Senator Fontana participated in a Roundtable Discussion with the Senate Democratic Policy Committee on Nov. 5 in Pittsburgh. The Discussion centered on the integration of the arts with science and mathematics in education, the “STEAM” Movement, with a focus on how this type of learning better prepares our emerging workforce for jobs that pay.
As the budget impasse drags on into its fifth month, Franklin and Marshall College recently released a public opinion poll that shows solid support by residents for a new tax on the state’s natural gas drillers. Governor Wolf campaigned and won a mandate on a severance tax on natural gas drilling as well as increased education funding and it is clear that this notion is still a popular concept. With 67 percent of respondents favoring a tax on this industry, it is clear that this could be a very good bargaining chip to get budget negotiations fast tracked to the finish line. The majorities in the Senate and House need to admit this is the will of the people and not hold it hostage to the will of the oil and gas special interests.
That said, as budget negotiators have finally begun to work toward crafting a budget framework, I am now hopeful we will have a final deal within the coming days. While I am disappointed the aforementioned severance tax seems to not be part of discussions on the part of the majority, I am pleased that increased funding for education and property tax relief are major components that will be included.
All Senate offices will be closed tomorrow, Wednesday, Nov. 11 in observance of Veterans Day. My offices will re-open on Thursday, Nov. 12 as scheduled.
Legislative Achievements for Veterans for 2015
In remembrance of those who have served in the military and to recognize those who are currently serving our country, I want to highlight some of the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s pro-veteran measures for the 2015-2016 legislative session year.
Although there have been a number of veteran-friendly bills that have been introduced, the following is a list of bills that have been considered and approved thus far:
- House Bill 157 (ACT 23) – Requires certain agencies of the Commonwealth to consider a veteran’s military education, training, and experience for the purposes of receiving possible waivers from various professional requirements/credentials.
This Act also expands the definition of “veteran” as an individual who has served in the United States Armed Forces including a reserve component and National Guard, and who has been discharged or released from the service under conditions other than dishonorable.
- House Bill 175 (Act 50) – Extends the Persian Gulf Conflict Veterans’ Benefit Act. Originally passed in 2006, the Act provides for a one-time benefit of $75 per month for each month of active service, with the maximum compensation being $525, to any veteran of the Conflict. The period to apply for the bonus ended on August 31, 2015. However, at that time, not all eligible veterans had applied. HB 175 would extend the Act until December 31, 2019. Persian Gulf veterans can go to www.persiangulfbonus.state.pa.us or call 1-866-458-9182 for more information.
- Senate Bill 285 (Act 18) – Allows for an “Honoring Our Veterans’ special license plate for motorcycles. The Act also earmarks $15 of the license fee for veterans in need through the Veterans Trust Fund.
- Senate Resolution 148 – This resolution was unanimously adopted in June. It urges Congress to pass H.R. 563, the Merchant Mariner Equity Compensation Fund. Despite having the highest casualty rate of any branch of the military in World War II, Merchant Marines were the only branch of the military that never received a bonus. H.R. 563 would provide surviving merchant marines a $25,000 bonus. This would affect less than 5,000 living Merchant Marines from WWII.
- Senate Resolution 149 – Calls on the U.S. Army to reverse its decision to deactivate the 55th Armored Brigade Combat Team (ABCT) based in Scranton, Pennsylvania. In addition, the resolution calls on the United States Army’s Aviation Restructuring Initiative (ARI) to reverse its decision to transfer any National Guard AH-64 Apache helicopters to active duty. The resolution also asks that Congress takes all necessary action to prohibit any force structure changes, any transfer of AH-64 Apache helicopters from the National Guard, and maintain the Army National Guard at 350,200 soldiers until the National Commission on the Future of the Army has reported its findings to Congress in February 2016.
Approximately 3,500 Pennsylvanians serve with the 55 ABCT. The loss of the 55 ABCT would hurt our national defense as well as our ability to respond to disaster relief in the Commonwealth.
Currently, there are 24 AH-64 Apache helicopters authorized at the Pennsylvania National Guard’s 1-104th Attack Battalion, based in Cambria County. Transferring the Apache helicopters would result in the loss of 350 part-time personnel and approximately $45 million to the Pennsylvania economy.
The resolution was transmitted in September to be presented to the President, the Defense Secretary and the members of the PA Congressional delegation.
- Senate Resolution 171 – This resolution was unanimously adopted in October. It calls on the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee (LBFC) to conduct a study of Public Private Partnerships between the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs and privately managed health care facilities for the purposes of suggesting cost savings to the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs relative to our state veterans’ homes in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania owns and operates six extended care facilities for veterans. The LBFC will study and make recommendations on how the DMVA can improve service and do so efficiently and effectively. One of the other areas of interest in the study is to find ways to alleviate the long waiting lists for entry into the facilities.
Faces Never Forgotten
The Pennsylvania Department of Military & Veterans Affairs (DMVA), in partnership with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF), is still hoping to locate more than 460 photos of Pennsylvanians who sacrificed their lives in the Vietnam War. As part of DMVA’s participation in the 50th anniversary of the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration, the DMVA is partnering with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund to encourage the public to support their “Faces Never Forgotten” campaign.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund wants to collect photos for each of the 58,307 men and women whose names are inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., so that they can keep the legacies of these service members alive for future generations. Since the photo campaign was launched in 2009, the VVMF has located photos for approximately 41,000 of the names inscribed on the Memorial. Of the 3,148 service members from Pennsylvania whose names are on the Vietnam Memorial, 460 photos are still needed.
