Senator Fontana spoke on March 23 at a press conference at the Capitol about legislation he recently introduced, Senate Bill 1176, to protect children and families from the growing threat of lead poisoning.
Addressing Pennsylvania’s Lead Problem
As you know, Flint, Michigan is facing a water crisis. Improperly treated water leached lead from pipes into drinking water after the city switched from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River in 2014. Officials made this move to save money. However, now the residents of Flint are paying the ultimate price.
A recent USA Today report lists Pennsylvania as the state with the most schools and daycares with water containing high levels of lead in the country. It was alarming to learn that 18 Pennsylvania cities tested higher for elevated blood levels than Flint. It’s a problematic issue that is compounded by our state’s aging infrastructure. Our drinking water can contain a significant amount of lead as a result of corrosion of pipes, solder, and fixtures found in buildings or in the mains or service connections of a public water system.
The stakes of contaminated water are especially high for the vulnerable population which includes young children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers. More recently, scientists have discovered that lead causes irreversible brain damage which can be attributed to lower IQ levels, learning disabilities and behavioral problems. In addition, lead has been linked to a heightened risk of fetal death.
Homes built before 1986 might contain lead in their pipes. According to the Census Bureau, the median year for a home built in Pennsylvania is 1973. About 18 percent of homes in Pennsylvania were built before 1950, when lead was more prevalent in pipes. About 41 percent of Pennsylvania homes were built before 1990. Newer homes in Pennsylvania are unlikely to have lead in the pipe systems thanks to the 1991 Lead Ban Act, which states that materials not meeting the definition of "lead free" cannot be sold or used for plumbing systems.
Allegheny County banned the use of lead pipes in plumbing in 1969 and further banned lead solder in 1988 to keep up with federal regulations. The American Water Works Association estimates that as many as 6.5 million lead service mains might be in use across the country. About 65 percent of homes in Western Pennsylvania were built before 1970, according to census data. In Allegheny County, 71 percent of houses, or more than 420,000, were built before the county banned lead pipes.
If you remain concerned about potential levels of elevated lead in your water, you can have your water tested by a local laboratory for around $20. Certified laboratories can be found on the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) website, www.dep.pa.gov. In-home treatment systems are available, if tests show that you have high lead levels.
So that Pennsylvania does not become the next Flint, Michigan, several of my colleagues and I are working to address the issue here at home. Last week, I introduced legislation that would give home buyers the option of requesting that a home be tested to determine what level of lead is in the water. Senate Bill 1176 (SB 1176) is part of a five-bill package aimed at protecting Pennsylvania children and families from the growing threat of lead poisoning caused by worsening levels of lead caused largely by old pipes and lead-based paints.
As a realtor, I introduced the bill because I believe homeowners should be aware of what they are buying and understand potential risks with the property. Just like we have mechanisms in place to alert residents that a home may test positive for radon or lead-based paint because of its location or age, lead in water can be a safety concern -- especially for families where a mother is pregnant, there are young children present and even middle-age men and women.
Lead testing typically runs from $20 to $50. This is a small price to pay for peace of mind that your home’s drinking water is safe. Should a home actually test positive for high levels of lead, there are often in-home treatment systems available to remedy the situation.
Other bills in the legislative package include:
- Senate Bill 1173 (Yudichak) would create a task force to study the scope of the lead issue, including an accounting of the age of the state’s housing stock, pipelines, school buildings and day care centers. It would also study best practices and make recommendations.
- Senate Bill 1174 (Haywood) would require every school building to be tested (water, paint, soil) for lead before a school year begins. Test results would be sent to parents of every enrolled child and posted on school district websites. If a school tests at lead levels higher than the Centers for Disease Control’s acceptable amount, it would be required to submit a remediation plan to the state Department of Education.
- Senate Bill 1175 (Kitchen) seeks to require lead testing (water, paint, soil) in day care centers licensed by the PA Department of Human Services (DHS). DHS would be prohibited from issuing a license to a day care operator if lead levels are higher than CDC recommended readings.
- Senate Bill 1177 (Hughes) would create a “SuperFund for Lead Abatement” that could be used by schools, day care centers, and other organizations to defray lead remediation costs.
Movement of my Sewer Lateral Legislation
Homeowners’ private laterals have structural deficiencies that allow for inflow from groundwater and stormwater to the wastewater treatment facility, as well as overflow into rivers and streams. Recently, The New York Times published an editorial “Fixing our Broken Water System” which highlights the need to upgrade the network of underground pipes. The board points out that it is not just Flint, Michigan, that has spent too little on its public works system, but a situation that every state needs to evaluate “as governments at all levels have become obsessed with cutting spending.”
Taking care of municipal lateral systems can be a step in the right direction. If the Legislature acts now, we can prevent Pennsylvania from becoming the next state to declare a public health emergency.
My Senate Bill 289 (SB 289) was passed out of the Senate Appropriations Committee recently. SB 289 would grant municipalities the authority to make municipal public funds available to pay for work on private property to fix broken sewer laterals when the leaks cause damage to public property or pose a threat to public health. Currently, every home has a private sewer lateral that connects to the local municipality’s sewer line. Homeowners are fully responsible for the maintenance and repair of the sewer lateral on their property. However, many homeowners are unaware of this obligation. With an average cost of anywhere between $5,000 to $30,000 to fix a lateral, most homeowners do not set aside such a significant amount of money and are unable to pay for this large expense.
