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Senator Wayne D. Fontana
Senator Fontana participated in a groundbreaking ceremony for the renovations of the ACH Clear Pathways Kaufmann Center on Friday, June 12. He was able to secure a $1.5 million state RACP grant for the renovation project.

Senate Democrats Commit to Police Reform and Improved Accountability

Commit to Police Reform

Last week, the Senate Democratic Caucus introduced a comprehensive package of legislation to reform policing in Pennsylvania. Two years ago, our caucus introduced police and community relations bills in the wake of Antwon Rose’s death, but those bills were not moved by the majority party.

As part of this legislative package, I have introduced an updated version of a bill I introduced previously that creates a Civilian Review Board. The new bill will create a review board for each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties and no longer just apply to Allegheny County.

It has been widely argued that citizen participation in governmental policy making produces has many benefits, not the least of which is better trust in governmental operations. Just like the role a jury plays in a trial, an independent review board will allow the people to decide when unjustifiable actions have been made by the police rather than an internal investigation. This process will ensure greater transparency by granting an outside, unbiased group of individuals the ability to determine if any criminal proceedings need to take place.

In addition to my Civilian Review Board legislation, Senate Democrats introduced 13 other bills to address police reform and accountability. I was proud to co-sponsor each of these bills. Below is summary of the legislative package. More details on this legislation can be found at www.pasenate.com/reform/.

Municipal Police Officer Education and Training Commission Improvements (Sen. Costa)

  • Require new training elements for use of deadly force, community-oriented policing, de-escalation methods, interacting with diverse communities, and bias prevention. All of these are required to some degree now, but more needs to be done. Requiring each of these elements to be included in continuing education course work is also necessary.
  • Creation of a database to require municipalities to report and track criminal, disciplinary, and investigation information for every municipal police officer for use by future hiring police departments.
  • Improved psychological examinations of officers seeking MPOETC certification.
  • Development of minimal guidelines for municipalities to adopt for forming and running police departments.

Can’t Wait – Creates More Explicit and Just Standard for Use of Force by Police by Following Eight Recommended Policies (Sen. Hughes)

  • Requiring the exhaustion of all reasonable alternatives before using force;
  • Requiring the use of force be reported, including when force has been threatened but not used;
  • Banning chokeholds and strangleholds;
  • Establishing a use of force continuum that limits the type of force and weapons that can be used for specific types of resistance;
  • Requiring the use of de-escalation measures prior to the use of force;
  • Establishing a duty to intervene and stop excessive force by another officer, as well as immediately reporting incidents to a supervisor;
  • Banning shooting at a moving vehicle; and,
  • Requiring a warning be given prior to the use of fatal force. 

Special Prosecutor (Sen. Haywood)

  • Takes review and prosecution of deadly force incidents at the hand of police officers out of the jurisdiction of the local district attorney and puts it in the hands of a special prosecutor.
  • Requires the Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor whenever there is a deadly force incident and a police officer is involved.

Strengthening and Funding Municipal Civilian Police Oversight (Sen. Anthony Williams)

  • Grants police advisory commissions oversight of department policies, procedures, and orders, as well as the authority to review all use-of-force or police misconduct incidents.
  • State funding at a level of at least one percent of a local department’s budget would be provided to municipalities that enact strong civilian oversight measures to include the ability to terminate or otherwise discipline any officer for cause.

False Reports of “Criminal Activity” Based on Race or Ethnicity (Sen. Hughes)

  • An individual who reports that “criminal activity” based solely on the race or ethnicity of an individual will be considered to be filing a false report under Title 18.
  • An individual who files a false criminal report based solely on the race or ethnicity of an individual would be graded as a first-degree misdemeanor.

Improved Police Pay (Sen. Brewster)

  • Improves opportunities and pay for part-time police officers.
  • Dedicated additional resources to improve on-the-job conditions and decrease chances that officers need to work multiple jobs.

