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Senator Wayne D. Fontana

Tele-Town Hall on Coronavirus

Tomorrow at 3 p.m. I will be holding a Tele-Town Hall to provide updated information on the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Dr. Arvind Venkat, President of the Emergency Physicians Coalition will provide information and answer questions.

To sign-up or submit questions in advance, please visit www.senatorfontana.com/townhall. To sign-up from your phone, text SENFONTANA to 833-TXT-LIVE (833-898-5483).

Telephone Townhall

Governor’s Stay at Home Order

Governor WolfGovernor Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine yesterday issued “Stay at Home” orders to seven Pennsylvania counties, including Allegheny County. The others are in eastern PA: Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Monroe, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties, as the state seeks relief to save lives and stop the spread of COVID-19. This order took effect at 8 p.m. last night, and will continue until April 6, 2020. 

Individuals may leave their residence only to perform any of the following allowable individual activities and allowable essential travel: 

  • Tasks essential to maintain health and safety, or the health and safety of their family or household members (including pets), such as obtaining medicine or medical supplies, visiting a health care professional, or obtaining supplies they need to work from home 
  • Getting necessary services or supplies for themselves, for their family or household members, or as part of volunteer efforts, or to deliver those services or supplies to others to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences 
  • Engaging in outdoor activity, such as walking, hiking or running if they maintain social distancing 
  • To perform work providing essential products and services at a life-sustaining business 
  • To care for a family member or pet in another household 
  • Any travel related to the provision of or access to the above-mentioned individual activities or life-sustaining business activities 
  • Travel to care for elderly, minors, dependents, persons with disabilities, or other vulnerable persons 
  • Travel to or from educational institutions for purposes of receiving materials for distance learning, for receiving meals, and any other related services 
  • Travel to return to a place of residence from an outside jurisdiction 
  • Travel required by law enforcement or court order. 
  • Travel required for non-residents to return to their place of residence outside the commonwealth 

The following operations are exempt: 

  • Life-sustaining business activities 
  • Health care or medical services providers 
  • Access to life-sustaining services for low-income residents, including food banks 
  • Access to child care services for employees of life-sustaining businesses that remain open as follows: child care facilities operating under the Department of Human Services, Office of Child Development and Early Learning waiver process; group and family child care operating in a residence; and part-day school age programs operating under an exemption from the March 19, 2020 business closure Orders. 
  • News media 
  • Law enforcement 
  • The federal government 
  • Religious institutions 

Individuals experiencing homelessness are not subject to this order but are strongly urged to find shelter and government agencies are urged to take steps needed to provide shelter for those individuals. International students, foster youth, and any other students who would otherwise experience displacement or homelessness as a result of campus closures are exempt and may remain in campus housing. 

At this time, law enforcement will be focused on ensuring that residents are aware of the order and informing the public of social distancing practices rather than enforcement. To report a noncompliant business, contact your local law enforcement agency’s non-emergency number or the nearest Pennsylvania State Police station. Please do not call 911 or the Department of Community and Economic Development to file reports. Law enforcement officers should refer to Business Closure Order Enforcement Guidance available online.

Schools to Remain Closed Through April 6

Governor WolfGovernor Wolf and the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) announced yesterday that all schools in the commonwealth will remain closed through at least April 6 as a result of the COVID-19 response efforts. The closure order could be extended beyond April 6 if necessary to save lives and stop the spread of COVID-19. When it’s determined that students can return to school, administrators, teachers and other staff will be given two days to prepare classrooms, set up cafeterias, schedule transportation and arrange other business operations. Students would return on the third day. 

To assist schools during the extended closure, Education Secretary Pedro Rivera said the state’s 29 intermediate units are ready to provide technical assistance to help develop continuity of education plans for all students. 

Also yesterday, Secretary Rivera cancelled standardized testing for students in career and technical education (CTE) programs for the 2019-20 school year. These include exams from the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI) and National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS). 

Last Thursday the department cancelled all PSSA testing and Keystone exams for the 2019-20 school year, as well as the Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment (PASA). The U.S. Department of Education approved Pennsylvania’s waiver request the following day, and further waived accountability and reporting requirements for the 2019-20 school year. 

The department has been providing ongoing guidance to school communities in the form of FAQs. The guidance information is available at www.education.pa.gov/COVID19.  

