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$303 Million To Child Care Industry Will Help, But Full Recovery Is Still Months Away

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Cara Ciminillo from Trying Together says although state funding will help child care facilities in the pandemic, vaccines and community confidence will be key in their recovery.

On today's program: The executive director of Trying Together explains the state of the region’s child care industry, and how $303 million from the Wolf Administration could help; Environmental Health News found five southwestern Pennsylvania families were exposed to unhealthy levels of chemicals associated with oil and gas production; and how glitches in the distribution of the state’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance has caused series issues for some in the Commonwealth.

Trying Together executive director hopes vaccines and confidence can help industry recover

(0:00 — 6:20) 

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration is allocating $303 million to support child care providers who have endured a year of challenges and changes.  The money comes from the federal pandemic aid package signed into law in late December.

About $141 million will be given to child care providers that have seen decreased enrollment. 

“Child care has been open since March of 2020,” says Cara Ciminillo, executive director of Trying Together. The non-profit supports high-quality care and education for young children through advocacy and community resources. “Many of our policy makers realized that we actually needed childcare to remain open so that our essential workers can continue to work, but obviously like many businesses, or many other sectors, with very significantly decreased enrollment.”

Ciminillo says a full recovery of the child care industry depends on a few factors.

“I think it’s going to really depend on how quickly the vaccines roll out, and how quickly community confidence returns to having children in congregate settings and larger group settings.” 

Wolf announced plans this week to vaccinate educators serving grades Pre-K to 12 with the new Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, which received emergency approval from the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ciminillo hopes child care providers are vaccinated alongside educators.

“I think as we look forward, it’s gotta be, what are we prioritizing?” says Ciminillo. “Are we prioritizing children and families? Are we prioritizing their caregivers? And I hope the answer is yes.”

Environmental Health News found children living close to oil and gas production may be exposed to higher rates of unsafe chemicals
(6:24 — 13:12)

The potential for groundwater and air pollution have long been concerns since oil and gas companies began fracking for natural gas in Pennsylvania over the last dozen years or so.

But are those chemicals used in the fracking process making their way into our bodies?

“We looked for a long list of harmful chemicals that have been found to be emitted from fracking wells and compressor stations in air monitoring stations conducted across the country,” says reporter Environmental Health News reporter Kristina Marusic

She recently published a series called “Fractured,” looking at the level of chemical exposure in five families over a nine week period: three in Washington County and two in Westmoreland County.

“It’s important to note that many of these chemicals are found in lots of places other than fracking emissions, including things like cigarette smoke, paints, vehicle exhaust,” says Marusic. “As a result, everyone has some of these chemicals in their bodies, which is why we compared the levels of these biomarkers we found in the families we tested against national averages.”

Marusic collected urine samples from the families, as well as air and water from their homes. 

“We found the families we tested who lived near fracking operations had significantly higher than average levels of many of these biomarkers.”

Marusic notes, they can’t say for sure what the root of exposure was, or draw sweeping conclusions when five families comprise such a small sample size. The goal of the investigation was to test methods of biomonitoring near fracking sites, and potentially spur further scientific investigation.

“Most people were surprised to learn about these exposures,” says Marusic. “One person who lives in Washington County said to me, if we go to the city, we get all the air pollution from the coke plants. [They] thought [they] were getting away from that moving somewhere rural.”

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance distribution faces major problems due to technology issues
(13:17 — 18:00)

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance was built to be a lifeline for non-traditional workers: freelancers, the self-employed. But in Pennsylvania, the program has been plagued by errors, which stem from a no-bid contract the state made with a private IT contractor.

 Keystone Crossroads’ Laura Benshoff reports these glitches have created legal issues and exacerbated financial hardship for vulnerable residents in the state.

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.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago.
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at
Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Isabelle is a student at George Washington University studying Political Communication. She loves all things Pittsburgh sports and serves as a sports anchor for GW-TV. In her free time, she enjoys museum hopping and walking her dog, Stevie.
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