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Senator Wayne D. Fontana

 

WPAHS & Highmark Progress

Highmark West Penn Allegheny Health System Highmark West Penn Allegheny Health System In the November 13th edition of my News & Views I expressed my concerns with the news that Highmark and West Penn Allegheny Health System (WPAHS) had ended negotiations to finalize their affiliation agreement.  The two entities appeared in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court in October after WPAHS claimed Highmark breached their affiliation agreement by insisting WPAHS file for bankruptcy prior to executing the agreement.  As a result, WPAHS began searching for other suitors in place of Highmark, which prompted Highmark to ask the Court to block WPAHS from talking to other potential partners.  A Common Pleas judge ruled on the matter and blocked WPAHS from talking to other potential affiliation partners.

Recently, we have come to learn that after re-starting the negotiations, officials with WPAHS and Highmark have reached an agreement on a debt reduction deal with bondholders.  This is a significant development towards these two organizations completing their affiliation agreement.  Upon agreeing on the debt reduction deal, Highmark submitted an amended filing to the Pennsylvania Insurance Department, which must approve the affiliation agreement for it to take effect.  While these developments are encouraging and both Highmark and WPAHS are to be commended for their efforts in reaching a deal, the Highmark acquisition of WPAHS is not yet complete.  It is important that the Insurance Department act expeditiously in reviewing the agreement and offering its approval. 

A strong and united partnership between WPAHS and Highmark will solidify the integrity and delivery of health care in our region.  Consumers deserve quality and affordable health care and this partnership will help maintain a high quality of care while offering consumers much needed choices.  It will also preserve thousands of good jobs for employees.

I strongly urge the Insurance Department to expedite this matter so our region can enjoy the benefits that this partnership will bring.  You can view Highmark’s amended filing at the Insurance Department website.  You may also offer public comments (click here to see what your statement should include) on this filing via fax (717-787-8557), email (rbrackbill@pa.gov), or mail:

            Robert Brackbill, Chief
            Company Licensing Division
            Insurance Department
            1345 Strawberry Square
            Harrisburg, PA  17120

Student Financial Aid

On Saturday, I hosted a free PHEAA (Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency) Financial Aid Education Day at CCAC-Allegheny Campus.  Kim McCurdy from PHEAA presented information on the financial aid process to students and parents explaining what financial aid opportunities are available and which resources can assist in obtaining them. 

Senator FontanaIf you were not able to attend this seminar or if you would like to learn more about the process of securing financial aid for a post-secondary education, I encourage you to view the presentation that was offered at Saturday’s seminar.  You can view the presentation by clicking here.  PHEAA also has a webinar available on their website that explains the financial aid process.  You can watch that webinar by clicking here

Additionally, if you would like a Pennsylvania Student Aid Guide and other materials that were presented, you may pick those up at any of my district offices.  If you have more specific questions about the financial aid process you may also email Kim McCurdy at kmccurdy@pheaa.org.   

As Vice-Chair of PHEAA’s Board of Directors, I’m proud of the work PHEAA does in creating access to higher education.  If you’re a parent or guardian who has a student considering a post-secondary education, I encourage you to review these materials to learn more about what financial aid opportunities exist.

PA-TIP Program

TIPI want students and parents to be aware of a program administered by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) that provides awards to students enrolled in the following programs of study:  energy; advanced materials and diversified manufacturing; and agriculture and food production.  The Pennsylvania Targeted Industry Program (PA-TIP) provides need-based awards up to the equivalent of the maximum State Grant award ($4,348), or 75% of the student’s total direct educational costs after gift aid and employers’ aid, whichever is less.  Awards can be used to cover tuition, books, fees, supplies, and specific living expenses.  Students must be enrolled full-time in an eligible program of study that is at least 10 weeks but less than two academic years in length.

The PA-TIP program is designed to help and support employers in the targeted industries, mentioned above, to develop more skilled employees within the Commonwealth. Interested students must submit a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and a PA-TIP application, which can be found on PHEAA's website.  You can also review Frequently Asked Questions on the site and review all the eligibility requirements. 

For more information on the PA-TIP Program please call PHEAA at 1-800-692-7392 or email patip@pheaa.org.

Did You Know…

Did you know the PA-TIP is administered by PHEAA with $5 million in funding provided by the agency’s business earnings without any taxpayer support?

Task Force on Violence Prevention

A resolution establishing a task force on violence prevention unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee last week and is currently moving towards Senate adoption.  Specifically, Senate Resolution 6 (SR6) directs the Joint State Government Commission to study the issue of violence prevention as well as establish an advisory committee to conduct a thorough review of the underlying causes of violent crime. 

