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Senator Wayne D. Fontana
Senator Fontana spoke at the grand opening of the Morningside Crossing development on May 30.
This project redeveloped the former Morningside School Building into senior housing and
features a new community center and public plaza.

Supreme Court Ruling on UPMC-Highmark Agreement

In April, Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Josh Shapiro appealed to the state’s Supreme Court a ruling by Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson on the Consent Decree between UPMC and Highmark which would expire June 30, 2019 and could not be changed.  At that time, the attorney general sought emergency relief from the high court before the expiration date or for the court to keep the Consent Decree in place while litigation against UPMC proceeded.   Last week, the state’s Supreme Court sent Attorney General Shapiro’s petition back to the lower court to determine once again if the split can be delayed in the name of public interest. 

In a majority opinion, four of the seven justices agreed that Judge Simpson’s April ruling misinterpreted a 2018 Supreme Court decision regarding the expiration of the Consent Decree.  Specifically, Justice David Wecht wrote, and was joined by Justices Debra Todd, Kevin Dougherty and Sallie Updyke Mundy, that the court’s 2018 decision was solely focused on whether the ‘runout’ provision of the Medicare Advantage Provider Agreements satisfied UPMC’s obligation to be ‘in a contract’ for the treatment of Highmark’s Medicare Advantage subscribers at in-network rates for the first six months of 2019.  In that decision, the high court determined June 30, 2019 is the “unambiguous” end date of that specific part of the contract and enforcement of those decrees could not continue beyond the contractually agreed-to-end date. 

Justice Wecht also added that “At this juncture, we do not deem it necessary to extend the termination date of the Consent Decrees through the extraordinary powers that (the Office of Attorney General) asks us to invoke.”  The majority opinion of the Supreme Court is that the Commonwealth Court has the authority to schedule arguments and decide when the contract between the two agencies will expire.  The state’s highest court also ordered the Commonwealth Court to hold an expediated hearing on the brokered agreement between UPMC and Highmark.  However, the justices directed the lower court to prioritize the issue of the expiration of the Consent Decree over the attorney general’s other counts in the original lawsuit including unfair trade practices and UPMC’s charitable obligations. 

On Friday, Commonwealth Court Judge Simpson scheduled a two-day hearing on June 11-12 in which Attorney General Shapiro will be able to present his case in the lower court regarding an indefinite extension of the Highmark-UPMC agreement.  The hopes are there will be a ruling by June 14 on whether the termination date can be modified.  The Supreme Court ruling gives me hope that an indefinite extension may still be able to take place before residents will have to choose between doctors and hospitals and what is best for their healthcare needs. 

Students Beware of Financial Aid Scams

The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) is warning students and borrowers to be wary of financial aid scams that could expose them to identity theft and significant financial loss.

ScamIn one recent example, scammers are fraudulently representing themselves as known student loan servicers through social media in order to obtain personal information by claiming that a student is “eligible” for total student loan forgiveness.

The most effective way to avoid becoming the victim of a scam is to be alert and vigilant when asked to provide any form of personal information or when engaging in financial transactions.

Recent scams include:

  • Student loan forgiveness scams - Companies or individuals claim to reduce or eliminate student debt in exchange for money. Loan forgiveness programs have specific eligibility requirements. No one can guarantee forgiveness in exchange for a fee.

  • Tuition scams - These involve someone claiming to work for your school's administrative office, calling to warn you that your tuition is late and you risk being dropped from class unless you pay immediately. If you are contacted about anything involving money, end the call immediately and contact your school directly in order to check the status of the alleged problem.

  • Unnecessary fees for service – While not necessarily a scam, beware of anyone charging a fee in exchange for application completion, a scholarship, debt counseling, or almost anything else. In most cases, it is either a scam or you are being charged for something that you can easily access for free.

With today’s ever-present mobile technology and social media channels - such as Facebook and Instagram - scammers have more tools to reach consumers with fraudulent pitches that might seem legitimate. Students and borrowers need to take the time to become more knowledgeable and vigilant, which are the first steps toward protecting themselves from becoming a victim.

There are several steps you can take to protect yourself from fraud and scams. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recommends the following tips to avoid scams:

  • Don’t share your Social Security number, credit card information, or account passwords.

  • Never pay up front for a promised prize. It’s a scam if you are told that you must pay fees or taxes to receive a prize or other financial windfall.

  • After hearing a sales pitch, take the time to compare prices. Ask for information in writing and read it carefully.

  • Too good to be true? Ask yourself why someone is trying so hard to give you a “great deal.” If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

  • Watch out for deals that are only “good today” and pressure you to act quickly. Walk away from high-pressure sales tactics that don’t allow you time to read a contract or get legal advice before signing. Also, don’t fall for the sales pitch that says you need to pay immediately, for example by wiring the money or sending it by courier.

  • Put your number on the National Do Not Call Registry. Go to www.donotcall.gov or call 888-382-1222.

If you believe that you have been targeted or victimized by a scam, please contact the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities, the CFPB, or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Students and families are also encouraged to visit PHEAA on Facebook, Twitter (@PHEAAaid), and LinkedIn where they can learn more about the higher education financial aid process, reminders of financial aid deadlines, and information pertaining to planning for higher education. Additionally, video tutorials explaining the student aid process and types of aid available can be found at YouTube.com/PHEAAstudentAid.

Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program

Qualifying seniors in Allegheny County will soon be able to pick up vouchers for locally grown fruits and vegetables.  The Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program is a federal program that is administered at the state level by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.  This program attempts to provide seniors who are nutritionally at risk a means to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from approved Pennsylvania farmers.

