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Applications close today to get rental assistance in Allegheny County. What resources remain?

Rich Pedroncelli

On today’s episode of The Confluence: The opportunity to apply for emergency housing assistance from Allegheny County and Pittsburgh ends today; state laws allow some incarcerated people who become terminally ill to qualify for compassionate release, but Spotlight PA’s Danielle Ohl explains why that process has been called "broken"; and a nonprofit in Carrick is teaching teenagers how to use audio equipment and technology for a career in production.

Few incarcerated people qualify for compassionate release, some PA lawmakers want that to change
(0:00 - 8:01)

In 2018 Congress expanded the process for compassionate release for incarcerated people from prison. Efforts to reform state programs are underway across the country, including in Pennsylvania

“In Pennsylvania, the qualifications are quite narrow. You have to be very sick with a prognosis of a year or less [to live] or imminently dying,” says Danielle Ohl, an investigative reporter for Spotlight PA, an independent, non-partisan newsroom. “If you're very sick, you can get transferred to a hospital or a long term care facility from prison. If you're imminently dying and you're just looking to go to hospice, then you can transfer there.”

Despite the law, very few people are given compassionate release. According to data from the state Department of Corrections, 45 people applied since 2016, and only 22 were granted it.

The cost of caring for terminally ill incarcerated people is significantly more than caring for those in good health.

“The state on average last year paid about $59,000 for just a regular person [who is incarcerated] who didn't require extensive medical care, but that cost can increase dramatically if somebody requires routine around the clock care, you know, over $100,000,” says Ohl.

Senate Bill 835, which was assigned the state Judiciary Committee last August, would expand compassionate release in the commonwealth by creating two possible tracks for incarcerated people: one where those 55 and older who have service half their sentence, or at least 25 years of a life sentence; and a medical release track for those with declining health or a terminal illness.

The bill is still in committee.

County rental assistance program to stop accepting new applications after today
(8:04 - 14:24)

Today is the final day for renters facing pandemic-related hardships to apply for help to pay for housing.

More than 32,000 Allegheny County households applied for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP), and about 15,000 received some sort of payment. That means more than half of the applications were denied.

“We’ve denied some homeowners and others that they don't qualify for the program,” says Chuck Keenan, from the Bureau of Homeless and Housing Services for the Allegheny County Department of Human Services. “But we still have, you know, several thousand people in the pipeline that we're trying to process.”

Keenan says the county distributed $104 million in rental and utility assistance since the program began, and that there’s about $55 million left in funding.

“We anticipate the funding will be done in June, maybe July,” says Keenan. “But we will continue to pay through that time of anybody that's qualified.”

Reflecting on the program, Keenan says ERAP highlights the need for more affordable housing in Allegheny County.

“The ERAP program has been able to help with that gap,” he says. “But it can't continue forever, obviously, and we need to figure out how to increase the access to affordable housing and increase the number of affordable housing units that we have in the county.”

Carrick-based nonprofit provides audio production training
(14:29 - 22:30)

25 Carrick Ave, a nonprofit located in the South Hilltop neighborhood of Carrick, is providing vocational training in audio production for local youths and adults.

“We provide a few different types of programs. We do outreach to schools, we can run workshops in classrooms,” says Executive Director Pete Spynda. “We offer apprenticeship programs, and we're working on establishing relationships with professional production companies. So students can then actually get some field work.”

One of those students is Marcus Jones, a senior at Carrick High School and studio assistant at the nonprofit. Jones learned how to use software such as Ableton and Pro Tools, and produced the song “Alterior Motives” during his time in the program.

“Honestly, I like to make stuff that comes from the soul,” says Marcus. “Something that fits my mood or like, how I feel like every day.”

Jones says he plans to work on his video game stream, as well as learn DJing. As for 25 Carrick Ave, Spynda says he hopes to expand the programming offered.

“Our focus for the past year has been audio, audio training, but we're looking to expand into video and broadcast,” he says.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.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.

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