Demilitarize Law Enforcement (Sens. Street & Muth)

  • Creates a prohibited military equipment list
  • Requires local governing bodies to vote to approve any other purchases from military supply programs and requires this information to be made publicly available.

Regional Policing Incentive Program and Study (Sen. Brewster)

  • Provides incentives for police departments to merge or consolidate on a regional or countywide basis.
  • Provides state grant incentive program to help with planning, facility decisions, equipment requirements, and operating costs associated with regionalization.

Change the Standard for Police Using Deadly Force (Sen. Costa)

  • Limits the circumstance for when deadly force can be used to events when there is an immediate threat of death or bodily injury to an officer or another person.

Racial Impact Statements (Sens. Hughes & Collett)

  • A 2016 report from the Sentencing Project identified three recurrent explanations for racial disparities in state imprisonment: policies and practices; implicit bias and stereotypes; and structural disadvantages. Racial impact statements would provide an effective mechanism for analyzing the true scope and unforeseen ramifications of our proposals.

No Consent in Custody (Sens. Muth, Collett, Kearney, Santarsiero, & L. Williams)

  • Expands Pennsylvania’s definition of institutional sexual assault to include law enforcement officers and any person in the officer’s custody.
  • Would eliminate sexual consent as a defense, making any sexual contact between an officer and a person in custody a third-degree felony.

Professional Oversight and Policy Development Board (Sen. Costa)

  • Develops a Policy Development Board for police similar to other professional licensure boards that exist in Pennsylvania for various other professions.
  • Would create a neutral third-party board to oversee police on a day-to-day basis and provide the public a place to turn to file complaints.
  • Requires this board to provide municipalities and police departments with a requirement to implement best practices, including guidance on their development of the use of deadly force and community relations standards.

Enhancing Civil Asset Forfeiture Protections (Sen. A. Williams)

  • Addresses the largest issues still surrounding civil forfeiture by requiring a connected criminal conviction of a property owner prior to forfeiture and returning the proceeds of forfeiture to the general fund of counties, of the state in cases where the Pennsylvania Attorney General prosecuted the case.

COVID-19 Relief Statewide Small Business Assistance Grants

The Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED) last week announced that program guidelines and additional details for the COVID-19 Relief Statewide Small Business Grants are now available on DCED’s website.

Small Business GrantsUnder the program, $225 million is available for COVID-19 relief to small businesses through a distribution to Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) for loan payment deferment and portfolio loan loss reserves, main street business revitalization grants, and historically disadvantaged business revitalization grants.

The funds will be available through three programs:

  • $100 million for the Main Street Business Revitalization Program for small businesses that experienced loss as a result of the governor’s March 19, 2020 order relating to the closure of all non-life-sustaining businesses and have or will incur costs to adapt to new business operations related to COVID-19;
  • $100 million for the Historically Disadvantaged Business Revitalization Program for small businesses that experienced loss as a result of the business closure order, have or will incur costs to adapt to new business operations related to COVID-19, and in which socially and economically disadvantaged individuals own at least a 51 percent interest and also control management and daily business operations.
  • $25 million for the Loan Payment Deferment and Loss Reserve Program, which will allow the CDFIs the opportunity to offer forbearance and payment relief for existing portfolio businesses that are struggling due to the impact of COVID, as well as shore up the financial position of the CDFIs that are experiencing significant increased defaults in their existing loan portfolios.

Eligible businesses with 25 or fewer employees may receive a maximum grant of $50,000 so long as the business was in operation on February 15, 2020 and, if required, paid income taxes to the state and federal government, as reported on individual or business tax returns; COVID-19 has had an adverse economic impact and makes this grant request necessary to support the ongoing operations of the applicant; the grant will be used cover COVID-19 related costs; and during the period beginning on June 1, 2020 and ending on December 31, 2020, the applicant has not and will not receive another grant under this state program.

For more information about the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), visit the DCED website.

