Delayed Census Data May Mean Setbacks In Redistricting Effort

On today's program: The U.S. Census Bureau announced it will take until the end of September to send population data to states, which could delay redrawing the state’s legislative districts; how the pandemic and racial justice movement have motivated Steel Smiling to provide more than 1,000 hours of therapy to Black people, and what’s next for the organization; and Pittsburgh resident Yona Harvey previews her latest poetry collection.

 

New Pennsylvania district maps may not be drawn until after September

(0:00 — 6:05) 

The U.S. Census Bureau announced it won’t deliver population data to all states until the end of September. This means Pennsylvania will be more than five months behind schedule on redrawing political maps, a task that comes once every decade. 

“Traditionally [drawing district maps] has been done largely in secret with no or little transparency,” says Marie Albiges. She wrote about the data delay for SpotlightPA and Votebeat. “Last decade in 2011 was the first time the Legislative Reapportionment Commission had public meetings and solicited public input.” 

The Legislative Reapportionment Commission is a five-member committee made up of the leaders of the state House and Senate from each party, along with a fifth member voted upon by the group. If there is no consensus, that person is appointed by the state Supreme Court and typically belongs to the party that holds the Supreme Court. The court is currently majority Democrat.

Advocacy groups like Fair Districts PA are concerned the shortened timeline will shut public opinion out of the process. 

“If the data doesn't come until September, that really  gives lawmakers a shortened amount of time to draw those maps and solicit input,” says Albiges. “Advocates like Fair Districts PA are worried that the legislators will blame that delay and use it to say we don’t have time for public input or for public meetings.”

Albiges says it’s also possible the redrawn maps are litigated in court, as the last iteration of legislative and congressional maps were in 2011 and 2018, respectively.

“If the maps are litigated again and go to the [Pennsylvania] Supreme Court, there could be a scenario where as this is being litigated, the Supreme Court decides the 2022 elections have to be run under those old maps, the most recent ones from 2018.”

Steel Smiling raises more than $100,000 to support mental health among Black people
(6:07 — 13:03)

Mental health and wellness for many became even more critical in the pandemic and racial justice movement. With this focus, some turned to donations to organizations focused on helping people get access to help. 

Steel Smiling, a non-profit based in Pittsburgh, fit the bill, providing more than a 1,000 hours of mental health treatment to Black people. 

“Black people are investing their time and energy into the healing process,” says Julius Boatwright, founding CEO of Steel Smiling.  “Black folks are more willing to look for mental health support, they’re more open to connect with their peers and share resources and different options for people to heal.”

Boatwright says Steel Smiling is focused on increasing access to mental health treatment. He adds that the pandemic and racial injustice highlighted last summer have both spurred many to seek treatment and support his organization's work through its Black Mental Health Fund

“The growth of the Black Mental Health Fund has been truly phenomenal,” says Boatwright. The fund started as $5,000 to help offset the financial cost of mental health. “We weren’t actively fundraising, but hundreds and then turned into thousands of people all across the country started making donations.”

Steel Smiling is in the process of developing a “more intentional partnership” with Neighborhood Allies to reach their goal of connecting Black people in Allegheny County with a positive mental health experience by 2030. 

Yona Harvey says writing comics clarified her poetry
(13:05 — 18:00)

Pittsburgh’s Yona Harvey has a rare distinction: She’s an acclaimed poet who has also written for Marvel Comics. Her new collection is titled “You Don’t Have to Go to Mars for Love.” 

90.5 WESA’s Bill O’Driscoll spoke with her about writing comics set in Wakanda, and her latest poetry collection

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.