In This Update:
Op-Ed: Proposed State Budget
In the movie “Groundhog Day,” the Pennsylvania weatherman played by Bill Murray famously lives the same day over and over. In “Groundhog Day: The State Budget,” Pennsylvania taxpayers live the same threat of massive tax hikes year after year.
On February 3, one day after Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter, Governor Tom Wolf unveiled his proposed state budget, predicting at least six more weeks of Pennsylvanians fending off the largest tax and spending increases in state history.
The governor’s proposed 2021-22 state budget includes a $3.1 billion (8.2 percent) increase in state spending from the current fiscal year. This staggeringly large spending increase is unsustainable.
Op-Ed: Hold Harmless Policy
Rising property taxes seems to be the story in all too many communities across our region. And yet so many of our schools still indicate they don’t have the resources required to deliver a top-notch education. These problems are largely rooted in the “hold harmless” seed planted by the state three decades ago, before I was a member of the legislature.
The hold harmless policy states that school districts cannot receive less state funding than they did the year prior. The policy was enacted in 1992 and hasn’t been changed since. In fact, since then the state has guaranteed districts small annual increases, even when they have decreasing enrollment.
Read more about why I’ve co-sponsored a bill to have even more of the state’s education money be distributed through a formula to spend money where students are actually going to school: https://www.senatormensch.com/2021/02/01/op-ed-hold-harmless-policy/
Joint Hearing on COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution in Pennsylvania
Today, I questioned Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam during a joint hearing of the Senate Aging & Youth Committee and the Senate Health & Human Services Committee on problems with the COVID-19 vaccine distribution in Pennsylvania.
COVID-19 Vaccine Information
COVID-19 vaccine pre-registration and information is now available.
A guide about how to get the COVID-19 vaccine is now on the Department of Health website, which can be found here: https://www.pa.gov/guides/get-vaccinated/.
Berks County vaccine information can be found at https://www.doyourpartberks.com/covid-19-vaccine-information. To locate a COVID-19 vaccine provider and schedule your vaccination appointment, visit https://www.health.pa.gov/…/COVID-19-Vaccine-Providers…. If you have a question about the COVID-19 vaccines, you can call the PA Health Hotline at 1-877-724-3258.
Bucks County has posted COVID-19 vaccination pre-registration information on their website. Visit https://buckscounty.org/…/CoronavirusInfo/VaccineInfo for more information. For any questions regarding COVID-19 and vaccinations you can email COVID19@buckscounty.org or call 215-345-3318.
Montgomery County has posted COVID-19 vaccine FAQs on their website, along with COVID-19 vaccination registration. Visit https://www.montcopa.org/3660/COVID-19-Vaccine for more information. Any questions or concerns regarding the vaccine registration must be directed to the Montgomery County Office of Public Health at email@example.com or 610-278-3000.
Apply for Your FREE Agent Orange Medal
If you are a Vietnam vet suffering from one or more of the conditions on the presumption list from exposure to agent orange and have a VA rating, the Orange Heart Medal Foundation would be honored to send you an Orange Heart Medal at no charge to you. To learn more about the foundation and to apply, visit: http://www.orangeheartmedal.org/.
Agriculture Secretary Seeks Proposals For $300,000 In Matching Grants To Boost Sales, Exports
Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding called for proposals from nonprofit marketing and promotion organizations for projects aimed at increasing sales, exports or consumer awareness of Pennsylvania agricultural products. The department will award $300,000 in matching funds to reimburse up to half of costs for projects with priority given to those that increase food security in Pennsylvania or boost COVID-19 recovery.
Qualified nonprofits may apply for grants through the PA Department of Community and Economic Development online application system. The application period closes on Friday, February 19, 2021.
PA Department of Labor & Industry Grants
The PA Department of Labor & Industry announced the availability of $4.5 million in Digital Literacy and Workforce Development Grants (DLWDG) to support local programs across Pennsylvania that enhance foundational digital literacy skills for job seekers and help provide increased access to employment opportunities. Applications are due by 4 p.m. EST on Wednesday, February 17, 2021.
Impacted by Tropical Storm Isaias? SBA Can Help!
The Small Business Administration has announced that Pennsylvania businesses and residents affected by Tropical Storm Isaias on Aug. 4, 2020, can apply for low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration. Disaster assistance is also available for private nonprofits. The deadline to apply is February 16, 2021.
For more information visit: https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/.
Governor’s Budget Plan Features Massive Spending and Tax Increases
Governor Wolf unveiled a $40.2 billion spending plan for 2021-22 this week that includes more than $3 billion in new government spending – which would be the largest spending increase in the state’s history. The governor’s plan also includes an increase in the Personal Income Tax that would boost the amount of state tax taken out of every Pennsylvanian’s paycheck by 46 percent, as well as another new tax on natural gas that would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher energy bills.
The new taxes and spending are primarily to support education, workforce development and other programs. State lawmakers have made significant progress on all these issues in recent years, and I am confident we can support our schools, boost job training, expand internet service to underserved areas and meet the other needs of our communities without resorting to the massive new spending and taxes Governor Wolf is advocating.
Secretary of State Resigns After Critical Error on Constitutional Amendment
Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar announced this week that she would resign following news that she neglected to advertise a proposed amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution that would have allowed victims of child sex abuse to file civil lawsuits against their attackers, even if the statute of limitations had expired.
As a result of the department’s failure to perform the simple task of advertising this amendment, victims could now have to wait an additional two years to have their day in court. This is a completely unacceptable result for victims who have already endured so much, and lawmakers must investigate further to determine how the Wolf Administration botched this simple process so badly.
This embarrassing error is the latest in a string of questionable actions taken by Secretary Boockvar that have damaged our Commonwealth. I am hopeful that Governor Wolf will nominate a qualified, capable, and nonpartisan individual to lead the Department of State in the future.
Resources Available to Answer Unemployment Claimants’ Year-End Tax Questions
Unemployment claimants who have year-end tax questions can find answers through a new Frequently Asked Questions page developed by Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity’s office. The page includes information on what claimants should do if they have not received their 1099G, how to dispute the amount reported on a 1099G form, and what Pennsylvanians should do if they receive a 1099G because they were a victim of fraud or identity theft, among other topics.
Information is also available on how state residents can report identity theft and fraud related to unemployment benefits, as well as how Treasury can provide evidence that fraud has taken place so victims of these crimes can resolve the issue. The Department of Labor and Industry also has its own FAQ page that covers questions about how to obtain forms, report fraudulent activity and more.
New Fraud Attempts Target Social Media Users
The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry is urging social media users to be on the lookout for fraud attempts involving fake Facebook pages and profiles. By creating fake pages and social media profiles posing as department employees, criminals can attempt to obtain the personal information of Pennsylvanians.
A few helpful reminders:
If you have a question pertaining to unemployment benefits, the contact information for the Department of Labor and Industry is:
2021 Trout Stocking Schedule Available Now
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission recently announced its 2021 trout stocking schedule for all Pennsylvania waterways. This year, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission plans to stock approximately 3.2 million trout in 701 streams and 128 lakes open to public angling.
Trout season will officially open on April 3, following a single statewide Mentored Youth Trout Fishing Day on March 27.
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