Staying Connected & Informed

ContactI want to remind constituents that while my offices are closed to the public, we continue to provide constituent service over the phone and through email.  I encourage constituents that need personal assistance with a state-related matter to either call my Brookline office (412-344-2551)  during business hours or email fontana@pasenate.com. All mail should be sent to the Brookline office, at 1039 Brookline Boulevard, Suite 2, Pittsburgh, PA 15226. 

This is a very fluid situation and it is very easy to be overwhelmed with the amount of information that is out there. All levels of government are releasing information related to the coronavirus pandemic, sometimes multiple times daily. Below are hyperlinks where residents can get accurate information online in a timely manner:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – The federal CDC site provides information on the virus, its symptoms, how to protect yourself and your family, information for healthcare professionals, and the ability to sign-up to receive email alerts. The CDC also has a page dedicated towards managing anxiety and stress caused by the outbreak of this virus. That page is able to be viewed by clicking here.

Pennsylvania Department of Health – The PA Department of Health website provides information on the virus, a map of cases currently in Pennsylvania and links where citizens can watch daily briefings. The Department of Health also has a hotline where questions about the virus can be asked, 1-877-PA-HEALTH.

Allegheny County – In addition to information on the virus, Allegheny County has partnered with United Way 211 to offer a 24/7 hotline, 1-888-856-2774. The site also contains links where residents in need can get assistance with housing and food.  The County’s online Food Map can be viewed by clicking here. This map shows locations of free food distribution throughout Allegheny County.

City of Pittsburgh – The city’s site provides updates on the virus and can connect residents to online resources that include assistance with rent, mortgage and utilities, meals, and more. 

I want to remind everyone that The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) is prohibiting electric, natural gas, water, wastewater, telecommunication and steam utility terminations for as long as the Proclamation of Disaster, issued by the governor, is in effect.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General's office office wants consumers and businesses to be aware of price gouging protections under Governor Wolf’s COVID-19 disaster declaration for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. In addition, the Office of Attorney General has created a specialized resource (pricegouging@attorneygeneral.gov for consumers to email and report malfeasance.

American Working Family Relief Plan

We Support the American Working Family Relief Plan I am committed to working on policies and legislation that would help protect workers during and after the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. 

The “American Working Family Relief Action Plan” addresses practices for public and private employers, as well as policy positions for local, state and federal governments. Many of the items have been on the Senate Democrats’ agenda for some time, including earned sick leave for all workers and access to affordable health care.  

A critical component to managing this worsening pandemic is doing all we can to support and protect our workforce. Whether it’s assuring access to quality healthcare or protecting their livelihood and income, government and our private business partners must step up, provide stability and protect our workers. 

The national American Working Family Relief Action Plan would preserve and protect healthcare access, provide safety supports for front-line workers, and offer economic support to working families struggling to make ends meet. 

These are difficult times that will test our resolve and fortitude. It is imperative that we all do what we can to navigate our way through this crisis. We all must do our part. We all must work together, leave no one out and no one behind. 

I support this plan and will do all I can to reciprocate the loyalty and dedication our workers have proudly and diligently demonstrated throughout this crisis.

Unemployment Compensation Updates

The following information has been provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry regarding Unemployment Compensation (UC):

  • The Governor has temporarily suspended the waiting-week requirement in Section 401(e) of the UC Law.   With this suspension, a claimant can immediately file for benefits, and the first week of unemployment will be a compensable week. The suspension of this section will also be in effect for the length of the emergency declaration.

  • The provisions of the emergency declaration allow the Governor to immediately suspend the work registration and work search requirements in Unemployment Compensation Law and adopted Regulations and the Governor has temporarily suspended these requirements for the length of the emergency declaration.

The Pennsylvania UC Law allows for employers to be relieved of charges for compensation once there has been a federal disaster declaration under the Stafford Act and the individuals would have been eligible for Disaster Unemployment Assistance. Therefore, an employer may be relieved from charges for compensation paid to an individual with respect to any week of unemployment occurring due to COVID-19.

The Department has also created a resource page for employees and employers impacted by COVID-19 which can be accessed by clicking here.

Governor’s Order to Close Non-Life Sustaining Businesses & How to Appeal

Last week the governor ordered all non-life sustaining businesses must close their physical locations to slow the spread of COVID-19, effective yesterday at 8 a.m.

Those businesses requesting clarification on whether they are defined as life-sustaining can view the list by clicking here. Businesses can also email the PA Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED) customer service resource account at ra-dcedcs@pa.gov or call 1-877-PA-HEALTH and select option 1 to reach DCED staff. For businesses that determine from the list that they are non-life sustaining, but would like to seek a waiver, there is an online waiver application which can be accessed by clicking here.

