In this Update:
Senator Mensch’s Breast Cancer Checkoff Legislation Unanimously Passes Senate
Senate Bill 445, which I sponsor, unanimously passed the Senate this week. This legislation would give individuals renewing either their vehicle registration or driver’s license an option to donate to the PA Breast Cancer Coalition. Senate Bill 445, also known as ‘Breast Cancer Checkoff’ legislation, will mirror similar processes set in statute which allow individuals renewing registrations or a driver’s license to include an optional $5 donation to the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition. There are currently options to donate to the Veterans’ Trust Fund, pediatric cancer research, and the Keystone Tree Restricted Account. PBCC has always been committed to contributing to the cause, giving over $4.5 million to breast cancer researchers in the Commonwealth.
Senator Mensch’s Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities Passes Senate Unanimously
Senate Bill 156, which I sponsor, also passed out of the Senate unanimously this week. Also known as Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities (MAWD), allows individuals with disabilities to increase earnings under a new category of MAWD, called Workers with Job Success (WJS). Anything earned over the cap will bump contributions into a new category rather than just eliminating eligibility all together and covers workers from 250% of the poverty level up to 600%, or roughly $76,000.
Read more here
Tuesday: Emergency Declaration Questions on the Primary Election Ballot
As I’ve reported to you in previous updates, the May 18 primary election features two proposed constitutional amendments to improve Pennsylvania’s emergency declaration process.
Don’t forget: Independent and third-party voters are eligible to vote on proposed amendments to the PA Constitution in this primary election.
You can find the op-eds that I’ve written over the last few months below for more information on the questions and what your YES vote means.
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions:
Will voting YES on the amendments immediately end the current emergency declaration?
No. Voting YES would only give lawmakers the opportunity to collaborate with the Executive Branch to avoid many of the negative consequences we have seen as a result of Governor Wolf’s unilateral actions.
Is the General Assembly able to meet quickly enough to respond to emergencies?
Absolutely. The PA General Assembly proved its ability to move quickly after the governor’s COVID-19 shutdown orders, becoming the nation’s first legislature to meet virtually. Lawmakers quickly delayed the primary election, authorized small business assistance, enacted local government emergency provisions, removed school mandates and ensured healthcare workers had PPE.
Can the General Assembly meet frequently enough to extend emergency declarations every 21 days?
Yes. Senate and House leaders can alter the schedule to accommodate votes to extend an emergency declaration every three weeks, if necessary.
Would the state risk losing federal money for food assistance and other emergency funding if the amendments are approved?
No. Legislative leaders intend to work with the governor cooperatively and in the best interests of the people of Pennsylvania to preserve access to federal emergency relief funding, while protecting lives and livelihoods.
Will these amendments apply only to the current governor?
No. This would apply to all future governors, Republicans and Democrats.
You can find more information, including ballot wording and opinions from around the state, here.
Pennsylvania Partners with Rite Aid to Ease COVID-19 Vaccine Scheduling For People With Intellectual Disabilities And Autism
A partnership was announced with Pennsylvania-based Rite Aid Pharmacies to ease access to COVID-19 vaccinations for people with intellectual disabilities and autism.
People with an intellectual disability, autism, and their caregivers will be able to call a hotline managed by the Department of Human Services’ (DHS) Office of Developmental Programs (ODP) to request a COVID-19 vaccine, and callers will receive direct outreach from a nearby Rite Aid Pharmacy to schedule their vaccine appointment.
People with an intellectual disability or autism and their caregivers can call ODP Vaccination Call Center at 1-800-424-4345 to request a COVID-19 vaccine appointment for themselves and/or their caregivers. This hotline is staffed from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. From there, ODP will give Rite Aid names and locations of individuals who need to be vaccinated. Rite Aid staff will assign local pharmacies to reach out to callers to schedule vaccinations at a Rite Aid location near to the caller. Read more here.
Senate Approves Plan to Offer Additional Year of Education Due to COVID-19
Parents would have the option to allow their children to repeat a grade level due to the learning disruptions created by COVID-19 under a bill approved by the Senate this week.
In current practice, the decision on whether to hold a student back is made solely by the child’s school and teachers. Senate Bill 664 would give parents the option to make that decision for the 2021-22 school year since they are in the best position to gauge their child’s development and educational needs after students have spent much of the past year learning at home.
It would also allow parents to extend enrollment in special education programs for an extra year, preventing students with special needs from aging out of the system at age 21.
Senate Acts to Preserve Prescription Drug Assistance for Seniors
The Senate adopted a plan that will allow thousands of older Pennsylvanians to retain eligibility for prescription drug assistance.
PACE and PACENET are the state’s prescription drug assistance programs that provide life-sustaining medications to 257,000 seniors. Eligibility for the programs are based on income. The Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for 2021 is estimated to result in almost 5,100 PACE and PACENET cardholders exceeding the income eligibility limits, meaning those seniors will lose their benefits.
Senate Bill 323 extends the current moratorium on increases in income due to a Social Security COLA for PACE and PACENET enrollees for two additional years until Dec. 31, 2023, benefitting 17,800 seniors.
PA Set to Transition to New Unemployment Compensation System
The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s Unemployment Compensation system is finally ready to move on from outdated technology and will transition to a new system May 30-June 7, with the new system going live June 8.
The system will be offline for several days during next month’s transition from an outdated, 40-year-old system to a modern software solution, but department officials say the planned timeline has been positioned to allow most individuals to file their biweekly claims as scheduled.
Find out about disruptions this will cause, and access user guides and virtual workshops, here.
No Answers from Administration on Data Breach Affecting 72,000
The Senate Communications and Technology Committee convened a public hearing Tuesday to seek answers about a massive data breach of personal health data impacting more than 72,000 Pennsylvanians.
After initially agreeing to testify, Department of Health public officials said they would not testify nor answer questions from members. The committee also invited the third-party vendor that was awarded the $22.9 million state contract for COVID-19 contact tracing, but the company did not participate.
The committee conducted the hearing to read questions into the record and announced it will evaluate all legal options to get answers for impacted citizens.
Taking Time to Honor our Police Officers
National Police Week runs through Saturday, but recognizing the risk police officers face is a year-round obligation.
Citizens elect lawmakers to pass laws, and society needs police officers to enforce them. It’s a dangerous, often thankless job that has to be done, and it takes a special kind of person to step into that role. Please join me in thanking our local police for vital service they provide to our communities.
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