The program provides recipients with four $5 voucher checks for a total year benefit of $20 to redeem at qualified farmers’ markets.  Checks may be spent through Nov. 30 on produce that is grown in Pennsylvania or purchased directly from a Pennsylvania farmer.

Some examples of produce that may be purchased under the vouchers are apples, beans, berries, carrots, grapes, melons, spinach and tomatoes.  Customers must spend the entire $5 check and change will not be given. Lost or stolen checks will not be replaced

The distribution of voucher checks will take place on Tuesday, June 11 at senior centers throughout Allegheny County.  Checks are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.  Seniors are asked to bring identification showing proof of age and residency to the distribution site.

To be eligible, individuals must be an Allegheny County resident who will be 60 years old by December 31, 2019.  The income limit for a one-person household is $23,107 and is $31,284 for a two-person household.  Married couples may each receive one set of checks.  If an eligible consumer requires a proxy to receive their checks, the proxy is responsible for signing for and spending the checks for the individual.  All individuals must completely fill out a proxy form in order to have a proxy receive checks for them. 

For a complete listing of voucher check distribution locations and times, or to download a proxy form, please visit the Allegheny County Department of Human Services website at http://www.alleghenycounty.us/dhs/olderadults.aspx.  A listing of distribution sites, farmers’ market locations and proxy forms can also be picked up in my district offices.  Anyone with questions on the program can also call the Allegheny County SeniorLine at 412-350-5460.

Did You Know…

Did you know the number of farmers’ markets in the United States has grown rapidly in recent years, from just under 2,000 in 1994 to more than 8,600 markets currently registered in the U.S. Department of Agriculture?

Mixed-use Development Tax Credits

Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA)The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) is accepting bids for the purchase of $2 million in mixed-use development tax credits. The funds collected from successful bidders will be used for the construction or rehabilitation of mixed-use developments in Pennsylvania communities.  The deadline for bids is 2 p.m. on Friday, June 14.

These tax credits will be used by the winning bidders – which can be companies, organizations or individuals – to reduce their state tax liability. The intent of the bidding process is to raise as much funding as possible from the $2 million in tax credits being made available to provide for a significant investment in community revitalization projects in various communities. The projects to receive this funding will be selected during a competitive Request for Proposals process later this year.

This new tax credit program was created as part of the Commonwealth’s fiscal year 2016/2017 budget (implemented July 1, 2017), and PHFA was directed to administer the credit. PHFA was authorized to sell these tax credits through directed or negotiated sale to any qualified taxpayer. It is expected that the tax credit awards will be made within 90 days after bidding closes.  The credit awards will be made in 2019, but they are not effective for utilization until 2020 against a 2019 tax liability.

More information about the mixed-use development tax credit and the current bidding process is available on the PHFA website at www.phfa.org/mhp/developers/loans.aspx. Program guidelines and bid criteria are posted there. Interested organizations can learn more by contacting Bryce Maretzki at PHFA at (717) 780-1867 or by email atbmaretzki@phfa.org.

Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program

Property TaxI want to remind everyone the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue is accepting applications for the 2018 Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program through June 30.  If you filed a paper rebate last year, you should have received an application in the mail.  Applications are also available at my district offices, online at www.revenue.pa.gov or by calling 1-888-222-9190.  As always, my staff would be happy to assist you in preparing your application.

The Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program benefits eligible Pennsylvanians age 65 and older; widows and widowers age 50 and older; and people with disabilities age 18 and older.  The income limit is $35,000 a year for homeowners and $15,000 annually for renters.  Please keep in mind, half of Social Security income is excluded.

Rebates will be distributed by the PA Department of Revenue beginning July 1. The program is funded by the Pennsylvania Lottery and revenue from slots gaming.

Vendor Demonstrations of Voting Systems

Voting SystemThe Allegheny County Division of Elections has scheduled seven vendor demonstrations of potential voting systems for Allegheny County at locations throughout the County beginning today. The demonstrations are intended to allow the public to try the systems out, ask questions of the vendors, and form an opinion on what systems may best serve residents.

Residents are invited to provide feedback to the Elections Division at the demonstration or can email the Board of Elections Division at boe@alleghenycounty.us.

The complete listing of vendor demonstrations is below:

DATE TIMES LOCATION
Tuesday, June 4 9am-3pm, 5-8pm CCAC North Campus Gymnasium
8701 Perry Highway, Pittsburgh 15237
Wednesday, June 5 9am-3pm, 5-8pm CCAC South Campus Gymnasium
1750 Clairton Road, West Mifflin 15122
Thursday, June 6 9am-3pm, 5-8pm CCAC Boyce Campus Atrium
595 Beatty Road, Monroeville 15146
Saturday, June 8 9am-3pm Kane Comm. Living Ctr., Glen Hazel – Auditorium
955 Rivermont Drive, Pittsburgh 15207
Tuesday, June 11 9am-3pm, 5-8pm CCAC Allegheny Campus
Foerster Student Services Center Auditorium
800 Ridge Avenue, Pittsburgh 15212
Wednesday, June 12 9am-3pm, 5-8pm Kane Comm. Living Ctr., Glen Hazel – Auditorium
955 Rivermont Drive, Pittsburgh 15207
Thursday, June 13 9am-3pm, 5-8pm CCAC West Hills Center
Rooms S-1306, S-1307, S-1308, S-1311
1000 McKee Road, Oakdale 15071

Fontana Fact

The City of Pittsburgh contains 90 neighborhoods. The city was not always this big though, and over time has annexed surrounding municipalities. The last such annexation was of Overbrook, which took place in January of 1930.

Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana

Brookline District
1039 Brookline Boulevard
Suite 2
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
10 a.m. – 3 p.m. – First Tuesday of each month or by appointment