Equine Coalition Concerned About Drop in Slots Revenue at Racetrack Casinos

Slot machine revenue at Pennsylvania’s casinos in March tallied the second highest monthly total since gaming began in the state, exceeding July of 2011. But a year to year comparison is thornier, because the highest month ever was March of last year. This year, slots were down 1.6%, with only Rivers Casino posting an increase.

Slots revenues at the state’s six racetrack casinos fell by more than 5 % last month according to the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition and that continues a downward trend that started last year. The coalition believes competition from neighboring states is playing a role.

Spokesman Pete Peterson says they believe Governor Corbett’s budget estimates for the Race Horse Development Fund are overly optimistic. He says they’re projecting less revenue for the fund, at the same time the Governor’s budget proposes using some of it for other budget needs next year.

Peterson says they’d also like to see the casinos put more effort into marketing the horse racing industry.


Gov. Corbett Talks Medicaid with Secretary Sebelius

Governor Tom Corbett was in Washington DC, Tuesday evening, to talk Medicaid expansion with Department of Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.  Corbett has repeatedly said that he “cannot recommend Medicaid expansion at this time,” but he has never shut the door completely on the idea.

Under the Affordable Care Act the federal government is pledging to pick up 100% of the tab, for three years, if states opt-into an expanded Medicaid program that covers adults with incomes up to 133% of the federal poverty line.  The feds would then cover 90% of the costs in the out years. 

The move would make an estimated 800,000 more Pennsylvanians eligible for the taxpayer-funded health care program.  There is no deadline for states to make their decisions, but the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 27-governors have already come out in support of the expansion

Below you can read the entire statement released by Governor Tom Corbett following his meeting with Secretary Sebelius:


“We had a meaningful discussion around increasing access to affordable, quality health care in a way that would lessen the burden on the state’s taxpayers in the long-term,” Corbett said. “I want to thank the secretary for her time and attention to our questions.”

The meeting was intended to clarify information and answer additional questions that came up as a result of correspondence between the state and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) on the topics of Medicaid expansion and the implementation of a federally-facilitated health insurance exchange in Pennsylvania.

Corbett reiterated his long-standing goal to increase access to affordable healthcare coverage options for Pennsylvanians, but made it clear that without meaningful reform of the Medicaid program expansion remains an unsustainable option for Pennsylvania taxpayers.

The governor sought answers to several key questions, including verification that the 100 percent federal match is available for the commonwealth.

He also requested information around using the private insurance market to expand coverage in Pennsylvania, similar to what Arkansas and Tennessee are pursuing, coupled with significant reforms to Pennsylvania’s current Medicaid program to protect the program for those citizens who need it the most.

“Until we know whether or not significant reform is possible, I continue to have concerns that Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program will be able to serve, in a sustainable manner, the approximately one in four Pennsylvanians that would be covered under a full expansion,” Corbett said.

Corbett indicated that he will await further information from HHS and that no further decisions will be made at this time.

Supporters Push Nurse-to-Patient Ratio Bills

Pennsylvania hospitals would be required to meet minimum nurse-to-patient ratios under bills introduced in the state House and Senate.  The ratios would vary depending on the care setting, but supporters say they could both improve patient safety and save money in the long run

Inadequate staffing is the ultimate concern for Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP) president Patty Eakin.  “Patients can suffer,” she tells Radio PA, “and suffering is not just dying but you might have medication errors made, you might have medications missed, treatments missed.”    

Eakin points to a 2010 study out of the University of Pennsylvania that indicates California’s mandatory minimum nurse-to-patient ratios are helping to save lives. 

But California is the only state to go down this road to date, and Pennsylvania hospitals have long opposed similar bills that have been introduced in the General Assembly. 

The Hospital & Health System Association of Pennsylvania says a one-size-fits-all policy ignores the many variables involved in determining safe staffing levels.  HAP also contends there’s no consensus on what nurse staffing levels should be or how to set them. 

This year SB 637 has been introduced by Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery) and HB 923 has been introduced by Rep. Phyllis Mundy (D-Luzerne).  While similar bills have gone nowhere in Harrisburg, Eakin says giving up the fight is not an option. 

(photo credit: CDC / Judy Schmidt)

Great American Cleanup Underway in PA

Wanted: volunteers to participate in the Great American Cleanup of Pennsylvania.  The annual statewide roadside cleanup effort plays an important role in keeping Pennsylvania beautiful.  “It’s surprising how much litter is out there,” says PennDOT spokeswoman Jamie Legenos.  “For instance, last year alone there was 6.7-million pounds of litter that was collected from roads, trails and shorelines.  We had 141,000 volunteers out there.”  But Legenos freely admits those numbers are slipping.  In 2011, nearly 160,000 volunteers collected over 7-million pounds of trash. 

A first-ever Great American Cleanup Video Contest is just one way in which organizers are hoping to engage more volunteers.  While the Great American Cleanup officially runs now through May 31st, registered events will have access to free disposal at participating landfills during the “Pick-it-up PA Days,” which run April 20th – May 6th

This annual spring cleaning of Pennsylvania’s roadsides is sponsored by PennDOT, Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful and the state DEP.  PennDOT provides the gloves, trash bags and safety vests for official Great American Cleanup of Pennsylvania groups.

Sen. Casey Issues Statement in Support of Same-Sex Marriage

During his reelection bid last year US Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) favored civil unions but did not take a position on the same sex marriage debate.  Now, with the question before the US Supreme Court, Casey says he favors marriage equality and believes the federal Defense of Marriage Act should be repealed.

Casey’s official statement concludes: “I understand that many Americans of good will have strong feelings on both sides of this issue.  I believe elected public officials have an abiding obligation to refrain from demonizing and dividing people for partisan or political gain.  Rather, Democrats and Republicans should come together and find areas of agreement to do what’s best for the country, including lesbian and gay Americans.” 

Marriage equality advocates have been putting the pressure on Senators like Casey for weeks now, and Equality Pennsylvania executive director Ted Martin released a statement that applauds Casey’s courage and leadership.  “Marriage matters for all families,” Martin writes, “and Senator Casey’s support for marriage for all committed couples puts him squarely on the right side of history.”

Last week state Rep. Brian Sims (D-Philadelphia) sent Casey an open letter urging him to support LGBT equality.  Sims – PA’s first openly gay elected lawmaker – says Casey’s statement shows that he’s listening to the millions of voices of Pennsylvanians calling for him to support same-sex marriage.


Report: 2 in 5 Pennsylvanians Financially Insecure

State-by-state data is shedding new light on the problem of financial insecurity.  While 13% of Pennsylvanians live in poverty as defined by their incomes, more than 37% live in what’s known as liquid asset poverty.

“We need to encourage residents to build savings and prepare for the unforeseen,” says Lyn Kugel of PathWays PA, “so that fewer residents are one incident away from financial devastation.”

While the numbers are alarming, Pennsylvania’s liquid asset poverty rate still falls below the national average.  This is just one data point that can be found in the Corporation for Enterprise Development’s Assets & Opportunity Scorecard.

Overall, the scorecard ranks Pennsylvania 15th among states, based on five key areas including personal finances.

CFED and local advocates like Kugel say a number of things can be done to encourage asset building in Pennsylvania, including the adoption of a state-level Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the elimination of asset limits on things like foods stamps, which they say is a disincentive for savings.