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Senator Bob Mensch

Dear Friend,

I hope you and your loved ones are faring well in this winter weather. Below is some information from across the district and across the state that I hope you’ll find of interest.

Please check out my Constituent Survey below and let me know your thoughts.

If you find this e-newsletter useful, I invite you to visit my website www.senatormensch.com for more information about your state government. If you do not wish to receive these e-newsletters, please click the "unsubscribe" button at the bottom of the page.

Sincerely,
Bob Mensch


In this issue...

The Mensch Report: Community Safety Conference
Tax Forms are Available
PA Free File: A Free Tax-Filing Option
Change to Pennsylvania Notary Applications
Child Protective Services Law Change
Constituent Survey
PennDOT Commercial Terms on Public-Private Partnership 
Winter Scam Advisory
PHEAA Student Aid Info
Healthy PA Open Enrollment

Senator Mensch was honored to stand alongside his colleagues on January 6, 2015 for their swearing-in ceremony.


The Mensch Report: Community Safety Conference

The fifth in a series of my Community Safety Conferences is the topic of the latest Mensch Report TV program. You can view this and previous programs here.

The topic of the October 15 conference at Quakertown Borough Hall was “Public Health Preparedness and Emergency Management Services.” The event featured officials from the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The panel discussed the Department of Health’s actions when handling the aftermath of storms and floods, how they address the effect of health-related issues, the department’s responsibility for all Emergency Management Services in the Commonwealth, and regulations that are being finalized for the new EMS legislation.

A presentation was also given on the benefits of PennDOT’s Pennsylvania Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) from LTAP Program Director, Lou Ferretti. LTAP is dedicated to transferring transportation technology through training, technical assistance, and other customer services to municipal elected officials and their staff. The LTAP program is designed to help Pennsylvania’s municipalities make the best use of their roadway maintenance dollars. PennDOT LTAP provides technical information and proven technologies dealing with roadway maintenance and safety methods to meet the growing demands on municipal governments.

The guest list included: elected officials, municipal managers, county executives, directors of county emergency services, sheriffs and police chiefs, road masters/public works directors, rescue squad chiefs, school district superintendents, school board directors, and hospital administrators within the newly reapportioned 24th Senatorial District.

Tax Forms are Available

Taxes are due on April 15, and my district offices have some state tax forms available. To obtain forms, please call any of my district offices to request the items you need. Forms can be picked up at my district offices or mailed to your home. In addition, PA Department of Revenue forms can be found here, and IRS forms can be found here.

Some federal tax forms will be made available at my office in the near future. Due to federal budget cuts, the IRS is unable to provide instruction booklets for Forms 1040, 1040A, and 1040EZ to my offices. Constituents can obtains copies of the instructions through:

  • IRS.gov/Forms – to view and download
  • IRS.gov/orderforms – to order tax products to be delivered by mail
  • 1-800-829-3676 – to order tax products to be delivered by mail

PA Free File: A Free Tax-Filing Option

Constituents can file their state tax forms on PA Free File, a free, safe, electronic filing option which allows qualifying taxpayers to file state and federal personal income tax returns simultaneously.

PA Free File consists of software and fillable forms, both of which are available for free at www.pafreefile.com.

To qualify for the free software, filers must have federal adjusted gross income of $58,000 or less. The software is available through reputable vendors approved to prepare state and federal filings.

For those who don’t qualify for software, PA Free File offers fillable forms, which are online versions of tax forms designed for people who prefer to prepare their own returns. Fillable forms can be submitted electronically or printed and mailed to the department.

Constituents can also stop by any of my district offices to pick up federal and state tax forms. I recommend that you call ahead to secure your forms. You can also request to have your tax forms mailed to you.

Change to Pennsylvania Notary Applications

Please note that under a new law, Act 119 of 2014, Senatorial endorsements of notary applications are no longer required. New and reappointment applications are now accepted online. Constituents are still welcome to have my offices send their application to the Department of State along with the necessary documents and payment.

Child Protective Services Law Change

During the 2013-14 Legislative Session, 23 pieces of legislation were enacted changing how Pennsylvania responds to child abuse. To ensure that school districts and organizations are kept up-to-date on the implementation of these changes, a page listing has been assembled to show the changes including links to training resources and other information.

You can review the updates here. Please do not hesitate to contact my offices should you have additional questions.

Constituent Survey

Your thoughts are important to me, and I encourage you to complete my new three-question survey here. Please be assured your survey submission will be reviewed and your opinions noted. If you have additional questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me.

PennDOT Commercial Terms on Public-Private Partnership

PennDOT has finalized all terms for the department's $899 million Rapid Bridge Replacement Project (RBR), clearing the way for construction to begin this summer on the project to replace 558 bridges across the state.

In October 2014, PennDOT selected Plenary Walsh Keystone Partners and its team of 11 Pennsylvania-based subcontractors to lead the project.

The team will manage the bridges' design, construction and maintenance for 25 years after construction under the public-private partnership (P3) contract. It will also be responsible for securing the capital necessary for construction which will begin in the summer of 2015 and all 558 bridges must be replaced within 36 months. PennDOT will maintain ownership of the bridges.

