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Senator Wayne D. Fontana

 

Disappointing Decision

To my great disappointment, Governor Tom Corbett has decided to allow the federal government  to run Pennsylvania’s health insurance exchange that will serve an estimated one million Pennsylvanians.  Our state now joins 19 other states that have also made the decision to give up states’ rights to decide what’s best for its citizens, with the majority of these states being led by Republican governors.  Ironically, these states are going against a fundamental conservative belief that states should make their own decisions rather than to give control to the federal government. 

Affordable Care ActThe Affordable Care Act was created so that it gives states flexibility in developing a state-based plan.  However, Governor Corbett has used this elasticity as something negative and expressed that the reason for his decision was based on the fact that too many unknowns remained in how to develop a state-based health exchange.  If this was truly the Governor’s thinking, why didn’t the administration decide to work with the federal government and develop a federal-state partnership which was one of the options available to every state?  This type of decision would have guaranteed our state officials would have a say in how our health exchange was administered but at the same time have the guidance of the federal government. 

Furthermore, a little over a year ago, Governor Corbett expressed that he was leaning towards a state-based exchange.  Interestingly enough, in December, a Pennsylvania Insurance Department spokesperson said in an email to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette that “all things being equal, we still believe a state-based exchange would protect our local marketplace.”

Pennsylvania has a vast history of developing successful health insurance programs including Pennsylvania’s Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) and the now non-existent adultBasic, which has ended under the Corbett Administration.  Keep in mind that our state’s CHIP program was so successful that is served as a model to the national program.  Allowing the federal government to run Pennsylvania’s health insurance exchange will deny us the opportunity to once again craft an effective healthcare policy that would be tailored to Pennsylvania’s citizens instead of a generic policy catering to the entire United States. 

In closing, in a couple of years, the federal government will no longer be picking up the tab for Pennsylvania’s health insurance exchange.  With this in mind, you would think Governor Corbett would want to be in complete control and have the authority to govern the program and the ability to determine if the delivery of the health exchange is meeting the needs of the estimated 1 million people in Pennsylvania the health insurance exchange will affect?  But as we have witnessed with the administration’s decision, this is not the case. 

The Affordable Care Act does allow every state that has made the decision to establish a state-based exchange to reevaluate this choice each year and change who runs the health exchange.  At this point, I guess Pennsylvania’s best hope is that Governor Corbett will reverse his decision and let the people’s voices finally be heard.

Protecting our Lottery, Protecting our Seniors

Protect Our Lottery Protect Our Lottery

In light the Corbett Administration’s misguided consideration of outsourcing the management of the Pennsylvania Lottery to a United Kingdom-based company, a campaign has been launched by a statewide coalition of senior citizens and union members.  Protect Our Lottery is a campaign to keep the operation of 41-year-old Pennsylvania Lottery in state hands. 

PA LotteryThe Pennsylvania Lottery is the only state lottery in the nation dedicated solely to funding programs for senior citizens. The lottery funds life-saving programs such as PACE/PACENET; pays for property tax relief that helps seniors stay in their homes; funds transportation services; and helps to pay for nursing home care in every county.  Last year alone, the lottery generated over $1 billion to fund programs for older Pennsylvanians.  Here at home, proceeds from the Lottery have benefitted seniors in Allegheny County tremendously– $29,526,774 went to the PACENET program and $29,557,000 went to the Property Tax and Rent Rebate program.    

The stakes are high as the fate of our most successful programs for seniors stand to be at the mercy of an outside interest.  Every Pennsylvanian young and old should be concerned as this affects us all. 

In addition to the uncertainty facing our seniors, there are 230 Pennsylvanians currently employed by the Lottery, two-thirds of which could lose their jobs under an out-of-state private manager.  At a time when our state’s economy is struggling to recover, why would we risk disposing of jobs for Pennsylvania employees to an outside international conglomerate?  Keep in mind; these same workers are those that made the Lottery such a success and a model for the nation.   

I urge concerned citizens to browse www.protectourlottery.org and see the examples of how the Lottery is working in Pennsylvania. 

Did You Know…

Did you know the PA Lottery was created on August 26, 1971 with the enactment of Act 91 of 1971?  During its first fiscal year of operation, the Lottery generated $57.7 million in net revenue, nearly double the original projection of $30 million.