Senate Approves Carbon Monoxide Bill 

Carbon Monoxide Bill I was very pleased when the Pennsylvania Senate unanimously passed my Senate Bill 430 (SB 430) last week.  Under this legislation, licensed child-care centers across the state would be required to install a working carbon monoxide alarm in their facilities.  Parents and guardians send their children to daycare thinking this is a safe atmosphere.  Deaths caused by carbon monoxide poisoning are entirely preventable. This bill puts one more mechanism in place to protect the welfare of both the children and staff at these facilitates.  

Considered the “silent killer,” carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels from items like portable generators, vehicles, power washers as well as malfunctioning fireplaces, furnaces and water heaters.  In high concentration, CO can cause flu-like symptoms including headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pains, loss of muscle control, confusion, unconsciousness and ultimately death.   

Annually, carbon monoxide poisoning is responsible for approximately 50,000 emergency room visits and at least 430 deaths in the United States.  Although CO poisoning can be fatal to anyone, children are particularly vulnerable.  Carbon monoxide can make a child seriously ill in amounts that would barely affect an adult.  

The only safe way to know if CO is present in a building is with a working alarm.  Under SB 430, each child-care facility which uses a fossil fuel-burning heater or appliance, fireplace or an attached garage, must have an operational, centrally located and approved carbon monoxide alarm installed in the vicinity of the fossil fuel-burning heater or fireplace.  The approved carbon monoxide alarm must also be installed in every unit that is located on the same story of the fossil fuel-burning heater or appliance.  Failure to do so would result in the Department of Human Services to not issue or renew a daycare license until the facility complies.   

As of December 2019, 40 states require carbon monoxide detectors in private dwellings with only eight states mandating them in child-care facilities.  SB 430 also has the backing of several Pennsylvania child-care organizations including Pennsylvania Child Care Association, Pennsylvania Association for the Education of Young Children, Trying Together as well as First Up:  Champions for Early Education.  With the average cost of $20 for a carbon monoxide detector, I feel that it is a small price tag to put on an individual life. 

SB 430 is now located in the House Health Committee.   

PUA Payment Update

PUA Payment UpdateThe Pennsylvania Treasury Department and the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) continue to make enhancements and adjustments to their processing of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and PUA-related Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) benefits payments in order to minimize the negative impact of recent, multistate fraud associated with those payments, and reduce the waiting period for the delivery of future payments to unemployed Pennsylvania workers. 

Starting June 9, PUA and PUA-related FPUC claimants who already have US Bank ReliaCards will receive their benefits in the form of deposits to those cards.  ReliaCards will be mailed to claimants who do not currently have cards, and those claimants will begin receiving benefit payments on the cards starting on approximately June 16. Payments will no longer be issued by paper check except upon request.

Once all PUA claimants have received a ReliaCard, they should expect to receive benefits, including the extra $600 per week provided by the FPUC program, as an electronic payment to their ReliaCard.  No other form of unemployment compensation or associated FPUC payments will be affected, at this time.

The switch to check payments was an immediate response to widespread concerns about criminal activity involving identity theft and fraudulent direct deposit accounts.  As the volume of PUA benefits continued to increase, it became clear that the high expenses and significant demands on both equipment and staff made payment by check unsustainable.  This change is a product of Treasury proactively seeking out a solution that is more secure, affordable, and sustainable in the long-term.  It is estimated that issuing payments via debit card, rather than checks, will save Pennsylvania taxpayers approximately $1 million per month in increased printing and postage costs.

If you are currently receiving PUA or PUA-related FPUC payments and do not have a US Bank ReliaCard, please look for a plain, white envelope with your new ReliaCard.  It should arrive between June 16 and June 21 and will be marked with an Indianapolis postmark.  Please do not destroy or throw this envelope away. 

Payments to US Bank ReliaCards will be deposited three business days following the day of the claimant’s filing, except that Friday filers will receive deposits to their card two business days later.  PUA claimants who do not yet have a ReliaCard are expected to receive one in the next two weeks and will then begin to receive payments on the ReliaCard.

