Re-Elected as Chairman of the PHEAA Board
Last week, I was once again unanimously re-elected to serve as the vice chairman of the board of directors for the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA). I was first appointed to the PHEAA Board in 2008, and in 2011, I was elected to serve as its vice chairman which is a position I have held since then.
Created in 1963 by the state legislature, PHEAA has become one of the nation's leading student aid organizations. PHEAA is a national provider of student financial aid services, serving millions of students and thousands of schools through its loan guaranty, loan servicing, financial aid processing, outreach and other student aid programs.
Serving on the board of directors is an especially rewarding experience since we work so intently on making decisions that have such a positive effect on the lives of so many students and their families. Holding the position of vice chairman and also a state senator has allowed me to continue to work to strengthen the state support for PHEAA and higher education over the years.
I continue to look forward to teaming up with PHEAA Board Chairman William Adolph and my colleagues on the board as we work to find innovative ways to improve access to higher education in Pennsylvania.
Did You Know…
Did you know that PHEAA was created in 1963 by the Pennsylvania General Assembly and has since evolved into one of the nation’s leading student aid organizations, distributing over $9.4 billion for more than 6.4 million awards through 2014?
America Saves Week
Yesterday started America Saves Week, an annual event aimed at reaching individuals to raise awareness of the importance of saving money, reducing debt and building wealth. The Pennsylvania Treasury Department is teaming with industry professionals to offer a series of free online webinars that address all aspects of saving, such as saving for a large purchase, planning for retirement, and setting realistic savings goals.
These webinars run all this week at noon and anyone interested in reading descriptions and registering can visit www.PA529.com or click here. Subjects will include saving for higher education, saving for life priorities, saving for retirement and the importance of saving.
Free Tax Preparation Assistance
The United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania and the Money in Your Pocket Coalition are taking appointments from low- and moderate-income workers in need of assistance with preparing their tax returns. In mid-January, 16 free tax preparation sites opened around Allegheny County where trained, IRS-certified volunteers are available to prepare tax returns for qualifying individuals. Households with a total income of $52,000 or less in 2015 may qualify for free tax preparation assistance.
All 16 locations throughout the County are by appointment only. For more information on the program, what you need to bring to an appointment, and to view all 16 locations, please visit www.swpafreetaxes.org. To schedule an appointment you may dial 2-1-1 to contact the United Way’s free 24-hour health and human services hotline. The Free Tax Preparation Program runs through April 15.
Gaming Revenue Increases
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board announced last week that gross revenue from table games play at the state’s 12 casinos increased by 7.7 percent in January, compared to the same month in 2015. Gross revenue from table games in January was over $71 million, compared to just over $66 million in revenue in January 2015. Total tax revenue generated during January from table games play was over $10 million.
The increase in table games revenue coupled with the earlier reported 2.1 percent increase in slots revenue for January resulted in an overall gaming revenue increase for January of 3.6 percent compared with last January.
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. Slot machines are taxed at 55 percent in Pennsylvania and directed as follows: 34 percent for property tax reduction; 12 percent supporting the horse racing industry; five percent is placed in a state economic development fund; and two percent goes to local governments that host casinos.
The state’s gaming industry employs over 17,700 people and generates an average of $3.7 million per day in tax revenue from both table games and slot machines. For more information on gaming in Pennsylvania and to read reports from the Gaming Control Board, please visit www.gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov.
Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program
The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue is accepting applications for the 2015 Property Tax/Rent Rebate program. If you filed a paper rebate last year, you should have received a 2015 application by now. If you have not received an application, or did not apply last year and wish to apply this year, applications are available at www.revenue.pa.gov or at 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. Homeowners with a maximum yearly income of $35,000 and renters with a maximum yearly income of $15,000 are eligible for a rebate. Keep in mind half of Social Security income is excluded. Some applicants who previously received rebates may continue to qualify despite Social Security cost-of-living adjustments that may have pushed their income past eligibility limits.
Applications are due to the Department of Revenue by June 30.
PAT Public Hearings
The Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAT) is hosting two public hearings to accept testimony on its recent transit fare proposal. PAT’s board of directors is considering a policy that would replace the current multi-zone system with a single zone that would cost all riders $2.50 with a ConnectCard regardless of their destination; install a 25 cent surcharge for riders paying with cash; move to a pay-on-enter system; eliminate the free Downtown bus zone; offer new products; and charge riders $2 for a ConnectCard on Jan. 1, 2017.
The first hearing will be held on tomorrow in the William Penn Ballroom at the Omni William Penn Hotel in Downtown Pittsburgh, from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 3:30 – 6 p.m. The second hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, Mar. 8 in the Connolly Ballroom at Alumni Hall on the campus at the University of Pittsburgh, located at 4227 Fifth Avenue in Oakland. That hearing will run from 3 – 7 p.m.
Those wishing to sign up to speak at either of these public hearings can register by calling 412-566-5187 or 412-231-7007 for TTY. Speakers will be limited to three minutes. Written comments on the proposal will also be accepted through Mar. 31 at www.portauthority.org, firstname.lastname@example.org or via U.S. Mail at Port Authority of Allegheny County, Attn: Fare Policy Proposal, 345 Sixth Avenue, Third Floor, Pittsburgh, PA 15222. The board of directors will take the testimony into consideration before making a final decision in the spring.
Jam Session in Beechview
Brew on Broadway, Pittsburgh’s only non-profit community coffee house is hosting Smooth Jazz Jam Session with top musicians Carl King and Ublai Bey. The event is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 26 at 7:30 p.m. All musicians are welcome to perform. There is no cover charge for the event but there will be a $2 cork fee. Brew on Broadway is located at 1557 Broadway Avenue in the City of Pittsburgh’s Beechview neighborhood. For more information, please call 412-437-8676.
Next Monday is February 29, or Leap Day. Almost every four years is a leap year as leap years have one extra day due to an astronomical fact about the earth’s revolution around the sun. It takes roughly 365 and one quarter days for the earth to go around the sun. Since the calendar has only 365 days, an extra day is added almost every four years to counteract the accumulation of additional quarters of a day. Based on population data from the U.S. Census Bureau, roughly 205,000 people in the United States have a February 29 birthday.
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
|Northside (Mobile Office)
1230 Federal Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Wednesdays – 10 am – 4 pm