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Senator Fontana was joined by family and friends during the swearing-in ceremony on January 4th.  Pictured, from left to right, are Senator Fontana, his son Matt, his wife Frannie, his daughter-in-law Nicole, his son-in-law Shawn and his daughter Missy.  This is the Senator’s 2nd full term in the State Senate.

Best Wishes & Sympathy

On Saturday, many of us watched as news outlets reported that a shooting in Tucson, Arizona left six people dead and another 14 wounded when a single gunman targeted U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. While there is little that we, as individuals, can do to help those who have been affected by this tragedy, we can certainly pray for those who are struggling, send them our best wishes and extend our sympathies and prayers to those who lost a loved one.

Yesterday, I joined in the national moment of silence. Designated as a time for all of us to come together as a nation in prayer or reflection to keep the victims and their families close at heart, the moment of silence was observed by many across the nation including the President, the U.S. House and Senate and the U.S. Supreme Court. As the days pass, the victims and their families will continue to need those positive thoughts and I hope that you will join me in continuing to send good wishes their way and to keep them in your thoughts.

Committee Assignments for 2011-12

I am proud to share with you that I have, once again, been appointed as the Democratic Chair of the Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee in the Senate for this legislative session. The committee has oversight for bills and issues relating to the Department of Community & Economic Development and the PA Gaming Control Board. In this past legislative session, I had the opportunity to work on the Table Games bill and sat on the Conference Committee that drafted the final bill for presentation to both chambers. During that process, I worked to secure funding from the local share of table game revenues for our public libraries.

We are facing a difficult budget year and so I expect that the Department of Community & Economic Development will certainly be a focus of this year’s budget. I have also been appointed to the Senate Appropriations Committee and am confident that my role on both committees can be used proactively to help shape reforms that will make the Department more efficient and effective.

In addition to Community, Economic and Recreational Development and Appropriations Committees, I will also be serving on Law & Justice, Urban Affairs & Housing, Public Health & Welfare and Policy Committees during this legislative session.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday & National Day of Service

Next Monday, January 17th, is the 25th anniversary of the establishment of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The civil rights leader helped bring profound changes in our attitudes toward one another and helped bridge the cultural divide. He provided hope to millions and did so with courage, compassion and dignity. Dr. King campaigned for racial justice and equality, leading a movement that achieved historic reforms to make it happen. The federal holiday honoring his legacy is observed each year on the third Monday in January.

In 1994, Congress also designated the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday as a National Day of Service when people from all across the country can come together to serve their neighbors and communities and provide solutions to our most pressing problems. You can find a way to serve your community on your own, or visit www.mlkday.gov and enter your zipcode to find projects that are planned for your area. No matter how you celebrate the day, remember that by working together, we can move closer to becoming a unified community.

Senate Offices Closed Next Monday

In observance of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday, all Senate offices will be closed next Monday, January 17th, but will be open on Tuesday, January 18th as scheduled.

Electric Competition Can Help You Save

You may have recently heard that rate caps for all Pennsylvania electric utility customers expired on January 1st. Typically, customers see an increase in their bills after the expiration of rate caps – the good news is that the rate caps in our area expired quite some time ago and that customers should not see an increase because of the date.

That being said, you still do not have to pay the prices charged by your current supplier because you have the ability to choose a new company which can supply your electricity for a better price. You can compare prices online, look at how much you pay now for supply, determine how much electricity you use, and look at what products and services are included in the price by visiting www.papowerswitch.com and choosing “Shop for Your Home.” Depending on the area, prices can be as much as 10% lower than the default price offered by your utility company.

The website can also provide information on suppliers that are environmentally-friendly, give you recommended questions to ask your provider, provide you with resources to help pay your bill, point out ways to save energy, and answer frequently asked questions.