Free Student Financial Aid Seminar

PHEAAAs Vice-Chair of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) Board of Directors, I am pleased to be hosting, in conjunction with PHEAA, a PHEAA Financial Aid Education Day.  This free seminar will be held on January 26th and run from 10 a.m. until noon at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) in the Auditorium, Room S-260, in the Student Service Center Building.  Attendees can enter the building from the entrance on Ridge Avenue and parking is available in the Mon Hill parking lot and Student Lot #2.  Representatives from PHEAA will explain to students and their families what financial aid opportunities are available and which resources can assist in obtaining them.

PHEAA is a national provider of student financial aid services, serving millions of students and thousands of schools through its loan guaranty, loan servicing, financial aid processing, outreach, and other student aid programs.  As high school students begin thinking about their plans for college, the PHEAA Financial Aid Education Day will provide an opportunity for both students and parents to receive information on all aspects associated with paying for college.

For more information or to register for the free PHEAA Financial Aid Education Day, please contact Keith Wehner in my office at kwehner@pasenate.com or 412-331-1208.

Free Assistance with Securing a Job

Skills for Success - The Fontana Series Skills for Success: The Fontana Series. Register Online!

As I mentioned in last week’s edition, the next installment of Skills for Success: The Fontana Series is moving to the Carnegie Library-downtown branch in January.  These free workshops are scheduled for Monday, January 7th, Monday, January 14th and Wednesday, January 23rd, from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.  If you are currently looking for a job or if you need assistance with any aspect of the job searching process, these free workshops will serve as a great resource for you.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (CLP) I was proud to partner with the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (CLP) last year, providing grant funding for this free series aimed at building skills and creating excellent resumes and applications that aid job seekers in achieving the positions they desire.  Whether you have already built a resume and are looking to fine-tune it, if you are starting from scratch and need help with organizing your work history, need assistance with searching for positions online, or require help in improving your interviewing skills, this free workshop will benefit you.  I have heard directly from attendees of past sessions who have been able to find full-time work after putting to practice many of the lessons learned at the workshop.

Competition today for jobs is fierce and job seekers may need tools to improve their chances at securing employment.  This series provides those tools by featuring two separate workshops:  one focused on resumes and cover letters, and the other dedicated to interviews and networking.  This series also features a career lab where attendees can work on online applications and explore library resources.  Due to limited space, registration is required for workshops; however, walk-ins are welcome for the career labs.

The schedule for this next installment is listed below.  To register for one of these free workshops, please email careerworkshops@carnegielibrary.org or call 412-281-7141, ext. 2012.

CLP – Downtown branch
612 Smithfield Street
Pittsburgh, PA  15222

Monday, January 7th – Resumes & Cover Letters
Monday, January 14th – Interviewing & Networking
Wednesday, January 23rd – Resumes & Cover Letters
Workshops, 9 – 11 a.m./Career Labs, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Property Tax/Rent Rebate Reminder

Property TaxIf you have not filed for the PA Property Tax & Rent Rebate Program, I want to remind you the deadline of December 31st is fast approaching. 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.

PA 529 College Savings Program – 2012 Tax Benefits

PA 529As the year draws to a close, I want to make you aware that opening or contributing to a Pennsylvania 529 College Savings account before December 31st can help reduce your 2012 PA state taxable income while helping a loved one pay for college.  The PA 529 College Savings Program offers two distinct plans – the PA 529 Guaranteed Savings Plan and the PA 529 Investment Plan.

Families who contribute before December 31st can take advantage of PA’s income tax deduction.  Contributions up to $13,000 per beneficiary can be deducted from PA taxable income and married couples filing jointly can deduct up to $26,000 per beneficiary if each spouse has taxable income of at least the amount deducted.

To encourage more families to start saving for college in a tax-advantaged way, the PA 529 College Savings Program is offering free enrollment for all new PA 529 Guaranteed Savings Plan accounts opened before December 31st.  There is no enrollment fee for the PA 529 Investment Plan.

You can enroll online at www.pa529.com and to take advantage of the free enrollment for PA 529 Guaranteed Savings Plans, use the enrollment code TAXSMART when prompted.  For more information you may visit www.pa529.com or call 1-800-440-4000.

