Budget Blue-Line Veto Response
At the end of December, Governor Wolf signed into law $23.3 billion of the $29.7 billion Republican-based budget in order to relieve some financial pressure from Pennsylvania’s schools and nonprofits. However, feeling that the spending plan did not appropriately balance the budget and allocating too little funding for education, the governor slashed more than $6 billion from various parts of the budget in order to get the General Assembly back to Harrisburg to complete unfinished business.
This blue-line veto should come as no surprise. The Republican budget is similar to the same plan Governor Wolf vetoed twice before and more importantly, was in sharp contrast to the bipartisan budget framework that all negotiators agreed to nearly a month ago. When the House Republicans walked away from that bipartisan agreement, the response was to send an already dead in the water spending plan to the governor’s desk.
While many of the lines that are and are not funded under this short-term budget cause great concern to me, I am pleased that some of the approved emergency funding to schools and human services will provide the immediate sense of relief to our students and most vulnerable population. It is not fair to hold so many Pennsylvanians hostage by the dysfunction of House majority leadership. But make no mistake – this does not go far enough.
The fact is that the House Republican budget is severely deficient and is not balanced. Pennsylvania is facing a massive $2.3 billion structural budget deficit. This budget spends $29.7 billion dollars without sufficient revenues to pay for it. Assuming that the General Assembly would certify the current year revenue estimate at the amount recommended by the Independent Fiscal Office earlier this month, the commonwealth would end the year over a half a billion dollars out of balance if this plan were to be fully enacted. It would also certainly lead to more credit downgrades which Pennsylvania and anyone doing business here cannot afford.
Even with some approved funding now in place, the pain is still very real and the consequences if the majority does not return to the negotiating table are dire. Furloughs of not only state workers, but also those working in schools, county human service agencies and countless non-profits who all perform vital services is becoming a worrisome possibility. Until a true agreement is reached, it’s important for everyone to remember that state services and others will continue to be adversely affected.
I’ve said many times over the past several months and I will say it once again: I share the frustration of the public. And this is not a partisan Democrat versus Republican argument. It is unacceptable that we are in this position even after the Senate passed an agreed to framework that the governor still stands ready to sign. The House left abruptly without even putting it up for a vote which is unfair to residents of this state. Let’s hope House leadership considers that Pennsylvanians resoundingly rejected that form of governing and budgeting during last year’s election and do the right thing by coming back to the table and negotiating a real budget.
As the Vice-Chair of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), I want to encourage high school seniors and their families to prepare for completing the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as soon as possible. The FAFSA is the federal form that all college-bound high school seniors must submit to determine eligibility for most forms of need-based financial assistance, including the Pennsylvania State Grant, the Federal Pell Grant, work-study programs, Pennsylvania Targeted Industry Program (PA-TIP), various scholarships, some school-based aid, and federal student loans for the 2016-17 academic year. Students who are eligible for awards can reduce their family’s out-of-pocket expenses and make the cost of a higher education more manageable.
The FAFSA became available on January 1 and now is the time to get a jump on the application process by preparing, before sitting down to complete the FAFSA application. Students and families are able to complete the FAFSA online at www.fafsa.ed.gov and will need the following information when beginning the application process:
- Social Security Numbers
- Student’s driver’s license
- Alien registration number, if not a U.S. citizen
- W-2 forms
- Records of untaxed income received, including workers’ compensation, child support, payments to tax-deferred pension and savings plans, etc.
- Federal income tax return (1040, 1040A, 1040EZ)
- Current bank statements and records of stocks, bonds and other investments
It is better to complete and submit the FAFSA as soon as possible after January 1 as schools’ financial aid deadlines vary. Once again in 2016, PHEAA will host FAFSA Completion Sessions across Pennsylvania where PHEAA, in partnership with PASFAA (Pennsylvania Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators), provides free assistance to families needing help in completing the FAFSA. You can click here to view a listing of scheduled FAFSA Completion Sessions. PHEAA will continue to update this list as more sessions are added in the coming weeks.
I also want to encourage students and families to only complete the FAFSA on the FAFSA.gov website and to avoid any dot com sites, which often charge a fee for what can be accomplished for free.