FAFSA FAFSA Forms Now Available

If you are a student pursuing higher education and are interested in financial aid, the 2011-12 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is now available online for you. This federal form is used to determine your eligibility for federal programs, state programs – including work-study, as well as school programs like private grants and need-based scholarships. The only way to find out if you qualify for awards is to complete and submit the FAFSA.

Forms, as well as assistance in preparing the FAFSA, can be found online at the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) website. FAFSAs must be filed online. As a Board Member of PHEAA, I’m also happy to report that the agency is sponsoring FAFSA completion events throughout the region for FREE. You can visit the site  for information on dates and times the event is being held in your area.

The FAFSA can be submitted as early as January 1st, but it’s important that you complete and submit your FAFSA before your earliest financial aid deadline. These can vary by school, location, program of study, and more, so check with your financial aid office to learn the date by when you should submit your FAFSA. And remember, if you do miss a deadline, you should still submit the FAFSA because you may be eligible for late awards.

Scholarship Opportunity

Help pay for school by seeking scholarship opportunities as well. PHEAA has an entire section of their website dedicated to finding available scholarships. As promised, I will also share notices that I receive regarding scholarship opportunities:

The Pennsylvania American Water 2010-2011 Stream of Learning Scholarship Program is now accepting applications. The scholarship provides assistance to students living in the company’s service area (i.e. Pittsburgh), and those who are interested in pursuing a career in the water and wastewater industry. The program will award ten students with $2,000 scholarships. To be eligible, students must currently live in one of Pennsylvania American Water’s service areas (but can attend college outside of the service area); plan to attend a two- or four-year college or technical school; and plan to study environmental science, environmental engineering, biology or chemistry.

Applications can be downloaded from the company’s website, and must be completed and returned, postmarked, by February 11, 2011. Winners will be awarded scholarships in May.
 

Gambling Problem Assistance Available Online

If you or someone you know is struggling with gambling problems, make sure you visit a new website recently launched by the PA Department of Health called PA Problem Gambling. The website is a confidential resource for people dealing with compulsive or problem gambling and complements the toll-free Problem Gambling Hotline (1-877-565-2112) which is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

The new website has information on local gamblers-anonymous meetings, local state-subsidized and private counseling options, a risk assessment tool, frequently asked questions and more. It is also a good resource for friends and family, who are often the driving force behind getting the gambler to admit they have a problem. The website can tell you how to identify warning signs, lists the negative impacts of problem gambling, and has information on how you can help.

Around the District

As noted last week, January 4th was the date of the Swearing-In ceremonies for the Pennsylvania General Assembly. I am proud to have begun my second full term as Senator for the 42nd District and look forward to continuing to work together with you to improve our communities.

Also this week, I had the opportunity to talk with officials about economic development projects in the district including setting priorities. Working together with officials from both the City and County has ensured that projects within the 42nd District remain at the forefront, and I am proud to play a part in the continuing development of our region.

Transportation Funding remains a concern and priority in our district. Meetings this week included conversations with several organizations about possible solutions and plans to try to find a dedicated source of funding for transit in our region.

University of Pittsburgh Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Today is also the first Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Outreach Day of the year. Each month, my Kennedy Office acts as a host to John Dobransky from the Pitt SBDC who offers his expertise and resources to residents and businesses in the district who are interested in starting their own business, or growing their business. Appointments are encouraged, but not required, and can be sent by contacting John directly at 412-624-2290. The next SBDC Outreach Day will be Tuesday, February 1st.

Fontana Fact

Did you know the Fort Duquesne Bridge was left hanging in midair for six years before construction was completed? That is why it was once referred to as the “Bridge to Nowhere.” From 1963-1969, the northern end of the span was left uncompleted until a site for the North Shore connecting ramp was selected and built. It opened to traffic in October of 1969.

Steelers Extra

Steelers Fever is once again taking over our region. Kudos to the Class of 2011 at Chartiers Valley High School who star in and put the following production together that can be found on the Steelers’ Facebook page. Enjoy!

Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana