Subscribe to this e-update  
Senator Wayne D. Fontana

Veteran Services in Pennsylvania

Senator Wayne FontanaLast week I participated in a hearing held by the Senate Democratic Policy Committee regarding the coordination and delivery of veterans’ services in Pennsylvania.  The Commonwealth has approximately 819,000 veterans, which is the fourth largest veteran population in the United States.  Additionally, our state has nearly 6,000 organizations and entities that have been established on behalf of veterans.  However, with all these resources available, it can be overwhelming for an individual to navigate this experience.  In fact, one panelist testified that in a recent survey, nearly 60 percent of veterans said that access to care and navigating available services are their top challenges. 

Senate Resolution 170 calls for the Joint State Government Commission to establish a 21-member statewide task force to coordinate among federal, state, local and nonprofit programs and better deliver the services to those who need them.  Specifically, the task force would examine:

  • Veterans’ service networks and collaborative organizations in PA;
  • Current models for interorganizational communication within the veterans’ service community in PA and other states;
  • Technology being used to collect, store and exchange data among the veterans’ service community in PA and other states;
  • National, state and local models that focus on comprehensive access, navigation and utilization of veterans’ services; and
  • Task force recommendations to better coordinate services among veterans’ service organizations

Many of the panelists testified at the hearing that there was a need for such a task force, expressing their experiences with various situations and the need to remove barriers for veterans and better connect them to services.  One testifier from the “Journey to Normal,” said her western Pennsylvania-based organization has learned that the complexities of deployment and reintegration are profound and there is not a one-size-fits-all solution for addressing them.  If left unresolved, the grief can lead to risky behaviors, strained and broken relationships, depression, physical illness – all of which keep the veteran – and our perception of them – in a cycle of sickness. 

Going off that point, Col. Tom Stokes, who is retired from the U.S. Army, expressed how there is still a high suicide rate among veterans and that the commonwealth needs to go beyond thanking individuals for their services and instead create a true understanding of our military culture.  To help combat this, for several sessions now I have introduced Senate Bill 734 (SB 734) which would create an alert system and warn the public if an at-risk veteran is reported missing. 

Another issue addressed in this policy committee hearing are the struggles of female veterans, which makes up about 10 percent of today’s population. One of the biggest challenges for women is transitioning back into civilian life which is generally more difficult for this gender than it is for a man.  Women veterans also experience higher rates of unemployment, lower median income and are more likely to live below the poverty threshold than their male counterparts with childcare costs and lack of financial literacy contributing factors.  This is clearly something that needs addressed since women represent the fastest-growing segment of homeless veterans. 

The hearing opened my eyes to a lot of the issues Pennsylvania veterans are facing.  Although every panelist expressed that these veteran organizations are well-intended, there is a great need for better coordination of services.  It is no secret that our veterans deserve the best and it is our responsibility to make sure these men and women get the assistance they need.  I feel one way this can be achieved is by passing Senate Resolution 170.   My hopes are that the General Assembly will make it a priority when we return for the fall session. 

Did You Know…

Did you know Pennsylvania ranks 5th in the country for the number of veteran-owned businesses, contributing more than $50 billion to our state economy?

New Senior Citizen ConnectCards

Senior Citizen ConnectCardsThe Port Authority of Allegheny County is in the process of issuing new Senior Citizen Connect Cards and my office can assist. The new cards will replace the current blue or yellow PA Senior Transit ID cards and will have a photo of the cardholder on the card. These new cards will enable the user to ride Port Authority and other public transit vehicles for free across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Both my Brookline and Kennedy Township offices are equipped to help seniors get their new cards. Simply visit either office and bring with you ONE valid document that shows proof-of-age.  This includes a driver’s license or state-issued photo ID card, birth certificate, PACE ID card, or passport to name a few. My staff will enter your information into Port Authority’s system and upload your photo and a copy of your proof-of-age document. 

Upon receiving the information from my office, the Port Authority will produce a new Senior Citizen ConnectCard and then mail the card to my office where you can return to pick up the card. New cards should take a couple weeks to arrive at my office from the time Port Authority receives the information. When you return to get your new card, please bring with you your current senior bus pass so we can exchange it for your new ConnectCard.

