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Senator Wayne D. Fontana

Senator Fontana is joined with (from left to right) Dr. Howard B. Slaughter, Jr. – President, Christian Management Enterprises, Consultant; Mayor Luke Ravenstahl; Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith; Jeffrey A. Smith – Sierra Development; Gil Berry – Sierra Development; and Chris Ivory – Keller-Williams at a press conference on November 9th announcing the Overlook at West End project.

Senator Fontana is joined with (from left to right) Dr. Howard B. Slaughter, Jr. – President, Christian Management Enterprises, Consultant; Mayor Luke Ravenstahl; Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith; Jeffrey A. Smith – Sierra Development; Gil Berry – Sierra Development; and Chris Ivory – Keller-Williams at a press conference on November 9th announcing the Overlook at West End project.  This project, which will begin in 2013, will create new upscale townhomes with a picturesque view of downtown Pittsburgh.

   
Senator Fontana speaks at the November 9th press conference Lt. Schubert with his family upon returning home.
Senator Fontana speaks at the Nov. 9th press conference The view from the site of the Overlook at West End

Highmark-West Penn Allegheny Health System

In June 2011, Highmark, the region’s dominant health insurer, and West Penn Allegheny Health System (WPAHS), the second largest hospital network in the area, announced an agreement for what they called a “capital partnership.” Highmark would begin to invest $475 million in terms of grants, loans and donations over four years to stabilize the financially ailing WPAHS.  This infusion of funding would also grant the hospital system the ability to continue to deliver quality medical services until the two entities could navigate regulatory approval requirements by the Pennsylvania Insurance Department.  More importantly, this newly formed alliance was created in order to preserve healthcare choice in our region. 

By November 2011, Highmark announced it had reached an affiliation agreement with WPAHS.  Less than a year later, the Pennsylvania Insurance Department stated they had great concern over the short and long-term financial conditions of WPAHS.  At this point, Highmark approached WPAHS about the option of restructuring their debt going forward. 

Due to WPAHS feeling that Highmark had breached the affiliation agreement by fundamentally changing the terms when insisting the health system file for bankruptcy first, WPAHS began to test the market for other suitors – essentially ending negotiations between the two businesses.

Last Friday, the Allegheny County Common Pleas Court blocked WPAHS from talking to other possible affiliation partners.  In its ruling, the Court said, “WPAHS made the unilateral decision that Highmark’s anticipatory breach was incurable,” when in fact the breach was curable.  In fact, WPAHS compiling a list of possible financial suitors before the break-up announcement had in fact committed a contractual violation of its own.  

As a state Senator, I am not in a position to tell private businesses how to run and who to be affiliated with.  However, there are far too many consumers and employees who are impacted by this falling out to remain silent. 

Now that a Common Pleas judge has ruled on this disagreement, the two businesses need to move forward with this partnership.  After all, this has been precious time lost on a relationship that seemed to be promising for our region and the integrity and delivery of healthcare in our region must be protected.  We have thousands of individuals who are directly affected by not only WPAHS but all of the region’s healthcare industries including insurance companies.  These include employees, employers, consumers, patients and the dozens of related industries associated with healthcare like the medical equipment suppliers. 

Healthcare is a major economic driver in our region.  It has attracted individuals and families to our area and in turn they have invested back into our communities.  Competition is a good thing.   The Highmark-WPAHS partnership offered promise to our region’s future and they must act now before it’s too late and deals are broken.  Most importantly, the lives of patients are on the line.  The time to move forward with this affiliation is now.   

PA Lottery

lotteryLast Friday, Governor Corbett released the terms of a potential privatization of state lottery management.  The plan calls for a private company to run the Pennsylvania Lottery for 20 years with the chance to extend that for 10 years in exchange for guaranteed annual profits.  $150 million in collateral would be required in case the new management firm does not meet its revenue projections.

The Administration is currently seeking business plans from companies interested in managing the Lottery and also indicates that new options like online sales or keno will be part of those proposals.  The final step would be for bidders to submit dollar figures on how much they would increase revenues from the gambling system.  Discussions with interested companies have been kept confidential, with Department of Revenue officials refusing to name the companies that submitted their qualifications earlier this year or even the number of potential bidders.  A decision may be made as early as December.

My concern with this plan is that it seems as though the Governor is offering a solution in search of a problem.  The Lottery recently closed the books on a record-setting year.  It reported $3.48 billion in sales for the 2011-12 fiscal year, its most ever.  This was an increase of 8.5 percent over the previous year.  After prizes and expenses, net revenue was $1.06 billion, an increase of about 10.4 percent.