For a complete listing of Pennsylvania service members whose photos are still needed please visit www.dmva.state.pa.us and click on the “Faces Never Forgotten” tab. For information on how to submit a photo please visit http://www.vvmf.org/faces-never-forgotten.
Donations Sought for PA Veterans’ Memorial
The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) is accepting donations for the preservation of the Pennsylvania Veterans’ Memorial, located at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery. The Pennsylvania Veterans’ Memorial is dedicated to all who serve the nation and veterans of all wars and is maintained by the DMVA. It stands 107 feet high and 360 feet long and is made from granite, stone and concrete composition. The Memorial was dedicated on Oct. 7, 2001 and cost $6.2 million to construct. It is the largest veterans’ memorial located in any of the 133 national cemeteries maintained by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
For more information on the Pennsylvania Veterans’ Memorial and how to donate, please click here or visit www.veterans.pa.gov and click on the “PA Veterans Memorial” link.
Memorial Unveiling Ceremony
The public is invited to the unveiling of the Memorial Bronze Honor Roll on Nov. 21. The ceremony will take place in the City-County Building’s main lobby at 11 a.m.
The Memorial Bronze Honor Roll honors soldiers from the City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County who were killed in action during the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East for their exceptional bravery and service to our nation. The plaque will be permanently displayed in the lobby at the City-County Building, providing an opportunity for all who view it to pause and reflect on our freedom and these soldiers’ bravery.
The City-County Building is located at 414 Grant Street in downtown Pittsburgh. All guests attending the ceremony can enter the building from the entrance on Ross Street.
I commend my former colleague in the State Senate, Jim Ferlo for spearheading this effort and for the work of the Memorial Honor Roll Committee of Veterans Place of Washington Boulevard in bringing this project to fruition.
PHEAA Continues to Earn High Marks
As the Vice-Chair of the Board at the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) I am proud of the work being done to assist Pennsylvania students in achieving a post-secondary education. Recently the National Association of State Student Grant and Aid Programs (NASSGAP) announced survey findings after analyzing state-sponsored need-based financial aid programs. The survey shows that Pennsylvania continues to rank at or near the top in the nation in terms of total public funding in support of higher education and in the number of students who benefit.
Pennsylvania ranks first in support of grant aid to students, as a percentage of public funding for higher education, among states with the highest dollar support for need-based aid. While the commonwealth is the sixth most populous state in the nation, the Pennsylvania State Grant Program ranked third behind California and New York in the total amount of need-based funding provided to students. Pennsylvania also ranked third in the number of students who benefited from state grant awards during the survey period.
For many students the State Grant Program is a deciding financial factor that enables them to afford a higher education. It is gratifying to see the commonwealth being recognized nationally as a leader in making our students and their families a priority through this important program. For more information on PHEAA, please visit www.pheaa.org.
Did You Know…
Did you know that during the 2014-15 school year, the commonwealth appropriated $344.8 million to support the State Grant Program and that amount combined with a $75 million supplement provided by PHEAA funded grant awards to approximately 170,000 Pennsylvania students?
Goodwill SWPA Upcoming Open Houses
Goodwill Southwestern Pennsylvania is hosting a series of job-related events beginning tonight.
The UPMC Project SEARCH, a partner of Goodwill Southwestern PA, is a one-year training and education program immersed in the workplace, leading to employment for individuals with disabilities. They are hosting two Open Houses with the first scheduled for tonight, from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at UPMC Passavant. The second Open House is Nov. 18 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. at UPMC Mercy’s Clark Auditorium, located at 1400 Locust Street. Interested students, their families, and school personnel will learn more about the UPMC Search programs. For more information or to RSVP, please call 412-632-1903.
The Goodwill Employment Training Center (GETC) is also hosting an Open House this Thursday, Nov. 12 from 2 – 4 p.m. at their offices, located at 118 52nd Street in Lawrenceville. GETC prepares students for careers in a variety of industries including education, large corporations, small businesses, financial and legal institutions, health care facilities, and customer service. GETC is a state-approved, private licensed school. You can learn more about them at www.goodwillswpa.org.
Goodwill’s PASSAGES Program is also hosting an Open House on Thursday, Nov. 19 at 2 p.m. in the 52nd Street office in Lawrenceville. PASSAGES is open to individuals with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and whose goal is to obtain competitive employment. Participants will improve their ability to understand work and related issues, interact with others, adapt to workplace demands, and much more. For more information or to RSVP, please call 412-632-1706 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jingle Bell Rocks
The McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation is hosting Jingle Bell Rocks on Nov. 18 to provide an opportunity to discover the new emerging downtown district of Chartiers Avenue in McKees Rocks.
The event runs from 6 – 9 p.m. and includes live music performances and the lighting of the new Hollywood Music & Sound sign, photos with Santa, holiday readings by Mrs. Claus, horse and carriage rides at McKees Rocks Plaza, caroling, food trucks, and more. For more information on Jingle Bell Rocks, please visit www.mckeesrocks.com.
The Boulevard of the Allies is a four-lane road that connects downtown Pittsburgh to the Oakland neighborhood of the City of Pittsburgh. It was originally dedicated in 1921 and at the time was the most expensive road in the world. It was named to honor and pay tribute to American military personnel and all the allies that won World War I.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana
|| Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Weekdays – 9 am – 5 pm
543 Main Capitol
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Weekdays – 8:30 am – 5 pm
524 Pine Hollow Road
Weekdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|| Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
Tuesdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|Strip District (Mobile Office)
Pittsburgh Public Market
2401 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Thursdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|Northside (Mobile Office)
1230 Federal Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Wednesdays – 10 am – 4 pm