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Senator Wayne D. Fontana

Senator Fontana announced that the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) is opening a new Customer Service Center in Green Tree this fall, creating approximately 150 jobs. 

Senator Fontana announced that the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) is opening a new Customer Service Center in Green Tree this fall, creating approximately 150 jobs.  Senator Fontana is pictured here following the announcement with (left to right): Representative Bill Kortz, PHEAA President/CEO James L. Preston, Representative Dan Miller, Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, Senator Matt Smith, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Representative Erin Molchany, Representative Ed Gainey,and Representative Dan Deasy.

Watch the June 7th Press Conference

PHEAA Opening Call Center – Creating 150 Jobs!

PHEAA PHEAA As the Vice-Chair of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) I am pleased to announce the opening of a new PHEAA Customer Service Center in Green Tree.  This new facility, located at 11 Parkway Center, will create 150 employment opportunities for local residents.  These are sustainable jobs with access to employment benefits.

With the help of skilled workers from right here in western Pennsylvania, the new Customer Service Center in Green Tree will help PHEAA continue to provide the best possible customer service to millions of student loan borrowers throughout the region, the Commonwealth and the nation.  These workers, and this facility, will help PHEAA service its growing portfolio of federally-owned student loans, currently worth a total of $129 billion for 5.8 million borrowers.

PHEAA Press Conference

Watch the June 7th Press Conference

PHEAA began operations 50 years ago with only four employees working out of a one room office in Harrisburg.  Today, the agency is known as one of the nation’s largest and most efficient student aid organizations in the country.  PHEAA is a student loan guarantor and servicer, a student aid systems developer, and of course, a state grant and special programs administrator.  The revenue earned through PHEAA’s business operations is used to pay for the agency’s operations and to support its public service mission to the Commonwealth, including our $80 million supplement to the State Grant program for 2012-13, which has allowed more Pennsylvania students with financial need to benefit from larger grant awards.  Not only does the agency provide the nation’s best customer service to our residents, but PHEAA’s success has funded public services that have saved taxpayers more than $1 billion over the years.

Now, more residents from Allegheny County will have the opportunity to benefit from PHEAA’s success with the opening of this new Customer Service Center, joining current facilities in Dauphin, Cumberland, Centre and Delaware Counties.  With operations set to commence this fall, PHEAA will hold its first Allegheny County recruitment event on June 25th at the new facility’s location at 11 Parkway Center, from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.  If you’re interested in working in this new facility, I encourage you to attend this recruitment event.  You can also visit www.pheaa.org/jobs to learn more about available positions.

I appreciate the long-term investment PHEAA is making in our community and am looking forward to the opening of this new facility and the success I know it will bring to our region through both job opportunity and improved service to our student loan customers.  Soon, PHEAA will learn and experience first-hand what I already know to be true – that this region possesses some of the most skilled, motivated, dedicated, and hardworking individuals in the nation, workers who will ensure that this Customer Service Center is a successful operation for many years.

Student Loan Interest Rates

Student LoansIf you are a college student or have children, grandchildren, or other friends and relatives with student loan obligations I want to make you aware of an issue that the United States Congress is currently debating that will affect interest rates on federal Subsidized Stafford Loans.  Currently, students borrowing new loans through the federal Subsidized Stafford Loan Program are paying an interest rate of 3.4 percent.  These loans are offered to needs-based undergraduate students and the federal government pays the interest on the loan while the student is enrolled in college.  Interest begins to accrue on the loans once the student has graduated or is no longer enrolled in school. 

The current 3.4 percent rate for the subsidized loans was set by the United States Congress in 2007 and last year, Congress passed a one-year extension of that rate.  However, the 3.4 percent rate is set to expire on July 1st.  If Congress does not act, the interest rate will double to 6.8 percent which will affect all new Subsidized Stafford Loans.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would set interest rates based on the rate of the 10-year Treasury Note, plus 2.5 percent, with a cap of 8.5 percent.  Under this proposal, it is expected that the interest rate would be set at 5 percent for 2014 and the bill also includes a variable rate formula for Unsubsidized Stafford Loans and for Parent and Grad PLUS loans, which currently bear a 7.9 percent interest rate.  In the U.S. Senate, some members have voiced support for extending the current rate of 3.4 percent for at least two more years while the Obama Administration and federal elected officials from both parties, have offered alternative variable rate plans.

The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), of which I am the Vice-Chair, is one of four loan servicers to service these loans for the federal government.  As the servicer, PHEAA does not play any role in the setting of the interest rate or terms and conditions of the loans.  These parameters are set by acts of the U.S. Congress and the U.S. Department of Education.  In my role with PHEAA, I am concerned about the fiscal constraints that a potential interest rate increase would impose on students enrolled in undergraduate studies.

