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Senator Wayne D. Fontana

Recent College Grads, Six-Month Grace Period Ending

PHEAA PHEAA As Vice Chair of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), I want to remind federal student loan borrowers who graduated in May or June that the six-month grace period on their loan is ending and that loan repayment will soon begin.  New graduates typically take advantage of their six-month grace period to find employment and get their finances in order before beginning repayment of their student loans.

Available repayment plans offer various benefits to federal student loan borrowers, such as Graduated Repayment with payments that are initially lower but increase later, and Income-Driven Repayment with flexible monthly payments based on loan debt, income and the number of people in their household. Borrowers who are having difficulty securing employment or who have recently lost their job, should promptly contact their servicer to determine if they could qualify for a reduced payment plan or if they are eligible for an economic hardship or unemployment deferment or forbearance, which could temporarily suspend payments until their situation improves.

Interest continues to accrue on federal student loans even if a deferment or forbearance suspends monthly payments. The exceptions are on Subsidized Direct Stafford Loans and Subsidized Consolidation Loans on which the federal government pays the interest during periods of deferment.

loansFederal student loans are borrower friendly in that they have so many repayment benefits that most consumer loans don’t have. But borrowers need to understand their benefits and obligations so they can set up a workable repayment plan that they can successfully manage and afford.

PHEAA conducts its student loan servicing activities as FedLoan Servicing and American Education Services (AES). Secure online access to MyFedLoan.org and aesSuccess.org provides additional information on available repayment plans, allows customers to submit secure online payments, and offers an Eligibility Quiz to help borrowers learn which deferment or forbearance options may best suit their current circumstances.

PHEAA offers additional tips to assist graduates during repayment:

  • Enroll in an automatic debit program. Most borrowers can save an additional .25 percent interest rate when payments are automatically deducted from a savings or checking account.
  • Make payments online; borrowers are encouraged to manage their student loan on the secure borrower portal found on aesSuccess.org and MyFedLoan.org.
  • Make payments on time and never skip a payment. By missing payments, borrowers can ruin their credit score, which can impact their financial future for years.
  • Set a reasonable budget and stick to it.
  • Avoid credit card debt and high interest rates.

Federal student loan borrowers should also determine if they are eligible for student loan forgiveness, such as through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. This program is available to eligible borrowers who work full-time in public service jobs after 120 consecutive on-time, full, scheduled, monthly payments on a qualifying repayment plan. 

Borrowers who are joining or have already joined the military are reminded to take advantage of options available for service members. For more information and eligibility requirements, visit MyFedLoan.org.

you can deal with itBorrowers are also encouraged to take advantage of free online planning resources, such as YouCanDealWithIt.com, which offers college graduates and soon-to-be graduates helpful information on financial planning and budgeting, managing student loan debt, and establishing good credit habits.

For the latest financial aid information and helpful tips, upcoming deadlines and free financial aid workshops, join PHEAA on Facebook at facebook.com/pheaa.aid, follow on Twitter at twitter.com/PHEAAaid or visit them online at www.pheaa.org.

Did You Know…

Did you know that the average Class of 2016 graduate has $37,172 in student loan debt?

Talk to Your State Senator – Video Competition

I want to again remind everyone of an initiative the Senate of Pennsylvania has organized to combat drug and alcohol addiction by encouraging middle and high school students to help find solutions to the growing heroin and opioid epidemic facing our commonwealth.  “Talk To Your State Senator” is a statewide video competition sponsored by the Senate of Pennsylvania with support from the members of the Drug and Alcohol Service Providers Organization of Pennsylvania (DASPOP). It is intended to get students involved in continued legislative efforts to fight heroin and opioid abuse. 

The growing heroin and opioid epidemic is taking lives every day and does not discriminate.  It affects communities all across Pennsylvania, and doesn’t care whether you’re rich, or poor, or somewhere in between.  Having hosted two town halls in the spring on this subject I have seen firsthand what this epidemic is doing to families in the 42nd senatorial district. 

“TALK TO YOUR STATE SENATOR”
STATEWIDE VIDEO COMPETITION Through December 10, students can submit a video, up to five minutes in length, explaining their approach to preventing teens from using drugs and alcohol.  All entries must be submitted using the registration form available by clicking here or visiting www.acommonwealthcrisis.com and clicking on the “Video Competition” tab.

The video competition is available to Pennsylvania school students in grades 6-12, in public and private schools, and will be judged in two categories: middle school, grades 6-8, and high school, grades 9-12.  Students will be divided into 50 regions, competing in their home address senatorial district.  From the 50 semi-finalists in each category, one first, second and third place finalist will be selected.  Students may enter individually or in a group of up to five students.  The video submitted must address the issue of preventing teens from starting and using drugs, legal and illegal, including underage drinking.