Our lottery is the only one in the nation that earmarks all profits for seniors.  Proceeds from the Pennsylvania Lottery are used to fund various programs that benefit senior citizens, including: property tax and rent rebates; free and reduced fare transit; long-term living services; low-cost prescription drug programs PACE and PACENET; and funding for county Area Agencies on Aging.  Every single dollar in profit that goes to the private operator comes at the expense of these life-saving programs. The Department of Revenue itself acknowledged that the private management bidders have said that our system is among the best in the nation, which leads me to ask - why divest such a valuable asset?

The other issue that raises concern is that of employees.  According to the Administration, approximately 70 current Lottery employees would be kept to perform the Commonwealth-retained responsibilities.  The majority of positions, however, will be left to the decision of the private management company.  Employees would be invited to apply for job opportunities and interview with the private manager during an employment transition period.  Past that phase, no commitment to go ahead and hire these individuals would be part of the agreement.  This leaves most of those employees who have helped make the Lottery a success vulnerable to job loss.  

The Corbett Administration wants to turn over one of our most valuable assets that affects millions of our senior citizens without any input from the Legislature and without any public meetings for citizens.  Continuing to meet with potential vendors without disclosing who these private operators are flies in the face of the commitment he made as a candidate to more transparency and accountability.  

LIHEAP Program Open

LIHEAP LIHEAP I want to remind everyone that the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) opened on November 1st and the PA Department of Public Welfare (DPW) is now accepting applications.  The program helps low-income families pay their heating bills. You can apply and check the status of your application on the state’s COMPASS website. You can also pick up an application in my district offices, or download one yourself from DPW’s LIHEAP website. Completed paper applications should be returned to the Allegheny County Assistance Office.
Funding for LIHEAP is provided by the federal government and eligibility is based on Federal Poverty Income Guidelines. The income limits this season are as follows:

Household Size

Income Limit

1

$16,755

2

$22,695

3

$28,635

4

$34,575

5

$40,515

6

$46,455

7

$52,395

8

$58,335

9

$64,275

10

$70,215

After your application is reviewed, you will receive a written notice explaining your eligibility and the amount of assistance you will receive. Payments are generally sent directly to a utility company or fuel provider and are credited to your account. Crisis grants are also available to those who have an emergency situation and are in jeopardy of losing their heat. Crisis assistance is available 24 hours a day by calling the Allegheny County Department of Human Services at 1-800-851-3838. For additional home heating assistance, you may also want to contact your utility company. You may also call the LIHEAP hotline at 1-866-857-7095 with any questions about the program.

Property Tax/Rent Rebate Application Deadline

HouseIf you have not filed for the PA Property Tax & Rent Rebate Program, I want to remind you the deadline is December 31st.  If you are a Pennsylvanian age 65 and older, a person with a disability 18 and older, or a widow or widower age 50 and older, you may be eligible. Income limits are $35,000 for homeowners and $15,000 for renters. The maximum standard rebate is $650, but supplemental rebates for qualifying homeowners can increase rebates to $975. You can stop by any one of my district offices to get a claim form (PA-1000), receive help in completing your application, and check the status of your claim.

You may also check the status of claims online by visiting the PA Department of Revenue website or call 1-888-PATAXES. The program is supported by the Pennsylvania Lottery and revenue from slots gaming.

Assisting Children with Disabilities

I was pleased to attend a news conference on November 5th, hosted by Variety, the children’s charity, as they announced a new program to assist children with disabilities.  My Bike is a program that will provide adaptive bikes to children with disabilities in southwestern Pennsylvania.  This program will allow these kids to have the same opportunities as their friends, and experience the freedom, excitement, and exercise that come with riding a bike.

Congratulations to Variety on the launch of this program and thank you to all the corporate partners who have donated resources to begin the purchase of the adaptive bikes.  If you are interested in more information on receiving an adaptive bike for your child, please contact Variety’s Director of Programs, Sandra Thompson at 412-747-2680 or Sandra@varietypittsburgh.org.  If you are interested in donating, or sponsoring a bike for a child with a disability, please contact Charlie LaVallee at 412-747-2680 or Charlie@varietypittsburgh.org.

Children who live with a disability should be afforded the same opportunities as children without disabilities and I commend Variety on the launch of this new program.  To learn more about the My Bike program, please visit www.varietypittsburgh.org.  

Pittsburgh’s Light Up Night Pittsburgh’s Light Up Night

The 52nd Annual Light Up Night in downtown Pittsburgh is scheduled for November 16th, with festivities running from 5 – 10 p.m.  This event, hosted by the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership, marks the beginning of the holiday season and consists of many free activities for families.  If one day isn’t enough to take it all in, remember the Holiday Parade is scheduled for the next day, Saturday, November 17th.  For a full schedule of events for the two-day event, please visit the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership website

Did You Know…

Did you know that according to the Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership over 800,000 people are estimated to attend Light Up Night each year?