Benefits payments for ReliaCards will follow the pay schedule below:

Day of the Week that a Claim is Filed Day of the Week that Benefits will be Issued
Sunday Wednesday
Monday Thursday
Tuesday Friday
Wednesday Monday
Thursday Tuesday
Friday Tuesday

Eligible PUA and PUA-related FPUC claimants who do not have ReliaCards and file for benefits from Friday, June 5 through and including Thursday, June 11 will still receive those benefits by checks delivered by the U.S. Postal Service.  Those checks should arrive within four to seven business days following the day of filing.  During this same period, US Bank, the ReliaCard provider, will be mailing debit cards to all PUA and PUA-related FPUC benefits recipients who do not currently have active debit cards. It is the Treasury Department’s objective to avoid interrupting payments for those who are receiving PUA benefits but who do not currently have an active ReliaCard.

The new ReliaCards should be delivered to most PUA and PUA-related FPUC claimants who do not currently have debit cards between June 16 and June 21.  Separate mailings will provide additional important information about the ReliaCards, including how individuals can request to have payment by check reinstated.  Claims filed for benefits starting on Friday, June 12 will be paid by deposit to the ReliaCard.  It is expected that most new ReliaCards will be received by claimants within one or two days of the first deposits being placed on their cards.  In many instances, it is expected these first deposits will be available to claimants through their debit cards earlier than if they had continued to be paid by check.

The US Bank ReliaCard offers claimants fast and secure access to funds.  ReliaCards can be used at any retail location that accepts Visa.  Cardholders also have unlimited in-network ATM cash withdrawals and balance inquiries, can access online bill-pay, and can transfer funds to a personal account.  For more information about the ReliaCard, please click here.

PUC Announces Public Input Hearings for PSWA Rate Increase Requests

telephonic hearings

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) has announced six telephonic hearings in early July to gather public input on rate increases proposed by the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority (PWSA) – for water and wastewater services to approximately 80,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers in Pittsburgh and surrounding communities.

Telephonic public input hearings for PWSA’s requests are scheduled for the following dates and times:

  • Tuesday, July 7, 2020 – Hearings will begin at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.
  • Wednesday, July 8, 2020 – Hearings will begin at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.
  • Thursday, July 9, 2020 – Hearings will begin at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Administrative Law Judges Mary Long and Emily DeVoe will preside over the hearings.

Individuals who wish to testify at the telephonic public input hearings must register by Monday, July 6 at 1 p.m., either by calling the Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate (OCA) toll free at 1-800-684-6560, or by logging onto PWSA’s hearing registration website and completing the registration form. On the day of the hearings, consumers will testify in the order they signed up. 

If you do not wish to testify, but want to listen to the public input hearings, you may contact OCA by 1 p.m. on Monday, July 6 to obtain call-in information or use PWSA’s hearing link at any time to listen to any of the public input hearings.

Under the request filed by PWSA, a multi-year rate increase for water service would increase total annual operating revenues for water service by approximately $30.2 million (27.5%), effective January 1, 2021, and by approximately $7.2 million (5.7%), effective January 1, 2022.

PWSA has also filed a multi-year request to increase rates for wastewater service, increasing total annual operating revenues for wastewater service by approximately $13.6 million (21.8%), effective January 1, 2021, and by approximately $6.7 million (9.7%), effective January 1, 2022.

The combined proposals submitted by PWSA’s would increase the typical residential water and wastewater bill (for a customer using 3,000 gallons per month) from $72.49 to $86.31 per month (19.1%) in 2021.

In 2022, the PWSA proposals would increase that same monthly residential water and wastewater bill from $86.31 to $91.71 (6.26%).