When a business completes a waiver form, a team of professionals at DCED will review each request and respond based on the guiding principle of balancing public safety while ensuring the continued delivery of critical infrastructure services and functions. Those requesting a waiver will be notified via email if their operations may re-open. Businesses applying for a waiver must remain closed until a decision is made about their application. DCED offers working capital loans that could be of assistance to businesses impacted by COVID-19. Resources and information will be posted to https://dced.pa.gov/resources as they become available.

Small Business & Non-Profit Injury Disaster Loans

Last week the governor announced the availability of low-interest loans for small businesses and eligible non-profits in all 67 counties in Pennsylvania through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)

SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans offer up to $2 million in assistance and can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing. These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact.

The interest rate is 3.75 percent for small businesses without credit available elsewhere; businesses with credit available elsewhere are not eligible. The interest rate for non-profits is 2.75 percent.

SBA offers loans with long-term repayments in order to keep payments affordable, up to a maximum of 30 years. Terms are determined on a case-by-case basis, based upon each borrower’s ability to repay.

Businesses may obtain information and loan applications by calling the SBA’s Customer Service Center at 1-800-659-2955 (1-800-877-8339 for the hearing impaired), or by e-mailing disastercustomerservice@sba.gov. Loan applications can also be downloaded at www.sba.gov/disaster. Applicants may apply online using the Electronic Loan Application (ELA) via the SBA’s secure website at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. Completed applications should be returned to the local DLOC or mailed to:

U.S. Small Business Administration
Processing and Disbursement Center
14925 Kingsport Road
Fort Worth, TX 76155

The deadline to return economic injury disaster loan applications is Dec. 21, 2020.

COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program

There is $61 million available for working capital loans of up to $100,000 for small businesses that employ fewer than 100 employees through the COVID-19 Working Capital Access (CWCA) program. This program is being administered by the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority (PIDA) and provides critical working capital financing to small businesses located within the Commonwealth that are adversely impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

All CWCA loan applications must be submitted through a Certified Economic Development Organization (CEDO). For the list of CEDO’s operating within Pennsylvania, please refer to www.dced.pa.gov/CWCA.

The interest rate is currently 3 percent; however, the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority (PIDA) board has the authority to adjust the interest rates lower. $40 million of the available funding was moved from the Commonwealth Financing Authority through an agreement between the General Assembly and Governor Wolf.

Small businesses can apply for these loans at www.dced.pa.gov.

Helping Small Businesses

As all citizens continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, it is extremely important to stay informed and take all the precautions our public officials are both encouraging and, in some cases, ordering, to stay safe and slow the spread of this virus. As we do this, I also encourage everyone to keep an eye on your neighborhood. Neighborhoods across the 42nd Senatorial District contain small businesses that employ our families, our friends, and our neighbors. They are hurting more than ever as we deal with this pandemic.

I encourage everyone to take a moment and read a piece authored in PublicSource by Aaron Sukenik, the Executive Director of the Hilltop Alliance on what communities can do to help keep our small businesses going during this difficult time. Please click here to read the piece.

Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program Extended

HomeIn response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue has extended the deadline to apply for the 2019 Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program.  Applications will now be accepted through Dec. 31, 2020. The previous deadline was June 30, 2020.

If you filed a paper rebate last year, you should receive an application in the mail. Applications are also currently available online at www.revenue.pa.gov or by calling 1-888-222-9190.

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 for homeowners and $15,000 for renters. Please keep in mind, half of Social Security income is excluded.

The program is funded by the Pennsylvania Lottery and revenue from slots gaming.

Tax Return Filing Extended

The Department of Revenue also announced that the deadline for taxpayers to file their 2019 Pennsylvania personal income tax returns has been extended to July 15, 2020. This means taxpayers will have an additional 90 days to file from the original deadline of April 15. The Internal Revenue Service also extended the federal filing deadline to July 15, 2020.

The Department of Revenue will also waive penalties and interest on 2019 personal income tax payments through the new deadline of July 15, 2020. This extension applies to both final 2019 tax returns and payments, and estimated payments for the first and second quarters of 2020.

Although the filing deadline has been extended, the Department of Revenue is encouraging taxpayers who are able to file their returns electronically to do so. This will enable the department to continue to process returns as commonwealth offices are closed. Additionally, if you are expecting a refund from the commonwealth, filing electronically will help avoid a delay in the release of your refund.