Anyone age 65 or over is eligible to receive this new card and ride Port Authority and other public transit vehicles for free.

Learn About Medical Marijuana, Get a Flu Shot at Annual Senior Fair

On Thursday, Sept. 5, I will be hosting a FREE Senior Fair at the Dormont Recreation Center, located at 1801 Dormont Avenue.  The Senior Fair will run from 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.  Light refreshments will be served.

New this year, attendees will have the chance to learn about Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program!

Do you suffer from chronic pain, cancer, PTSD, or one of the other 21 qualifying medical conditions? Do you have questions about medical marijuana or need help obtaining your Pennsylvania medical marijuana card? Join Dr. John Metcalf and pharmacists from Maitri Medicinals at my Senior Fair for on-site medical marijuana card certifications and education. Contact 1-833-667-4665 or shelly@mms4relief.com to ensure you come prepared to the event with the necessary medical information.

American Healthcare Group will once again be on hand to provide flu shots for attendees.  There is no charge for the flu shots to anyone with a Medicare Part B card.  Please bring your card with you.

At the Sept. 5 Senior Fair, attendees can also:

  • Drop off unwanted medications as part of Sheriff Mullen’s Project D.U.M.P.
  • Have your photo taken to receive a new, updated Senior ConnectCard that will allow you to ride Port Authority buses and light rail for free
  • Visit with a pharmacist from Duquesne University’s School of Pharmacy to ask about medications
  • Get blood pressure checked
  • Receive important information from participating organizations on services and resources available to seniors

Anyone with questions can contact my district office at 412-344-2551.  If you need a flu shot, want to learn more about medical marijuana, have unwanted medications you need to dispose of, or want to receive important information from some of our region’s finest organizations and senior advocates, I hope you’ll consider attending this free event.

office HoursOffice Hours in August

During the month of August, my Brookline office will be open from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. on Fridays.  The hours Monday – Thursday, remain 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. My Kennedy office hours remain 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday- Friday.

Reminding Students of Upcoming PA Grant Deadlines

PHEAAAs the Vice-Chair of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), I want to remind first-time PA State Grant applicants planning to attend a community college during the 2019-20 academic year that the program’s application deadline is this Thursday, August 1.  

Additionally, students who are first-time applicants enrolled in a 2-year program of study at business school, trade or technical schools, hospital schools of nursing and community, junior or 4-year colleges or universities who are enrolled in a non-transferable program of study must also submit their State Grant applications by this Thursday, August 1.

Students enrolled in the 2019 summer semester are required to complete the summer application by August 15.      

PA State Grant applicants must meet all eligibility requirements, including being enrolled at least half-time in an approved course of study.  More information on the program, including a complete list of eligibility requirements, can be found at http://www.pheaa.org/funding-opportunities/state-grant-program/.

studentsTo determine eligibility for a PA State Grant award, applicants must complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and a State Grant Form (SGF), which collects additional information not requested on the federal application. Completing the SGF is only required for first-time State Grant applicants. Applicants can access the FAFSA at either www.PHEAA.org/FAFSA or www.fafsa.gov. First-time applicants can access the SGF directly from the FAFSA on the Web, allowing them to easily complete the entire process from a single website.

Students who have already submitted their FAFSA but not their SGF will need to visit their Account Access through the Secure Sign-In at PHEAA.org to complete their SGF.

For information on the higher education financial aid process, schedules for financial aid nights and FAFSA Completion Sessions, reminders of financial aid deadlines, and videos offering tips and information pertaining to planning for higher education, students can join PHEAA on Facebook at www.facebook.com/pheaa.aid.      

Casino Revenue

CasinoThe Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board recently announced that total gaming revenue during the state’s 2018-2019 fiscal year totaled more than $3.3 billion. The $3,309,766,175 in gross revenue eclipsed the previous high state fiscal year total set in 2017-2018 by more than $59 million. The combined gross revenue includes slot machine, table games and sports wagering at the 12 Commonwealth casinos along with fantasy sports contests.

