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Addressing Pittsburgh's Public Health Crisis: Racism

Gene J. Puskar
Black women in Pittsburgh are more likely to die during pregnancy than their peers in 97 percent of U.S. cities according to the report from the city's Gender Equity Commission.


On today's program: the author of a new book chronicling the history of the Association of Pittsburgh Priests; banking in the marijuana industry is tricky business; the local impact of proposed food stamps changes; and how racism can have a negative impact on health. 

Chronicling the Association of Pittsburgh Priests
(oo:oo — 12:30)

Pope Francis is expected to decide by the end of the month on a request by bishops from several South American countries to allow married deacons to be ordained as priests and to allow women to become deacons.

Members of the Association of Pittsburgh Priests are awaiting the pontiff’s decision as a possible signal of future changes, according to Art McDonald, author of a new book about the history of the organization: “A Progressive Voice in the Catholic Church in the United States.” 

Since 1966, the association has advocated for reform within the church, including allowing priests to marry and for women to be ordained.  

“The association always had this notion—we wanted to work closely with the official [clergy] council and with the bishop. But we also wanted to be able to speak with our own voice when we thought it necessary,” says McDonald. 

He says that despite the challenges the group has faced over the years, including various levels of support and indifference from the diocese’s bishops, the group has remained consistent in its goals of church renewal and social justice. 

The hurdle of banking in the cannabis industry
(13:11 — 17:51) 

Many banks won’t work with the cannabis industry, even in states like Pennsylvania which have legalized the drug for medical use. 90.5 WESA’s An-Li Herring reports that one reason is because marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, and banks that work with cannabis businesses could be liable for money laundering. As part of our series, The State of Cannabis, we take a look at the banks do work within the marijuana industry —often at a high cost and with limited benefits.

Find more stories in our series,The State of Cannabis.

SNAP changes could have a noticeable impact locally
(17:54 — 26:23) 

More than 1,800 low-income Allegheny County residents could lose access to food assistance under a new Trump administration rule that tightens work requirements for able-bodied adults without kids.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program currently limits adults to three months of food stamps within a three-year period, unless they work 20 hours a week. Pennsylvania and many other states have been able to waive those requirements in places with high unemployment rates. But the new Trump administration rule, announced this month, makes it harder for states to get those waivers.

“If the rule takes effect in April as planned, people in that category – able-bodied, without dependents, between 18-49 – will be subject to time limits,” said Ken Regal, executive director of Just Harvest. “They will be kicked off of food stamps unless they can prove that they work 80 hours a month.” 

 “The paperwork is complicated. The rules about what constitutes a work-related activity are complicated. And proving whether or not you’re able-bodied is complicated as well,” he tells The Confluence. 

The rule takes effect in April 2020 unless Congress or the courts intervene. 

Racism’s impact on Pittsburgh's health
(26:27 — 39:01) 

Pittsburgh City Council officially passed legislation Tuesday that acknowledges racism as a public health crisis in Pittsburgh. This legislation comes after the Gender Equity Commission released a reportthat showed significant inequality for black women in Pittsburgh.

“Black women in Pittsburgh are more likely to be unemployed and more likely to live in poverty than black women in any comparable city in the United States,” says Demia Horsley, Maternal and Child Health Program coordinator at Healthy Start

The Gender Equity Commission also found racial disparities in infant and maternal mortality. According to 2016 data, African American infants are four-and-a-half times more likely to die than white babies. 

The report brought attention to issues that already existed, says Dara Mendez, an assistant professor of Epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. Mendez made recommendations to Pittsburgh City Council members at a hearing earlier this month about how to frame legislation passed Tuesday. 

To address these inequalities correctly, Mendez and Horsley say that the women who are currently working on racism as a public health crisis need to be centered in the reporting of the issues and in finding the solutions.

“I think the next and most important step is really taking into consideration these recommendations that we put forth, and making sure that community voices are heard and that community has an input in how this unfolds and develops,” says Horsley. 

Mendez says the legislation also calls for an investment of funds to reduce the disparities, and it should ensure “that any funds, any processes moving forward and strategies related to that, that there is full transparency and community involvement.”

90.5 WESA’s Julia Zenkevich contributed to this report. 

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.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.
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