The PUC offers tips on how to participate in a public input hearing, including:

  • Prepare what you are going to say beforehand. Even though it is not required, you may want to write out your statement, which can be read.
  • Any formal testimony that is offered during the hearing will become part of the record on which the PUC will issue its final decision.
  • Understand that parties in the case may want to ask you a question to clarify something you said.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission balances the needs of consumers and utilities; ensures safe and reliable utility service at reasonable rates; protects the public interest; educates consumers to make independent and informed utility choices; furthers economic development; and fosters new technologies and competitive markets in an environmentally sound manner.

Visit the PUC’s website at www.puc.pa.gov for recent news releases and video of select proceedings.

Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program

The Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program provides $24 in vouchers to eligible Allegheny County residents, aged 60 and older (60 years of age or older by Dec. 31, 2020) on a first-come, first-served basis. The vouchers are redeemable through November at participating farmers’ markets and farm stands for Pennsylvania grown produce.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, vouchers will not be distributed at senior centers. Instead, applications for the vouchers can be completed online or requested in hard copy by email or phone.

Beginning today, and continuing until the supply is exhausted, vouchers will be sent by mail to eligible Allegheny County residents who complete an application by Sept. 24.

Applications can be requested by email at AAA-SFMNP@alleghenycounty.us or by phone at 412-350-4219. Applications can also be downloaded by clicking here. Applications downloaded and completed can be scanned and emailed or mailed to: Area Agency on Aging, SFMNP, 2100 Wharton Street, 2nd Floor, Pittsburgh, PA 15203.

Income guidelines for a one-person household are $23,606 and for a two-person household, $31,894. Married couples may each receive one set of checks.

To learn more about the program including a listing of eligible fruits and vegetables and to locate nearby farmers’ markets, please click here.

PHFA Podcast Series for Consumers Creates Growing Educational Archive

PHFAThe Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) is expanding its library of informational podcasts intended to help consumers. One, called “Close to Home,” offers practical advice for people in the market to purchase a home. The second, “Master Your Money,” provides insights people can use to better manage their personal finances.

The Close to Home series currently includes nine podcasts on such topics as understanding closing costs, homebuyer counseling options, and homebuying readiness. The show’s homebuying expert is Coleen Baumert, PHFA’s director of homeownership. Baumert has worked in the housing field for more than 15 years.

The Master Your Money series has posted 11 podcasts so far. They introduce listeners to the subject of personal money management and cover topics like maximizing your earnings and making your money work for you. The expert speaker for that program is Holly Zugay, PHFA’s financial education officer. Zugay has nearly 20 years of experience in the financial education field, including her current work providing financial education for former inmates and for incarcerated veterans preparing to return to their communities. In 2018, Zugay was selected by the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education as its Financial Educator of the Year.

Both podcasts are hosted by PHFA employee Renae Hyson, who works in the agency’s communications division and has a background as a radio DJ. Hyson is a strong advocate for the use of podcasting to educate consumers about housing issues that affect their lives.

New podcast episodes are posted for each program every few weeks. The podcasts generally run less than ten minutes – a length that is convenient for people to fit into their daily schedules. Listeners interested in these podcasts can access them on the agency’s website at www.PHFA.org. Once on the homepage, look for the podcast link at the top-left corner of the screen, under the PHFA logo. Both PHFA podcasts can also be accessed on iTunes, Spotify and other podcast apps by typing “PHFA” in the search engine.

Did You Know…

Did you know that since its creation by the legislature in 1972, the PHFA has generated nearly $14.6 billion of funding for more than 178,325 single-family home mortgage loans, helped fund the construction of 136,215 rental units, distributed more than $109.2 million to support local housing initiatives, and saved the homes of more than 50,300 families from foreclosure?

State Plan on Aging Community & Stakeholder Survey

Department of Aging SurveyThe Pennsylvania Department of Aging creates a State Plan on Aging every four years in order to provide a vision and direction for Pennsylvania's network of aging services. The Department’s State Plan on Aging 2020-2024 Community & Stakeholder Survey is now live and available in both English and Spanish. It can be accessed by clicking here or visiting www.aging.pa.gov and clicking on the “Take the State Plan Survey” tab.