Estimated combined tax revenue from these gambling initiatives for the 2018-2019 fiscal year was $1,390,870,251 compared to $1,337,298,788 in the previous fiscal year. While table games revenue was down slightly this fiscal year with total revenue in 2018-2019 of $885,588,231 compared to $895,278,806 during the 2017-2018 state fiscal year, slot machine revenue saw a $26.5 million year-over-year increase in that same period.

The state’s gaming industry employs over 16,000 people and generates approximately $1.4 billion annually in tax revenue from both slot machines and table games.  For more information on gaming in Pennsylvania and to read reports from the Gaming Control Board, please visit them online at www.gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov.

City Piloting Glass Recycling Program

As I mentioned in last week’s edition of my News & Views, the City of Pittsburgh is starting a pilot program where residents can bring their glass to three locations this summer and fall.

Pittsburgh residents are encouraged to bring their glass bottles, jugs and jars of 3 gallons or less to three satellite drop-off locations.  While the Environmental Services Bureau of the Department of Public Works still accepts glass for curb-side recycling, glass in the city’s single-stream system often contaminates other recyclables and is part of the reason why recycling costs have increased and some municipalities have stopped collecting glass altogether. As such, the city is experimenting with the glass drop-off locations to support proper source separation. The lime green gable top recycling containers were purchased through a Department of Environmental Protection grant to pilot collecting source-separated glass.  The collected glass will be delivered to Superior Mulch, LLC by Environmental Services and then collected and processed by its sister company Carry All Products located in Mt. Pleasant, PA.

Any traditional food grade glass bottle, jug or jar of 3 gallons or less is accepted in the glass roll-off container. All green, amber, clear, and blue glass is accepted and can be placed in the glass-only container altogether. All other recyclable items, such as cardboard boxes, should be placed in a separate recycling dumpster. 

Pyrex, drinkware, plate, mirror, or automotive glass are not accepted and are contaminants. Other contaminants are, lids/caps, plastic bags, crates, electronic waste, household chemical waste, other recyclables, or general trash items deemed for landfill.  
Residents are urged not to recycle inappropriate contaminated materials during this pilot program.

Bright, lime-green dumpsters are being placed at the following locations listed below (along with hours of operation):

Construction Junction
241 N Lexington Ave 
Pittsburgh, PA 15208
Hours: 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. (Monday –Friday)
Weekend Hours: 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Saturday) & 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. (Sunday)

Strip District
3001 Railroad Street 
Pittsburgh, PA 15201
(under the 31st Street Bridge) 
24-hour access

Beltzhoover
McKinley Skate Park
Bausman Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15210 
24-hour access 

The pilot program will run through November 28. For more information, please contact the City of Pittsburgh Environmental Services division at 412-255-2631.

Children EatingSummer Food Program

Children ages 18 and younger can participate in the Summer Food Service Program which began in mid-June.  This is a federal program providing free meals and fun activities to kids 18 and under during the summer months when school is out of session. Children can receive breakfast and lunch during summer recess at many locations in Allegheny County. 

To learn more please call 412-460-FOOD or click here to search for locations near you.

Breezefest

BreezefestThe 37th annual Brookline Breeze 5K Run and Fitness Walk is scheduled for Saturday, August 10 in Brookline.  Brookline Boulevard will be closed to traffic at 8 a.m. to clear the way for hundreds of runners, joggers and walkers.

Fun begins with the Annual Brookline BreezeFest at 10 a.m. with the reopening of the street.  Stroll the sidewalks of Brookline Boulevard for the 48+ arts & crafts vendors, farmers market, food trucks and merchant specials.  A Children’s area will be located at Tree of Life Church with Bounce Castle, crafts and games.

For more information go on Brookline Together website at www.BrooklineTogether.org.

Fontana FactPresident Lyndon Johnson signed a health insurance program for older Americans into law known as Medicare

It was on this day in 1965 that President Lyndon Johnson signed a health insurance program for older Americans into law known as Medicare. The bill-signing ceremony took place at the Truman Library in Missouri, and former President Harry Truman was enrolled as Medicare’s first beneficiary and received the first Medicare card. LBJ wanted to recognize Truman, who, in 1945, had become the first president to propose national health insurance, an initiative that was opposed at the time by Congress.

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