Offices Closed

All Senate Offices will be closed on Tuesday, December 25th in observance of the Christmas holiday.  My offices will re-open on Wednesday, December 26th as scheduled.

ornamentsHappy Holidays!

Whether you celebrate Christmas on December 25th, celebrated Hanukkah last week, between December 8th and 16th or celebrate Kwanzaa, beginning on December 26th, I want to wish you and your loved ones a happy and safe holiday season.

Beware of the Flu

FluThe Pennsylvania Department of Health reported last week a significant rise in influenza activity since late November.  Flu activity has increased from sporadic to widespread throughout the state.  In most years, widespread flu cases are not usually seen before January.  Please be aware that the elderly, younger children, pregnant women and individuals with chronic health conditions are at greater risk of serious illness developing from the flu.

In addition to getting an annual flu vaccination, the Department encourages taking the following steps to prevent spreading the virus:

  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.

  • Stay at home when you are ill.

  • Wash hands often with soap and water.  Alcohol based hand sanitizers can also be used when soap and water are not readily available.

  • Clean and disinfect high use surfaces, especially if someone has been coughing or sneezing in the area.

Holiday Gift Ideas Supporting State Parks & Forests

DCNRIf you are looking for a holiday gift and want to help protect Pennsylvania’s natural resources, its state parks and forests, the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) has several gift-giving ideas for you.

  • Gift-givers can support Pennsylvania’s 120 state parks by purchasing the 2013 special edition state park calendar that commemorates the 80th anniversary of the Civilian Conservation Corps.  The calendar features historic images and information that highlights the important role the Corps played in creating the state’s parks.  For more information on the calendar and to order one for purchase, please call 1-888-PAPARKS.

  • State park gift cards are available and can be purchased in any dollar amount.  These gift cards can be used for campsites, cabins and pavilions anywhere they are available.  To order a gift card, please visit www.dcnr.state.pa.us and choose “Find a Park,” then “Reservations,” then “Gift Cards.”

  • The non-profit Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation (PPFF) provides a voice for the state’s parks and 2.2 million acres of forest land.  The PPFF produces a 135-page passport that includes maps, a history of the state’s park and forest system, a brief description and most memorable feature of each state park and forest, and additional online resources.  For more information or to purchase a PPFF passport publication, please visit www.paparksandforests.org.

Pittsburgh’s Newest Outdoor Venue

Highmark Stadium

After more than eight months of construction, Pittsburgh’s newest outdoor stadium is ready to open.  Highmark Stadium will be the home of the Pittsburgh Riverhounds of the United States Soccer League and the Pittsburgh Passion of the Women’s Football Alliance and is located on the site of the former west parking lot at Station Square.  The stadium will have approximately 3,500 permanent seats for soccer and football and will hold about 15,000 people for concerts.

Penguins Pond “Penguins Pond” The venue opened to the public for the first time last week as the Pittsburgh Penguins in conjunction with the Riverhounds, Highmark Stadium and 84 Lumber, unveiled “Penguins Pond,” an outdoor skating rink open to the public during the holiday season.  “Penguins Pond” will operate weekdays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and on weekends from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.  Additionally several high school hockey games will be played on “Penguins Pond” including games involving schools from the 42nd Senatorial District.  On December 20th, Bishop Canvein will play Erie Cathedral Prep at 7 p.m. followed by Keystone Oaks matching up with Ford City at 9 p.m.  On January 8th, Chartiers Valley plays Moon at 5 p.m. 

For more information on “Penguins Pond” please visit www.pittsburghpenguins.com/penguinspond and more for information on Pittsburgh’s newest stadium, Highmark Stadium, please visit www.HighmarkStadium.com.

David Lawrence Convention CenterFontana Fact

With 109 total buildings certified, Pittsburgh ranks 4th in the nation in LEED Certified Green Buildings in 2012.  Only Denver, Boston and Charlotte have more LEED Certified Green Buildings.  Pittsburgh has 46 Silver-rated buildings, the most of any city in the country.

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
Property Tax/Rent Rebate PA 529 dcnr pheaa PA Lottery Affordable Care Act