The P3 will deliver significant savings, allow PennDOT to replace the bridges more quickly than under the agency’s traditional procurement model, and minimize the impact on motorists.

The average project cost per bridge for design, construction and maintenance is $1.6 million. Through PennDOT’s standard process, the cost to design, construct and maintain a bridge for 28 years (which includes construction period and 25 years maintenance) would average more than $2 million, Schoch noted.

To see the bridges included in the initiative and to learn more about the Rapid Bridge Replacement Project and P3 in Pennsylvania, visit www.P3forPA.pa.gov. Additional information on the project, the team and how to bid on the project can be found at www.PARapidBridges.com.

The RBR initiative was approved by the Public-Private Transportation Partnership Board on Sept. 27, 2013.

Winter Scam Advisory

With the arrival of snowfall and the bitterly cold temperatures that followed, consumers are advised to protect themselves, including avoiding scams related to home repair and following the advice of public emergency, energy and utility organizations.

Consumers should also be cognizant of their energy usage during the cold weather.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has approved new regulations that require utilities to accelerate the "switching" time frames. This will allow consumers to switch suppliers within three business days once the utility has been notified.

If you or someone you know needs help paying heating bills, the Pennsylvania Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program can help both home owners and renters cover their heating costs between now and April 3. Additionally, Pennsylvania's Department of Community and Economic Development can provide free weatherization services for qualifying residents.

Consumers are also advised to follow the Public Utility Commission's tips during power outages, including calling utility companies instead of 9-1-1 if the power goes or remains out (unless there is another emergency) and limiting travel during outages involving downed power lines.

Winter Home Improvement Scams

Consumers are warned to watch out for "storm chasers" or scammers that will try to take advantage of them when they are in need. All home improvement contractors who do more than $5,000 worth of business per year in Pennsylvania are required to register with the Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection. However, registration is not an endorsement of the contractor's honesty or quality of work.

All home improvement and home repair contractors are required to provide consumers with specific information before proceeding with any project, including:

  • the contractor's registration number, which must be included in all contracts, estimates and advertisements;
  • a written contract for any project costing more than $500;
  • information about the consumer's three-day right to cancel a contract;
  • details about the total sales price, and materials and labor for the project; and
  • an approximate start date and end date for the project.

Additionally, Pennsylvania law limits the amount of any up-front payments that contractors can collect. For projects costing more than $5,000, contractors may not accept advance payment of more than one-third of the total price of the contract.

Consumers should also get multiple estimates for any major project and check references for recent work before committing to a project. Consumers should also ensure liability and personal insurance coverage in contracts and confirm that coverage with the insurance carrier.

Energy Use and Conservation

Consumers can save money on their utility bills by following these tips:

  • Maintain your heating system by having it checked by a professional at least once a year and changing the filters regularly.
  • Replace old thermostats with programmable units to lower temperatures when your home is not occupied or you are sleeping.
  • Have adequate insulation throughout the house and around your water heater.
  • Install weather stripping or plastic sheeting to seal cracks and holes around windows and doors to prevent heat from escaping.
  • Keep your energy costs down by using space heaters or fireplaces to heat smaller rooms and conserving energy on heating, hot water and cooking.

Consumers with questions or complaints can contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection's toll-free hotline at 1-800-441-2555 or visit the Attorney General's website at www.attorneygeneral.gov.

PHEAA Student Aid Info

The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) is advising college-bound high school seniors and their families to prepare for submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as early as possible.

Students must submit the FASFA in order to determine their eligibility for most forms of need and income-based financial assistance, including the Pennsylvania State Grant, the Federal Pell Grant, the Pennsylvania Targeted Industry Program (PA-TIO), work-study programs, various scholarships – including the Ready to Succeed Scholarship Program – and federal student loans.

Students and families can complete the FAFSA online at www.fafsa.gov. PHEAA will be offering free FAFSA Completion Sessions across the Commonwealth through April. These sessions help families in completing the FAFSA with hand-on assistance from PHEEA’s student aid experts. A schedule of FAFSA Completion Sessions can be found here.

Healthy PA Open Enrollment

Healthy PA is a Pennsylvania-specific solution that will improve and reform the Commonwealth’s Medicaid program and increase access to affordable health care. In addition to reforming the current Medicaid program, Healthy PA expands coverage to individuals between the ages of 21 to 64 who are below 133 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) through a private coverage option.

Open enrollment for coverage has begun and there is no deadline to apply. For more information on Healthy PA or to apply for coverage, visit www.healthypa.com or call 1-866-550-4355.


Twitter and Facebook: I post regular updates on legislative action, committee developments, useful state-related information, happenings in the 24th Senatorial District and more on Twitter @SenatorMensch and on my Facebook page.
 


Contact Me

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Harrisburg Office
Senate Box 203024
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3024
Phone (717) 787-3110
FAX (717) 787-8004

Red Hill Office
56 West 4th Street
Floor 2
Red Hill, PA 18076
Phone (215) 541-2388
Toll Free 1-855-247-9020
FAX (215) 541-2387
Monday - Friday
9-4:30 pm

Lansdale District Office
645 W. 9th Street
Lansdale, PA 19446
Phone (215) 368-3117
FAX (215) 541-2387
Monday, Wednesday and Friday
9-4:30 pm

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