DASPOP is providing $10,000 that will be divided into six monetary prizes.  The prizes will be $2,500 for 1st, $1,500 for 2nd, and $1,000 for 3rd place in each of the two categories. Prize money will be awarded through the PA 529 College Savings Account Program and deposited into a college savings account in the winner(s) names.

The video competition is a creative way to educate young people on the dangers associated with using drugs while offering a chance to win prize money to help pay for a post-secondary education.  More information on the video competition including guidelines on submitting videos, content, judging and prizes, can be found at www.acommonwealthcrisis.com, a website established by the Senate of Pennsylvania as a tool to provide information and resources on the heroin and opioid crisis. It includes information on the signs of addiction, how to get treatment, prevention, and much more.

Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program

Property TaxesThe deadline to file for the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue 2016 Property Tax/Rent Rebate program is December 31.  Rebate distribution began on July 1 for anyone who had their application processed before June 30.  Through the end of 2017, rebates will be distributed as claims are reviewed and processed by the Department of Revenue.

If you need 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.

Health Insurance Marketplace – Open Enrollment

ACA Sign Up Today! - www.healthcare.gov -Call 1-800-318-2596 (24-hour helpline) I want to remind everyone that open enrollment on the health insurance marketplace started on Nov. 1 and runs through Dec. 15.  You can shop for plans, sign up, renew, or find a local navigator to assist you through the process, all by visiting www.healthcare.gov.

Despite President Trump’s inaccurate claims that “Obamacare is dead,” it is not.  Over the last several months, the president and his administration have shamefully shortened the open enrollment period by more than a month, limited the hours of accessibility, and slashed the marketing budget for the enrollment period. But individuals who need health insurance can still apply and receive assistance at www.healthcare.gov.

The Senate Democratic Caucus has designed a website with information on enrollment – www.healthcareforpa.com.  If you need insurance or have friends or family that do, please spread the word that open enrollment runs through Dec. 15. 

Medical Marijuana Update

The Pennsylvania Department of Health is in the process of implementing the state’s Medical Marijuana Program, which became law in April 2016.  Recently, Pennsylvania has launched the Medical Marijuana Patient and Caregiver Registry online at www.medicalmarijuana.pa.gov. Patients and caregivers can go to the site and register to participate in the program and more than 100 physicians have been approved to certify patients so far.

Acting Health Secretary and Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine suggests that prior to registering, patients and caregivers should take the following steps:

  • Talk to your physician to see if medical marijuana is right for you and ask them if they are registered with the program;
  • Make sure the address on your state-issued ID or driver’s license matches where you currently reside;
  • If you need assistance in getting medical marijuana, designate a caregiver to help.

The Medical Marijuana Program is expected to be fully implemented by 2018.  The program will offer medical marijuana to patients who are residents of Pennsylvania and under a physician’s care for the treatment of a serious medical condition as defined by the Medical Marijuana Law.  Questions about the program can be emailed to RA-DHMedMarijuana@pa.gov.  Information is also available at www.health.pa.gov

LIHEAP Opens

LIHEAP LIHEAP The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) is 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 (www.compass.state.pa.us).  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 the Allegheny County Assistance Office, located at 5947 Penn Avenue, 4th Floor, Pittsburgh, PA, 15206.

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

Household Size Income Limit
1 $18,090
2 $24,360
3 $30,630
4 $36,900
5 $43,170
6 $49,440
7 $55,710
8 $61,980
9 $68,250
10 $74,520

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.

McKees Rocks CDC Meet & Greet

The McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation (MRCDC) is hosting its quarterly Meet & Greet event this Thursday, Nov. 16 at the Parkway Theater, located at 644 Broadway Avenue in Stowe Township. Attendees will have the chance to watch the Steelers game that evening on the lounge’s big screen while networking with some of the great businesses the Sto-Rox region has to offer.  Beer from one of the area’s latest business ventures, Abjuration Brewing will also be available. For more information and to purchase tickets online please visit www.mckeesrocks.com.

CaregiverFontana Fact

November is National Caregiver Month. More than 65 million people, 29 percent of the U.S. population, provide care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member or friend during any given year and spend an average of 20 hours per week providing care for their loved one.

Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana

Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Phone: 412-344-2551
Weekdays – 9 am – 5 pm
Harrisburg
543 Main Capitol | Box 203042
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Phone: 717-787-5300
Fax: 717-772-5484
Weekdays – 8:30 am – 5 pm
Kennedy Township
Kenmawr Plaza
524 Pine Hollow Road
Kennedy Twp, PA 15136
Phone: 412-331-1208
Weekdays – 10 am – 4 pm
Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
By Appointment
Northside (Mobile Office)
Carnegie Library | Allegheny Branch
1230 Federal Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
By Appointment
Download a postcard explaining how patients can get medical marijuana in Pennsylvania  (PDF). youcandealwithit.com