Pa. reps must push hard on infrastructure

York Dispatch Editorial Board
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Sen. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., discuss details of a bipartisan agreement to fix the digital asset reporting requirements in the infrastructure bill at the U.S. Capitol on Monday.

Thumbs up for the billions of dollars earmarked for Pennsylvania in the draft $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed this month by the Senate

That rarest of legislative initiatives these days — a solidly bipartisan package -- heads to the House following a 69-30 vote that split Pennsylvania’s senators, Democrat Bob Casey in favor and Republican Pat Toomey in opposition.

More:Senate passes $1T bipartisan infrastructure bill

According to Casey, the measure will provide $11.3 billion to rebuild state roads and highways, $1.6 billion for bridge repair and replacement, $2.8 billion for public transportation and hundreds of millions more for projects including improved drinking water, additional charging stations for electric vehicles and expanded broadband service.

Add in the thousands of jobs these projects would create, and the need for approval in the House, where the measure awaits action, becomes all the more apparent. Pennsylvania’s congressional contingent must push hard to ensure this bill becomes law.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., speaks at a town hall at Penn State York on Friday, April 23.

Thumbs down for the spiraling number of fentanyl-related overdoses in Pennsylvania. A Philadelphia-based U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency official told The Morning Call of Allentown last week that the drug is more prevalent — and more deadly — than at any time since the opioid crisis began.

DEA statistic back him up. An estimated 73% of the approximately 4,500 drug-overdose deaths in Pennsylvania in 2019 involved fentanyl. That’s up from 14% in 2012. Nor is the problem new: “(The) increase in availability of fentanyl in Pennsylvania has become evident in recent years, including incidents of fentanyl sold as heroin,” the Philadelphia division of the DEA reported in 2018, adding that, “Heroin and fentanyl availability in Pennsylvania are ubiquitous.”

York County has hardly been spared. Overdose deaths jumped by a third year over the previous year in 2020 to nearly 200, and state Department of Health figures for 2019 identified more than 8,500 county residents as having drug-use disorders.

A pair of pending bills come at the issue from different angles. State Rep. Mike Regan, R-York Township, is urging a series of mandatory minimum sentences for users based on the amount of fentanyl involved. Fellow Republican state Rep. Jim Struzzi of Indiana County wants to provide users with tools to test illegal drugs to for the presence of fentanyl (which is often mixed into or sold as other drugs, especially heroin).

Clearly, a full-court press — legislative, medical, educational — is needed if the scourge of fentanyl-related fatalities in Pennsylvania is to be overcome.

Thumbs up for a federal program that is bringing much-needed fresh produce to young students in nearly 300 elementary schools across the state, including eight in York City.

The USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program will direct some $7 million in grant money to the schools, which will use the funds to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to students.

More:York City schools receive federal grant to provide fresh fruit and vegetables

This infusion of healthy fare will fill a gap in those pockets of the state and county where food insecurity is an unfortunate reality for too many families — a problem that has only been exacerbated by the yet-to-abate coronavirus pandemic. The nonprofit agency Communities in Schools of Pennsylvania reports food insecurity for children statewide more than doubled over the past year. 

Summer meal programs held in about half of York County’s public school districts this year tackled that challenge head-on. And moves by the federal departments of Education and Agriculture Food and Nutrition Services will permit the state’s public schools to provide free meals throughout the 2021-22 school year.

The Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program is yet another welcome effort to help ensure all York County students have the nourishment they need to concentrate, learn and thrive in the classroom.