If you are a borrower, I encourage you to discuss the potential effect of this legislation on your own financial situation with your financial aid administrator.  You may also with to convey your thoughts and/or concerns with your United States representative.

Transportation Funding Legislation

With nearly 4,400 “structurally deficient” bridges - more than any other state in the nation – and hundreds of miles of state-owned roads considered to be in poor condition, Pennsylvania has a major transportation infrastructure funding dilemma.  Last week, the Pennsylvania Senate took a first major step in attempting to solve this crisis by overwhelmingly passing Senate Bill 1 (SB 1), which is a comprehensive transportation funding bill.  In particular, this legislation will devote $2.5 billion in additional revenue for roads, bridges, public transit and many of the other means of transportation throughout the state. 

By time the plan is fully implemented, it will raise each year:

  • $1.9 billion for state and local highways and bridges
  • $510 million for mass transit
  • $130 million for multi-modal fund for railway, ports, airports, bicycle and pedestrian programs

This new funding will build on the $5 billion already spent annually for transportation needs so that Pennsylvania is no longer just fixing existing infrastructure but also creating and improving new transportation networks and programs. 

A well-maintained transportation network is critical to bringing qualified employees and providing good paying jobs in the current competitive economy. Senate Bill 1 is also a job-creating plan..  Estimates show that for every $1 billion invested in transportation, 25,000 jobs will be created or saved.  This includes construction jobs, creation of materials needed for these projects and other spin-off industries like delivery of the products. 

A recent report by a national transportation group found that the poor state of Pennsylvania’s roads and bridges costs residents $9.4 billion annually in vehicle operating costs, congestion delays and traffic accidents.  It is essential for Pennsylvania to act now because the costs are too high to allow this problem to prolong. 

Living in the Pittsburgh region, I supported SB 1 because it provides for a solid dedicated funding stream for roads and bridges as well as for public transportation systems like the Port Authority.  Without a new immediate revenue source, Allegheny County mass transit would see further service cuts, causing not only the loss of the main mode of transportation for some residents, but also further stress and overload our roads and bridges.   Furthermore, this bi-partisan supported legislation addresses public safety while at the same time invests greatly into Pennsylvania and our economy.  

Passage of this transportation funding measure is far from the final product.  The legislation now goes to the House of Representatives where additional work will take place, including discussions between the House and the Administration.   My hopes are that a meaningful, long-term solution to our state’s aging transportation infrastructure will be the final product that will provide benefits for the Pittsburgh region and statewide for years to come. 

Final Skills for Success Workshop Thursday

Skills for Success - The Fontana Series Skills for Success: The Fontana Series. Register Online! If you haven’t attended a free workshop in the Skills for Success: The Fontana Series, there is one workshop remaining this Spring at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (CLP) – Mt. Washington branch.  The final workshop is this Thursday, from 1 – 5 p.m.  CLP – Mt. Washington is located at 315 Grandview Avenue.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (CLP) If you are currently looking for a job, or are interested in boosting your skills that will help you land a desired position, sign up today for this free workshop, which will serve as a great resource for you.  I was proud to partner with CLP in 2011, 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, there is a place at this free workshop for you.

Rachel Masilamani and Richard Brzustowicz are again leading the Skills for Success: The Fontana Series, bringing over 10 years combined experience assisting library visitors with job hunting, online applications and resume writing.  The series features two separate workshops:  one focused on resumes and cover letters, and the other dedicated to interviews and networking.  The series also contains a career lab where attendees can work on online applications and explore library resources that can assist them in the job searching process.

Job seekers today face fierce competition in securing employment.  Take advantage of this free program, Skills for Success: The Fontana Series, and learn the ins and outs of the job searching process that will give you an advantage. Registration is required for the workshop; however, walk-ins are welcome for the career lab.  To register for Thursday’s workshop please call 412-281-7141, ext. 2012 or email careerworkshops@carnegielibrary.org.

Property Tax/Rent Rebate Application Deadline Extended

HouseHave you filed for the Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program yet?  The deadline to apply has been extended until 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.  The income limit is $35,000 a year for homeowners and $15,000 annually for renters and half of Social Security income is excluded.  The maximum standard rebate is $650 but supplemental rebates for qualifying homeowners can potentially boost rebates to $975.

You can stop by any one of my district offices to obtain a claim form (PA-1000), receive help in completing your application, and check the status of your claim.

