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Senator Wayne D. Fontana

 

Supporting Small Business

Vote PA Small BusinessThis Saturday marks the fifth anniversary of what has become Small Business Saturday across the country.  This annual event began in 2010 with the help of American Express, and is held each year on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, as an awareness campaign to support small businesses in neighborhoods across America. 

For many years, much attention has been placed on the day after Thanksgiving as a day when stores open earlier and earlier each year for people to get a jump on shopping for the holidays.  The Monday after Thanksgiving is recognized as Cyber Monday, a day dedicated to promote online shopping.  However, Small Business Saturday is a relatively new event but with a more traditional concept and message of supporting small and locally-based businesses, many of which are family-owned, as people begin shopping for the holidays.

As the Democratic Chair of the Senate’s Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee for the last several years, and with my long background in real estate, I have seen, first hand, how important a thriving business district can be to a community.  “Main streets” that are thriving, are usually doing so with small businesses, many of them both family-owned and locally based.  These thriving main streets improve the quality of life for the communities that surround them.  This is why it is so important that we promote public-private partnerships and make the necessary investments in neighborhoods that are struggling. 

I am hopeful as we move into 2015 that the new administration begins to reinvest in neighborhoods again after several years of slowed public investments.  I am committed to continue fighting to bring public support into neighborhoods throughout my district that are in need of assistance. By working together and leveraging public support with private investments, we can continue rebuilding main streets in neighborhoods all across the district.

In the meantime, what we can do to help? 

In the spirit of Small Business Saturday, let’s try our best to support the local and small businesses we have in our neighborhoods as we think about shopping for the holidays.  We have some wonderful business districts in the area that feature many local, family-owned enterprises that come in all shapes and sizes.  There are too many to list them all but I wanted to provide some areas as examples.  I know that the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce is celebrating Small Business Saturday as the Bellevue Business Center and T&M Hardware contacted my office to inform us of their participation.  The Strip District is loaded with locally-owned small businesses that cater to a wide variety of clientele, including the Pittsburgh Public Market.  City Small Business Saturday Small Business Saturday neighborhoods like Brookline; Lawrenceville; Allentown; Mt. Washington; central North Side; Brighton Heights; are just a few of the business districts to consider that offer something for everyone. 

There are many more choices both in the city and the suburban communities.  Local chambers of commerce and community development corporations in your neighborhoods can offer assistance if you’re looking for a particular type of business you would like to patronize.  The Small Business Saturday/American Express website is another tool for consumers looking to shop locally, as they offer an interactive map of small businesses participating in Small Business Saturday.

Did You Know…

Did you know according to a survey released by the National Federation of Independent Business, 50 percent of consumers in the United States are aware of Small Business Saturday, 82 percent of those consumers say they plan to patronize a small business that day and 77 percent say Small Business Saturday makes them want to shop small all year?

ThanksgivingOffices Closed

All Senate offices will be closed on Thursday, November 27th and Friday, November 28th in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday.  My offices will re-open as scheduled on Monday, December 1st.  I wish everyone a very happy and safe Thanksgiving!

LIHEAP is Open

LIHEAP LIHEAP The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) is now accepting applications for this season’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).  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 one of the Allegheny County Assistance Offices.

Funding for LIHEAP is provided by the federal government and eligibility is based on Federal Poverty Income Guidelines.  The income limits for this season are as follows:

Household Size

Income Limit

1

$17,505

2

$23,595

3

$29,685

4

$35,775

5

$41,865

6

$47,955

7

$54,045

8

$60,135

9

$66,225

10

$72,315

After your application is received, 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 dealer and are credited to your account.  For more information, please contact the LIHEAP hotline at 1-866-857-7095.

 

Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program and Social Security COLAs

Tax formI want to remind everyone that if you have not filed for a rebate through the Pennsylvania Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program, the deadline has been extended to December 31st.

If you received a rebate last year, you should have received an application in the mail.  If you did not receive an application, or did not apply last year and wish to apply this year, the applications can be obtained from any of my district offices and my staff would be happy to assist you in preparing your application.

The Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program benefits eligible Pennsylvanians age 65 and over; widows and widowers age 50 and over; and people with disabilities age 18 and over.  I want to remind everyone a new law will allow more Pennsylvania senior citizens to be eligible for the state’s Property Tax and Rent Rebate Program should the Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) be increased.  Passage of Act 156 of 2014 comes at a perfect time with the announcement that Social Security beneficiaries will receive a 1.7 percent COLA in their monthly payments starting in January 2015. 

