TRI COUNTY REPORT FOR DECEMBER 21ST, 2021

Pennsylvania State health officials are reporting nearly 20-thousand new cases of COVID-19.  That’s a cumulative total from Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  The statewide positivity rate is now about 14-and-a-half-percent.  Over 45-hundred people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state.

Three Lawrence County building projects are receiving $600,000 in grant funding. Ninth District State Representative Chris Sainato said the funding, awarded by the Department of Community and Economic Development under the Keystone Communities Program – will revitalize areas of New Castle and Union Township.  Some of the money will fund ongoing renovation and restoration of New Castle’s Wright Building on East Washington Street, while other funding will boost new façade programs for businesses in New Castle and Union Township.

A Mercer County Common Pleas jury found a Farrell man not guilty of rape charges. The Sharon Herald reports 28 year old Alijah Hasan Douglas was acquitted of rape of an unconscious victim and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse. The incident took place back in September of 2020 at a home on Sterling Avenue in Sharon. The defense argued the woman was not unconscious and that she consented to intercourse.

The former youth pastor at a Youngstown church is admitting guilt to a number of sex charges.  Twenty-two-year-old Mark Cuprik  [[  COOP RICK  ]]  pleaded guilty on Monday to a list of counts including sexual battery.  Investigators say that Cuprik had sexual relations with a 15-year-old congregate when he was on staff at the Boardman Campus of Victory Christian Center.  Prosecutors say they’ll ask the judge to give the pastor a 4-year prison sentence.

Some student loan holders deemed to be in public service will no longer have to pay state income tax on their debt. This decision impacts people who participate in two loan programs:   The federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program and the Pennsylvania Student Loan Relief for Nurses (SLRN) Program. Governor Wolf said in a statement that the state can’t afford to have what he calls “astronomical student loan debt” to keep people from choosing to serve as teachers, firefighters, or nurses. The decision potentially will save eligible loan holders thousands in state taxes.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture says some 14-thousand acres of farmland have been preserved in 2021. That amount of land mostly stems from a confirmed 166 conservation easements, including 30 new farms that were preserved this past week. The state department of agriculture also says  Pennsylvania has led the nation in farmland preservation this year.

Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate is down for the ninth month in a row.  Recent statistics from the Department of Labor and Industry show a jobless rate of five-point-seven-percent in November, which is down three-tenths of a percentage point from the month before.  However, that’s still more than the national average of four-point-two-percent.  Meantime, the state’s labor force participation rate shrank to its lowest level in nearly 35 years.

In some parts of the state, the public utility commission says energy costs are expected to increase as much as 50 percent. The rise in wholesale national gas is to blame for the spike in energy bills. Two-Thirds of Pennsylvanians who don’t shop for competitive energy rates have to go with the prices set by whatever utility company is designated for an area, because the utility goes out and gets that energy on your behalf. If you do choose to shop for your supplier, industry watch dogs say to make sure of what you’re signing as far as possible rate increases before you sign a contract.

The Penguins find themselves with the night off tonight after the NHL made the decision to postpone tonight’s home game versus the New Jersey Devils.  Officials say they made the move due to ongoing COVID issues impacting the New Jersey franchise.  The league also has decided to begin it’s holiday break following the remaining games on tonight’s schedule meaning that Thursday’s Penguins / Flyers match-up has been postponed.