Did You Know…
Did you know that data released by the U.S. Department of Education in 2014 show that less than 55 percent of students nationwide complete the FAFSA?
The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) continues to accept 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 the DHS 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:
|For each additional person add
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 provider and will be credited to your heating account. Crisis grants may also be available if you have an emergency situation and are in jeopardy of losing your heat. For more information, please contact the LIHEAP hotline at 1-866-857-7095.
Veterans Encouraged to Connect with DMVA
The Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) is encouraging Pennsylvania veterans to connect with them via their new online Pennsylvania Veterans Registry at www.register.dmva.pa.gov for assistance with obtaining veterans benefits and services.
The Pennsylvania Veterans Registry is an online application that allows veterans to connect with DMVA to request information related to valuable state benefits, programs and services offered by the agency. The registry features responsive design technology to make it accessible on mobile devices and computers. A registrant’s information will be shared with the veteran’s county director for veterans affairs and other relevant Commonwealth of Pennsylvania agencies in order to facilitate local connections that aid in providing service to veterans.
Free Credit Reports
The Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities is urging consumers to take one easy step to help protect and grow their money by getting a free credit report. According to a study conducted by the Federal Trade Commission, one in five consumers has an error on at least one of their three credit reports. According to Consumer Reports, a drop of 100 points from a 780 score to a 680 could add an additional $828 per year to a $300,000 30-year fixed rate mortgage. Over the course of the loan, that calculates an added expense of more than $24,000.
Free credit reports are available from www.annualcreditreport.com, calling toll free at 1-877-322-8228, or mailing a request to:
Annual Credit Report Request Service
P.O. Box 105281
Atlanta, GA 30348-5281
Only one website is authorized to fill orders for the free annual credit report you are entitled to under law – www.annualcreditreport.com. Other websites that claim to offer “free credit reports,” “free credit scores”or“free credit monitoring” are not part of the legally mandated free annual credit report program.
Consumers can also call the Department of Banking and Securities consumer hotline at 1-800-PA-BANKS to learn more about credit reports, credit scores, and other financial issues.
Upcoming Job Fair
The Allegheny Valley School, a member of the NHS Human Services family, is hosting a Job Fair on January 12, from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. in the NHS/AVS gymnasium, located at 1932 Ewings Mill Road. They are seeking direct care workers, LPN’s and RN’s and will be conducting open interviews at the Job Fair.
Allegheny Valley School was established in 1960 to care for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Since then, the school has grown into a multi-faceted organization with programs and facilities serving more than 900 children, adults, and senior citizens. Most of the residents are diagnosed with severe or profound intellectual disabilities and most also have multiple physical disabilities and medical complications and some have behavioral management needs. Allegheny Valley School currently operates more than 125 programs and facilities in nine counties in Pennsylvania and employs more than 2,300 people.
For more information on the Job Fair, please contact Marsh Schoedel at 412-262-5621 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You may also complete an application online at http://avs.nhsonline.org/careers.
Christmas Tree Recycling Program
The Allegheny County Department of Parks is offering its annual Christmas Tree Recycling program this holiday season. Residents of Allegheny County can drop off their Christmas trees at all nine regional parks during the hours of operation, from dusk to dawn. The program runs through January 16.
All lights, decorations, tinsel and stands must be removed from trees prior to drop-off. The trees will be mulched and used in Allegheny County’s nine regional parks. Trees may be dropped off from dawn to dusk at the following locations in each of the parks:
- Boyce Park – parking lot by the wave pool
- Deer Lakes – parking lot by the Veterans Shelter
- Harrison Hills – parking lot at the intersection of Chipmunk & Cottontail Drives
- Hartwood Acres – parking lot at the mansion
- North Park – parking lot at the swimming pool
- Round Hill – parking lot between Meadow & Alfalfa Shelters
- Settler’s Cabin – parking lot by the wave pool
- South Park – parking lot by the swimming pool
- White Oak – parking lot by Poplar Shelter
For directions to each park, please visit http://www.alleghenycounty.us/parks/index.aspx.
According to BusinessWire, the top New Year’s Resolution in the country for 2016 is enjoying life to the fullest, as selected by over 45 percent of survey participants. The second choice, and the top choice in Pennsylvania was living a healthier lifestyle, selected by over 41 percent.
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