Believing no older Pennsylvanian should be disqualified from receiving rebates just because of a Social Security COLA, the Pennsylvania General Assembly rectified this situation by changing the eligibility guidelines under Act 156.  Now, any homeowner with an annual income of up to $35,298 for 2013 and who collects social security and received a property tax rebate will continue to qualify for the Property Tax Rebate.  The same goes for renters with an annual income of up to $15,128. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue will automatically review previous claim year 2013 applications where the rebate was denied for income in excess of $35,000 for homeowners and $15,000 for renters.  In the cases where a homeowner or renter’s overage is due only to a Social Security COLA, the department will re-open, process and then pay these claims
It has been estimated that approximately 6,000 seniors will now be protected from losing their rebate this fiscal year because of passage of Act 156, and up to nearly 9,000 by the 2016-17 fiscal year.

I realize that many Commonwealth residents on fixed incomes rely on the Property Tax and Rent Rebate Program for some financial relief and these individuals should not be punished because of a COLA and that is why I supported passage of this law. 

PennDOT Long Range Plans

PaOnTrackThe Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has unveiled a draft, Long Range Transportation Plan, available to the public by visiting www.PAOnTrack.com.  This draft plan will help guide future 12-Year Programs and regional plans.  It also includes goals, objectives and recommendations based on department research and public input.

The public comments contributing to the plan were collected from more than 2,500 people who took a survey this spring identifying their top transportation priorities and appeal of various investment scenarios.  The feedback identified bike and pedestrian facilities, public transportation, new roads or widening, and pavement conditions as the top public priorities.  The public feedback contributed to the draft report and supplemented PennDOT’s research.

To view the draft plan, please visit www.PAOnTrack.com and click on the “Draft Long Range Plan” tab on the homepage.  Feedback to the draft plan will be accepted through December 15th either online or by emailing ra-PennDOTLRTP@pa.gov.  You may also mail comments to the following address:

            PennDOT’s Center for Program Development and Management
            c/o Statewide Long-Range Planning
            P.O. Box 3365
            Harrisburg, PA  17105-3365

Table Games Revenue Rises

Table GamesThe Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board (GCB) released its monthly table games revenue report last week for the Commonwealth’s 12 casinos.  For the second straight month, table games revenue during the month increased from the same month in 2013. 

Table games revenue during the month of October totaled just over $63 million, up 4.1 percent compared with October 2013.  Tax revenue generated from table games statewide in October was just over $9 million.  Together with figures on slot machine revenue, overall gross gaming revenue from both table games and slots increased nearly 2 percent this October compared with October 2013.  Revenue from all casino gaming was over $254 million in October compared with $249.5 million last October.

Table games in Pennsylvania are taxed at 14 percent with the majority of that revenue directed into the state’s General Fund and the remaining funds directed to local governments.  To read the monthly report, please visit http://gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov/.

Environmental Education Grants

DEP Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) I want to remind schools, colleges and universities, county conservation districts, nonprofit organizations, municipalities and businesses that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is now accepting applications for the 2015 Environmental Education Grants.  These grants are used to provide funding to develop programs and projects that support environmental education about issues including:  watersheds; air quality; brownfields; energy; environmental literacy; and environmental education certification.  Eligible projects include but are not limited to:  teacher professional development; curriculum integration; outdoor learning resources such as trails, shelters, streamside plantings and educational programming; transportation to field study sites; water chemistry testing equipment; and educational events.  The maximum grant award is $3,000.

Anyone interested in applying can visit www.dep.state.pa.us, call DEP’s Environmental Education Information Center at 717-772-1828 or email adevine@pa.gov.  The deadline to apply is December 19th.

Health Insurance Marketplace Opens

Vote PA Healthcare.gov November 15th  marked the beginning of open enrollment on the federal health insurance marketplace, www.healthcare.gov.  Anyone in Pennsylvania seeking coverage for January 1st must be enrolled by December 15th.  Open enrollment concludes on February 15th.  When applying or renewing your coverage in the health insurance marketplace, you will need to provide some information about you and your household, including income and any insurance coverage you currently have.

Like last year, anyone seeking coverage and needing assistance with enrolling can enter their address or zip code at www.healthcare.gov and view a listing of organizations with individuals who have been trained to assist customers.  The listing will include all organizations located in proximity to your home that can assist. Also listed will be their hours of operation and contact information.

One change from last year is anyone seeking coverage can now view 2015 marketplace plans and prices prior to applying.  You may also sign up to receive text message alerts and updates about the marketplace on the website.  To begin looking for coverage on the marketplace, you can visit www.healthcare.gov or call 1-800-318-2596.  If you or someone you know needs assistance and does not have a computer, my staff will be happy to assist in locating an organization nearby that can offer guidance in the enrollment process.

Fontana Fact

Americans consume about 46 million pounds of turkey on Thanksgiving.  Turkeys have been associated with Thanksgiving since the 19th century and two of the biggest reasons then were freshness and affordability.

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
Pa on Track