This task force is a response to the tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December which has left many states looking at their own regulations and laws concerning school safety and violence prevention as a whole.  Many proposals and bills have been introduced in the weeks that followed the event to help tackle the growing problem. 

Task force appointments will be made by Gov. Corbett and legislative leaders.  The advisory committee will be established of approximately 25 members consisting of public officials and experts on the issue of violent crime to encompass a wide range of backgrounds and viewpoints. 

Some areas that lawmakers hope this task force and advisory committee will explore are issues that surround gun violence, strengthen firearm regulations, mental health laws and efforts to fight beginning stages of violence and violent acts like bullying.  The task force will also examine proposals made to the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

Recommendations of the task force may be reported to the Legislature as early as late summer. However, the commission does not have to issue a final report to the Senate until December 31, 2013.  Quick passage of this resolution to establish the task force will allow a thorough and comprehensive review of changes that need to take place to help prevent future violent crime in Pennsylvania. 

Clearly, a task force on violence prevention will not solve all problems our state will face, but is a beginning step and will allow discussions to take place to help prevent a tragedy from happening in Pennsylvania like what occurred in Connecticut.  Enabling experts on violent crime to take a look at our policies and laws and coming up with some recommendations will hopefully achieve a safer state for our children and citizens to live in. 

Alternative Fuel Vehicle Rebate Program Extended

depThe Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will be extending the Alternative Fuel Vehicle Rebate program.  This program provides rebates to consumers for the purchase of new plug-in hybrid, plug-in electric, natural gas, propane and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.  Only purchased vehicles, and not leased vehicles, are eligible for a rebate.

Large-battery vehicles that have battery system capacity equal or greater than 10 kilo-watt hours (kWh) will be eligible for the highest rebate amount of $3,000.  Rebates of $1,000 will be available for large-battery system plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and battery-electric vehicles with battery system capacity less than 10 kWh as well as natural gas, propane, hydrogen or fuel-cell vehicles.  A $500 rebate will be available for electric motorcycles and scooters.

To qualify for these rebates, the vehicle must be registered in Pennsylvania, operated primarily in-state, and be purchased no more than six months before the rebate application is submitted.   You can download the application and view the updated guidelines at the Alternative Fuel Vehicles page on DEP's website

Tax Help

TaxesLast week the United Way of Allegheny County’s Money in Your Pocket Coalition began offering free tax help at 11 locations throughout Allegheny County.  Volunteers will be on hand at these locations to offer free state and federal income tax preparation services to income-eligible Allegheny County residents.  Families with incomes up to $40,000 and individuals with incomes up to $20,000 are eligible to receive tax preparation assistance.

While these services are free to eligible residents, you must schedule an appointment in advance.  To schedule an appointment please call 2-1-1 or 412-255-1155.  For more information including a list of tax site locations and what to bring with you to your appointment, please visit www.pghfreetaxes.org.

Sto-Rox Student-Athlete Honored

Congratulations to Lenny Williams, a junior at Sto-Rox High School for being named the KDKA-TV Extra Effort Award Winner on January 24th.  Lenny quarterbacks the football team and will enter his senior season next year as the 10th all-time leading passer in W.P.I.A.L. history.  Lenny is also a great student, possessing a 4.0 grade point average.  You can watch the presentation that took place at Sto-Rox High School on KDKA's website.  Congratulations Lenny!

Older Adults Serving as Tutors

OASIS Pittsburgh and their Intergenerational Tutoring division will be hosting free training sessions for adults aged 50 and over who are interested in serving as tutors for students enrolled in Pittsburgh Public Schools.  These training sessions will be held February 26th and March 5th, from 10:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m. at OASIS, located on the 6th floor in Macy’s Department Store in downtown Pittsburgh.  All materials, books, and supplies will be provided by OASIS.

OASISOASIS is a non-profit organization, founded in 1982, that is active in 40 cities across the country in promoting successful aging by providing opportunities for adults aged 50 and over to pursue vibrant, healthy, productive and meaningful lives.  Their Intergenerational Tutoring Program trains older adults on tutoring children and provides older adults the chance to help students learn.

For more information on how to become an OASIS tutor, please call John D. Spehar, Pittsburgh OASIS Tutoring Coordinator at 412-232-2021 or email him at jdspehar@oasisnet.org.

pensFontana Fact

The Pittsburgh Penguins played in their home opener on January 23rd, hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs, after a 113-day lockout imposed by the National Hockey League.  The Penguins attracted a crowd of 18,641 to their home opener, the largest crowd ever to watch a hockey game at CONSOL Energy Center.  It was also the Penguins’ 255th consecutive sellout.

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
Pennsylvania Targeted Industry Program (PA-TIP) OASIS DEP