Rebates will be sent out beginning July 1st.  Eligible residents who submit their application after June 30th will receive their claim after it is processed.  You may also check the status of claims online by visiting the Department of Revenue website or call 1-888-222-9190.  The program is supported by the Pennsylvania Lottery and revenue from slots gaming.

Mental Health Services

Peer Suppot & Advocacy NetworkIf you are dealing with a mental illness, or have a friend or loved one who is, I want to make you aware of an organization that can help.  The Peer Support & Advocacy Network (PSAN) is an organization where individuals with mental illness come together and work toward recovery of mind, body and spirit. Every employee at PSAN has a personal history of mental health issues and these employees are trained and equipped to assist individuals who are in need of help.

As part of its service offering, PSAN offers the following:

  • The “Warmline” is a telephone service where consumers can call and speak with someone who understands their issues.  Operating from 10 a.m. – midnight, seven days a week, 365 days a year, the “Warmline” averages about 4,600 calls per month.  The number to call to speak with someone who understands the struggle of mental health issues is 1-866-661-9276.

  • PSAN provides Peer Mentoring/Peer Specialist services where a consumer can have access to a PSAN staff person to assist with daily errands or have someone to spend time with.

  • PSAN provides a service where they will call a consumer upon request.  This service can be used for reminders, as a check-up to make sure all is okay, or other reasons.

  • The New Horizons Drop-In Center is open six days a week and provides a free hot lunch to members and a continental breakfast.  Additionally, the Center provides activities for consumers throughout the day.

To learn more about PSAN and their services, please visit www.peer-support.org or call 412-227-0402.

Did You Know…

Did you know the National Institute of Mental Health reports that one in four adults, approximately 57.7 million Americans, experience a mental health disorder in a given year?

Brookline Happenings

The Brookline Chamber of Commerce is a hosting a “Brookline Identity” meeting on June 19th at 7 p.m. at St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, located at 933 Brookline Boulevard.  The South Pittsburgh Development Corporation (SPDC) and Pittsburgh Neighborhood Renaissance will be gathering ideas for the future identity and vision of Brookline.

The Brookline Community Day at Kennywood Park is scheduled for June 24th.  Tickets will be going on sale soon.  Profits from ticket sales benefit the Brookline community and tickets can be used on June 24th or on other days.  For more information please contact Linda Boss at 412-561-0811.

Brookline Business Feature

Wyld Chyld TattooThis week’s featured Brookline business is Wyld Chyld, a tattoo parlor located at 742 Brookline Boulevard.  Wyld Chyld is a custom shop and all of its artists have Blood Borne Pathogen certification.  Owner Sarah Miller opened the business on the Boulevard in March 2012 and has been featured on the Spike TV reality show “Ink Master.”  Wyld Chyld is open Monday – Saturday, noon – 8 p.m.  To learn more please call 412-668-2263 or visit them at www.wyldchyldpittsburgh.com.

Please continue to support local merchants during the Brookline Boulevard Streetscape Project and remember:

Brookline is open for business!

Keystone Boys State

Keystone Boys StateThe Pennsylvania American Legion’s Keystone Boys State (KBS) is hosting its annual weeklong educational program June 23rd – 29th at Shippensburg University. The KBS program is open to boys who have completed their junior year of high school or have at least one semester of high school to complete. Attendees have outstanding qualities of leadership, character, loyalty and service to their schools. The KBS program will simulate the procedures and operations of the various branches of city, county and state government and offer a hands-on approach in learning how these governments function. During the weeklong camp, each student will have an opportunity to visit the State Capitol in Harrisburg. Interested students simply need to find an official sponsor and submit an application to kbsapplication@gmail.com. Applications can be found here. For more information about the KBS program please visit www.keystoneboysstate.com/KBS/Home.html.

Ceremonial Pitch

BreadworksI want to recognize Fred Hartman, one of the managing partners at Breadworks, on being selected to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at tomorrow evening’s game between the Pirates and San Francisco Giants at PNC Park.  Fred will be representing both Breadworks at the Greater Pittsburgh Hotel Association, of which he is a board member, at tomorrow night’s game.

Breadworks has been a Pittsburgh institution for over 34 years and Fred’s father, Ben, was one of its founding members.  Fred began working at Breadworks in 1980 while a junior at Seton-LaSalle High School.  He was born and raised in the city’s Brookline neighborhood and currently resides in Scott Township.  Congratulations to Fred on receiving this honor and best of luck with your pitch!

Fontana Fact

According to a Pittsburgh TODAY study, the number of 18 – 24 year olds living in the city of Pittsburgh climbed 17 percent over a ten-year span from 2000 to 2010.

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
Wyld Chyld Tattoo Breadworks Peer Support & Advocacy Network Watch News Conference Keystone Boys State