Just like Pennsylvania’s structural deficit, I feel the General Assembly needs to address this escalating lateral problem before the liability goes from hundreds of thousands to millions. My SB 289 offers a reasonable avenue for municipalities to assist homeowners. This enabling legislation does not force any municipality to participate and the idea has been around for some time. A form of this measure has been offered by numerous members from both political parties for over 20 years. Can’t we make 2016 the year we sign SB 289 into law?
FAFSA Completion Sessions – REMINDER
As the school year begins to wind down, I again want to remind high school seniors and their families to complete 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.
It is better to complete and submit the FAFSA as soon as possible 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 upcoming FAFSA Completion Sessions here in western Pennsylvania.
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
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.
Beechview Revitalization Advisory Group
The Pittsburgh Hispanic Development Corporation (PHDC) is a regional development corporation committed to making an impact in Beechview. Their incubator has opened in temporary space on Broadway Avenue and they are currently searching for a permanent space there.
The PHDC is creating the Beechview Revitalization Advisory Group (BRAG) as a way to gather community input, with the goal that BRAG would become their own 501c3 in the future. The focus of the PHDC and BRAG is promoting positive attitudes and inclusive development in Beechview.
If you are interested in learning more or joining BRAG please submit your resume/CV to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com by April 11 along with a statement of your past involvement in Beechview and why you want to be a part of BRAG.
Upcoming Shredding Events
I want to alert everyone about two upcoming shredding events. On Saturday, April 23, together with Representative Dan Deasy and Crafton Borough, we are hosting a shredding event at Crafton Park from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. Then on Saturday, May 14, along with Rep. Deasy and Green Tree Borough, we are hosting a shredding event in Green Tree Park from 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
With consumer fraud and identity theft continuing to be an issue, we are hosting these events to not only to raise awareness and promote prevention, but also to provide individuals with the opportunity to have unneeded, confidential documents destroyed free of charge. You may bring documents that contain personal information such as social security numbers, credit card numbers and bank account numbers.
Did You Know…
Did you know that each year more than 13 million Americans become victims of identity theft?
Senior Community Center Grants
The Pennsylvania Department of Aging announced recently a grant funding opportunity for Pennsylvania’s Senior Community Centers that includes $2 million to be awarded from 2015-16 fiscal year funds. The grants provide funding for Pennsylvania Senior Community Centers to increase participation, provide innovative programs, attract a new generation of older adults, and provide a safe and healthy environment for participants. Minimum awards are $5,000 and maximum awards are $150,000.
The grant application period runs through April 19 at 5 p.m. Application submission instructions, required documents, and other resources can be accessed by clicking here or by visiting www.aging.pa.gov. Questions about the grant program and application process can be directed to Suzanne Bellotti, the Program Coordinator at 717-772-1221 or RAfirstname.lastname@example.org
Free File Taxes
Taxpayers earning less than $62,000 can file their federal taxes electronically using free tax preparation and e-filing services available through the IRS Free File program. Powered by the Free File Alliance, a coalition of 13 industry-leading tax software companies partnered with the IRS, the Free File program provides free access to the industry’s most innovative and secure tax software.
Every taxpayer with a 2015 Adjusted Gross Income of $62,000 or less can visit www.IRS.gov/freefile to prepare, complete and e-file their federal tax returns at no cost. Free state return options are also available. Free File also provides basic online e-filing services, called Free File Fillable Forms, to all taxpayers regardless of income.
To get started please visit www.IRS.gov/freefile or for more information about the Free File Alliance, please visit www.freefilealliance.org.
Medicare Basics – Lunch and Learn Event
The Allegheny County APPRISE/Allegheny Link program is hosting a series of lunch and learns with the first one scheduled for April 14. APPRISE is the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) for Pennsylvania’s Medicare beneficiaries. The Pennsylvania Department of Aging created APPRISE to help citizens with Medicare understand their health insurance options so they can make informed decisions about which plan is best for them.
The April 14 event will feature a presentation on the basics of the Medicare system and will provide a general overview of Medicare, how the system works, eligibility and enrollment and how to best compare available options.
The program starts at 11:30 a.m. with lunch with the presentation beginning at noon and running until 3 p.m. and will take place at the Allegheny County Human Service Building, located at One Smithfield Street in downtown Pittsburgh.
For more information about this program or to R.S.V.P., please contact Bill McKendree at 412-661-1670, ext. 645 or email@example.com.
Castle Shannon Flea Market
Friends of the Castle Shannon Community Library are hosting a Flea Market this Saturday, from 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Library, located at 3677 Myrtle Avenue. All proceeds benefit the Library. The event will also feature a 50/50 and bake sale. For more information please visit www.castleshannonlibrary.org or call 412-563-4552.
McKees Rocks Community Flea Market
The McKees Rocks Community Flea Market is being held in the Municipal Lot on Furnace Street in McKees Rocks. The Flea Market will run each Sunday through May 29 from 8 a.m. 3 p.m.
For more information including information on vendor tables please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to CBS Money Watch, Pittsburgh recently was named one of the top five cities in the United States for first-time home buyers. Pittsburgh is one of just two major U.S. cities, along with Honolulu, in which there have been no year-over-year quarterly price declines since 2010.
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
|Lawrenceville (Mobile Office)
279 Fisk Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15201
Thursdays - 11 am - 4 pm