings, regardless of the cost. Instead, the board members said, its employees could get a room someplace cheaper and take a cab or walk over.” It’s a start….

Court says Philly judge should get job back after Dem law firm had her fired

This story requires some history, so bear with me. In 2017, the Inquirer broke the story that Pond-Lehocky, a huge workers’ comp law firm in Philly, orchestrated a scheme to team up with preferred doctors who prescribed injured workers pain creams priced at up to $4,000 per tube. Pond-Lehocky sent its clients to these doctors and asked the doctors to send the clients to Workers First, a pharmacy majority-owned by Pond-Lehocky partners and CFO, to have their prescriptions filled. Pond-Lehocky attorneys are also behind “Fairness PA,” the political action committee that was Gov. Wolf’s top PAC donor in his 2018 re-election bid, giving him more than $1 million. That same year, Pond-Lehocky got a Philly workers’ comp judge fired from her job as the law firm didn’t like her rulings.Well, yesterday the Commonwealth Court ruled the judge should get her job back. The case, however, “raised concerns within the local legal community about the potential vulnerability of judges who cross politically connected law firms.” Incidentally, Fairness PA is still around and last year gave more than $1 million to Democrats (per campaign finance reports) in hopes of flipping the Legislature blue.

Fraud plagues unemployment system

Fox43 reports that about 50% of unemployment payments nationwide may have gone to scammers since COVID began. The story notes that the PA Department of Labor & Industry doesn’t have an estimate of how many fraudulent payments have been made in PA due to ongoing investigations. But a spokesperson “did say there was an increase in fraud when the new unemployment system launched.” Meanwhile, House State Government Committee Chair Seth Grove (York County) announced his committee will hold a hearing on government waste and improper payments on July 21.

PHEAA will end federal contract and stop servicing federal student loans

The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency plans to end a federal contract with the U.S. Department of Education under which PHEAA acted as a federal student loan servicer. The contract began in 2009 in the wake of the Great Recession. It’s unclear how many of the agency’s 2,250 employees will be affected, although the hope is the servicer that takes over the loans will be able to hire many of them.

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