Relief for Students

As the Vice-Chair of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) Board of Directors, I want to alert students and families of action taken last week by the board to provide for the temporary modification of certain program requirements of PHEAA-administered Pennsylvania student aid programs to ensure that recipients won’t experience a disruption or reduction of funding due to operational changes made by schools in response to COVID-19. 

studentThe PHEAA Board of Directors authorized the Agency to temporarily modify, suspend, or relax certain program requirements for Pennsylvania schools and students enrolled in the 2020 Winter or Spring term for the following programs that currently assist approximately 210,000 students: 

  • PA State Grant Program
  • Institutional Assistance Grant (IAG) Program
  • Matching Funds Programs
  • Higher Education of the Disadvantaged (Act 101) Program
  • Higher Education for Blind or Deaf Students Program
  • Pennsylvania Internship Program
  • Ready to Succeed Scholarship Program (RTSS)
  • PA Targeted Industry Program (PA-TIP) 

Families in every corner of the Commonwealth are struggling to protect themselves while adapting their activities to this quickly spreading pandemic. We have been coordinating our responses with the Governor’s Office and appreciate his leadership as we all come together to help Pennsylvania students and families get through these challenging times.

One example of relief would be the temporary waiver of the PA State Grant Program’s eligibility distinction between traditional in-classroom students, who currently qualify for a $4,123 maximum award, and distance education students, who currently qualify for a $3,092 maximum award, or 75 percent of a traditional award.  This waiver would hold harmless thousands of initially in-classroom recipients who could otherwise lose their higher award amount, which has already been factored into their higher education funding plan for the year.      

In order to give students and families more flexibility during the COVID-19 pandemic, PHEAA’s Board of Directors also acted  to extend the May 1 PA State Grant application deadline by 2 weeks to May 15. 

This deadline applies to all renewal applicants and first-time applicants who plan to enroll in colleges, universities, or a college transfer program at 2-year public or private colleges (except community colleges and designated Pennsylvania Open Admission institutions). 

To apply for a PA State Grant, applicants must first complete the 2020-21 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Applicants can access this form online at www.PHEAA.org/FAFSA or www.fafsa.gov. Completing the FAFSA online saves time and reduces application and processing errors. 

In addition to completing the FAFSA, first-time applicants must also submit a completed PA State Grant Form (SGF). First-time applicants who submit the FAFSA online will be automatically redirected to the SGF by following the onscreen prompts on the confirmation page. First-time applicants who have already submitted their FAFSA but have not completed the SGF, will receive an email directing them to PHEAA’s secure Account Access site for completion. Both applications are free to submit. 

Reminder on Mail-In Ballots

Vote By MailI want to remind everyone that several changes were made to the Election Code in Pennsylvania with the passage of Act 77 last year, including the introduction of no excuse mail-in voting.  In light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and as we try to limit personal interactions to reduce the spread of infection, I wanted to again highlight this important change to voting that will enable voters to participate in the election process without needing to go to the polls if they choose not to.

Act 77 created mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania beginning with the 2020 Primary Election. Unlike the current absentee ballot application, mail-in ballots can be requested by any voter with no excuse required.

The current absentee ballot process remains in place, where voters can request an absentee ballot if they are sick, disabled, or going to be out of their municipality on Election Day.  However, anyone can request a new mail-in ballot.  Additionally, voters can also request an annual mail-in ballot. If a voter indicates on the mail-in ballot application that they would like to be added to the annual mail-in ballot request list, they will receive an application to renew their request for a mail-in ballot each year. Once the application is approved, the voter will automatically receive ballots for the remainder of the year, and they do not need to submit an application for each election.

Applications can be downloaded at www.votespa.com. Voters can also submit an application electronically on that site.

The deadline to apply for mail-in ballots is 5 p.m. on the Tuesday before Election Day and the deadline to return completed ballots is 8 p.m. on Election Day.

I have long been an advocate of early voting and it is my hope that the new mail-in ballot provides anyone  who may have difficulty getting to the polls the chance to vote more easily.

Voter Registration Deadline

I want to remind everyone, that Act 77 also changed the deadline for voter registration applications. The new law states that applications must be received by the county board of elections no later than 15 days before the election. Previously, counties would accept applications that were simply postmarked by the deadline (which was 30 days before the election) but that is no longer permitted. Applicants may either return their application in person, or it must be received by mail by the county board of elections by the deadline.