Brookline Celebrates the Season

The Brookline Chamber of Commerce invites you to “Celebrate the Season” on November 24th with a full day of family activities along Brookline Boulevard.  From 2 – 4 p.m., the Carnegie Library-Brookline will host story time and crafts which will be followed by a live nativity and caroling at Cannon Park from 5 – 6 p.m.  Additionally, children can have their picture taken with Santa at Melissa Distel Photography from 3 – 5 p.m. and again from 6 – 7 p.m. 

At 6 p.m. Cannon Coffee is hosting a Holiday Social where the annual Memory Tree lighting will take place.  The Christmas Memory Tree will be displayed in Cannon Coffee’s front window beginning November 24th and individuals will have the opportunity to purchase a light for the tree in the memory or honor of a friend or loved one.

For more information on Celebrating the Season in Brookline, please call 412-563-0759.

Assistance with Snow Removal

With the winter season fast approaching, I want to make city residents aware of a program that is available to help with snow shoveling.  Snow Angels connects volunteers with individuals in need of assistance with shoveling their sidewalk throughout the winter.  If you are age 60 or older, live in the city of Pittsburgh and do not have available resources to perform snow removal, you are eligible to apply.  You can request an application by calling 311 or by visiting the Snow Angels page on the city of Pittsburgh’s website.

The Snow Angels program is also seeking additional volunteers willing to help with snow removal.  If you are 18 or older and interested in volunteering, visit the Snow Angels page on the city’s website to register.

High School Football Update

Sto-Rox advanced to the W.P.I.A.L Class Semifinals with a 33-8 win over Union in the quarterfinals.  Lenny Williams rushed for two scores and threw touchdown passes to Brendan Blair and Javelle KirklandMarcus Jackson also rushed for a score.  Sto-Rox, 10-1, will face North Catholic in the semifinals on Friday night at Dormont Stadium.  Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.  Congratulations to the Vikings on reaching the semifinals and best of luck!

Three teams from the district had their seasons end in the quarterfinals last weekend after having terrific seasons. 

Montour lost to West Allegheny 14-2 in a Class AAA Quarterfinal.  The Spartans finished the season with an impressive 9-2 record, with both losses coming at the hands of West Allegheny.

Seton-LaSalle lost 33-17 to undefeated Washington in a Class AA Quarterfinal.  Seton-LaSalle jumped out to a 14-0 lead with two Luke Brumbaugh touchdown passes to Scott Orndoff and Lou Rotunda and led 17-7 in the first half before Washington scored the next 26 points.  Seton-LaSalle finished the season with a 9-2 record.

Brentwood lost 39-0 to unbeaten Clairton in a Class A Quarterfinal as Clairton won their 58th consecutive game.  Brentwood finished the season with a 7-4 record.

Congratulations to Montour, Seton-LaSalle and Brentwood on outstanding seasons!

Girls Volleyball All-Stars

The following young women earned selections to their respective Section’s All-Star Teams in girls’ volleyball.  The All-Section Teams were named after voting by coaches within each section. 

Six Bishop Canevin student-athletes were named to the All Section Team in Class A, Section 6:
            Ashley Grimm, Junior                                    Jody Mackin, Senior
            Callie Jacobs, Junior                                      Bailey McDonald, Freshman
            Samantha Kelsch, Junior                               Katie Oliverio, Senior

The following student-athletes from Brentwood were named to the Class A, Section 2 team:
                                                Christina Cranmer, Senior
                                                Alex Gibbons, Junior
                                                Victoria Healy, Senior

Seton-LaSalle placed three on the Class AA, Section 6 team:
                                                Angela Heintz, Senior
                                                Abby Koval, Senior
                                                Toni Torchia, Junior

Makenzie Kunig, a senior at Keystone Oaks, was named to the Class AA, Section 6 team and Lauren Scott, a senior at Chartiers Valley, was named to the Class AAA, Section 5 team.

Congratulations to these young women for having outstanding seasons on the volleyball court!

Fontana Fact

CCACThe Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) opened in September, 1966 with 75 faculty members serving 505 students.  Today, 270 professors and instructors serve over 33,000 students at four campus locations throughout the county.  CCAC offers 170 programs in six program categories and 95% of graduates live and work locally after graduation.  Since 2000, CCAC has served 433,716 students, with nearly 80% being Allegheny County residents.

Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana

  Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Phone: 412-344-2551
Fax: 412-344-3400
Harrisburg
543 Main Capitol
Box 203042
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Phone: 717-787-5300
Fax: 717-772-5484
Kennedy Township
Kenmawr Plz
524 Pine Hollow Rd
Kennedy Twp, PA 15136
Phone: 412-331-1208
Fax: 412-331-2079
Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
Phone: 412-343-2080
Fax: 412-343-2418
CCAC Highmark West Penn Allegheny Health System Pittsburgh’s Light Up Night
NAMI Walks Vote PA Carnegie Science Center PennDOT CCAC Highmark West Penn Allegheny Health System Pittsburgh’s Light Up Night