The survey, which is open to adults of all ages, takes 5-10 minutes to complete and will be available until June 21. In addition to taking the survey online, anyone interested in participating can also take the survey via phone by calling 717-783-1550. Simply leave a message at that number with your contact information, stating you would like to participate in the “State Plan on Aging Community Survey” and a staff member with the Dept. of Aging will contact you back.

The current state plan remains effective through Sept. 30, 2020 and so, the process has begun to shape and develop the next State Plan on Aging for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania – ensuring we continue to effectively meet the needs of Pennsylvania's diverse older adult community.

The Department begins this process by receiving input on what needs to improve and learning more about the people they serve by gathering feedback from the entire spectrum of stakeholders – department staff, consumers of services, caregivers, professionals, and anyone who has an interest in the future of aging services.

Remote Summer Program for Children

Remote Summer Program for ChildrenThe Allegheny County Library Association (ACLA) has announced a virtual summer program that began yesterday. Due to closures and guidelines imposed by the global COVID-19 pandemic, the need for remote programming to entertain families through the summer is more important than ever. 

The ACLA is pleased to have partner organizations highlighting eight weekly themes. These partners include, but are not limited to the Allegheny County Parks, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and the Allegheny Land Trust. In addition, the libraries have collaborated in a show of solidarity to support each other to share and create programs for the entire county.

In addition, there is a weekly bingo card. Challenges on the bingo card include reading prompts and activities that relate to the theme, including a bug hunt, tree identification and leaf rubbing for the Week 1 nature theme. Those that submit cards after completing a bingo will be entered to win various prizes.

June programming includes:

  • Special programming from the Allegheny County Parks, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Pittsburgh Botanic Garden and the Allegheny Land Trust
  • Get Moving! prompts from Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
  • Nature exploration prompts from the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy
  • Storytimes for babies, toddlers, preschoolers and families
  • Information for parents from Common Sense Media and WQED Education

And much more!

Full details regarding the program that runs through August 9 can be found at http://aclasummerreading.org/ and by following ACLA Youth Services on Facebook (@aclayouthservices). No registration is needed.  Connect with ACLA Youth Services by using the hashtag #2020aclasummerreading and #justashadecoolerthannormal, so that everyone can see your fun summer adventures.

Carnegie Library & Castle Shannon Library Begin Curbside Service

The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh will be offering curbside service for customers, beginning next Tuesday, June 23 at five locations. These locations are Allegheny (1230 Federal Street), Brookline (708 Brookline Boulevard), East Liberty (130 S.Whitfield Street), Hill District (2177 Centre Avenue) and Main (4400 Forbes Avenue).

Starting last week, staff began calling patrons who already have items ready for check out to make an appointment to pick up their item(s). Holds placed prior to April 8, 2020 will be fulfilled in the order in which they were received. Pickup times will be scheduled every 15 minutes. Due to high volume, if you miss your scheduled pick-up date/time, your items will be removed from your account and you will have to re-request these holds over the phone with the library’s reference staff.   

For more information on CLP’s curbside service and the efforts they’re making to safely provide library materials, please click here or visit www.carnegielibrary.org.

The Community Library of Castle Shannon started curbside and lobby pick-up yesterday. Customers can search for items in the online catalog at https://librarycatalog.einetwork.net/ and then call 412-563-4552 to place your request. This number can be called Monday-Friday, 10:30 a.m. - 3:30 p.m.

Curbside and lobby pick-up will be available Monday-Friday, 1 – 3 p.m. When arriving for either curbside or lobby pick-up, please call 412-563-4552.

Great Outdoors MonthFontana Fact

June is National Great Outdoor Month. Hiking, walking, running or biking are some of the most popular outdoor activities in the summer months. Pennsylvania is the home to 248 trails that cover 5,802 miles.

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