Vote PARegistration can be done online at www.votespa.com.  Applications can also be downloaded and printed from that site.  Anyone mailing a voter registration can send it to:

Allegheny County Elections Division
542 Forbes Avenue, Suite 609
Pittsburgh, PA 15219-2913

Did You Know…

Did you know that as of March 12, more than 22,000 registered voters had requested a new mail-in ballot for the Primary Election?

Port Authority Adjusts Bus & Light Rail Schedules

Senior Citizen ConnectCardsThe Port Authority of Allegheny County will reduce bus and light rail service by approximately 25 percent beginning tomorrow, due to substantial decreases in ridership and operational challenges brought on by the ongoing global pandemic. 

The reduction balances the Authority’s need to protect frontline employees while maintaining service for essential trips taken by hospital staff, government officials and emergency responders. It takes into account public guidance from state and local leaders, along with emergency orders to cancel events, close schools and offices, and limit social gatherings across the nation.  

Port Authority’s ridership has plummeted more than 50 percent in the past two weeks. As a result, riders will continue to be able to practice social distancing while on board vehicles.  

Port Authority worked closely with its union leadership to develop the plan and spoke with the region's largest healthcare providers to ensure that service will remain available for customers who work in essential jobs or who need access to essential services. 

With fewer buses required, Authority crews will be better able to keep up with the daily disinfecting schedule. Bus and light rail operators will also be able to practice proper social distancing protocols while they remain on stand-by. 

Port Authority staff will continue to evaluate service levels to determine if further adjustments are needed. 

Customers are reminded that although Port Authority's TrueTime service will be able to provide vehicle location information, trip planning services will not be available.

Schedules for individual routes are available at www.portauthority.org/coronavirus. Paper schedules will not be printed.   Saturday and Sunday service will follow regular schedules. Buses that do not regularly operate on Saturdays or Sundays will not operate under the modified schedules. 

Port Authority will continue working in close cooperation with federal, state and local health agencies during the COVID-19 crisis and will continue to monitor ridership as the situation continues to evolve. For updated Port Authority information, please visit www.portauthority.org/coronavirus, follow them on Twitter @pghtransit or call Customer Service at 412-442-2000

Critical Blood Shortage

Red Cross Seeking Blood Donors As the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues to impact our communities, the American Red Cross needs help to ensure they have a sufficient blood supply to support hospital patients in Pennsylvania and across the country. The American Red Cross has had a staggering number of scheduled Red Cross blood drives cancelled as more workplaces, college campuses and other venues send people home and encourage social distancing.

Disruptions to blood donations can lead to shortages and cause delays in essential medical care. As of March 16, about 2,700 blood drives, representing approximately 86,000 fewer blood donations, have been canceled in the U.S. due to COVID-19 concerns. Here in Pennsylvania there has been 116 blood drives canceled resulting in over 3,600 lost donations.

As concerns about the coronavirus pandemic rise, the Red Cross wants to communicate three vital messages to the public:

  • Donating blood is a safe process and people should not be concerned about giving or receiving blood during this challenging time.
  • More healthy donors are needed to give now to prevent a blood shortage.
  • Keep scheduled blood drives, which will allow donors the opportunity to give blood.

As an emergency preparedness organization, the Red Cross has also taken additional steps to ensure the safety of staff and donors at each Red Cross blood drive.

  • They are now pre-screening all individuals by checking their temperature before they enter any Red Cross blood drive or donation center, including their own staff and volunteers.
  • At each blood drive and donation center, Red Cross employees follow thorough safety protocols including wearing gloves, routinely wiping down donor-touched areas, using sterile collection sets for every donation, and preparing the arm for donation with an aseptic scrub.
  • Additional spacing has been implemented within each blood drive set up to incorporate social distancing measures between donation beds and stations within the blood drive.
  • The average blood drives are only 20-30 people over several hours and are not large gatherings.

The Red Cross is also working to ensure they can continue to carry out other aspects of their lifesaving mission, including providing critical disaster relief services. They are working with public health officials to ensure the safety of local communities and their workforce, while still providing the help and hope they need should disaster strike.

Those who are healthy, feeling well and eligible to give blood are urged to make an appointment to donate as soon as possible by visiting www.RedCross.org or calling 1-800-RED CROSS.

Fontana Fact

It was on this day in 1964 the United States Mint first produced the Kennedy half dollar.  Months after the assignation of President John F. Kennedy, the U.S. Congress passed a law to eliminate the Franklin half dollar design and create a coin to commemorate President Kennedy.

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
By appointment