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Senator Wayne D. Fontana makes a point to speakers at last Wednesday's Senate Democratic Policy Committee Meeting. The committee heard from a private developer, the Ben Franklin Technology Partnership, the Catalyst Connection and the Pitt & Duquesne Small Business Development Centers on the PA Works plan put forth by the caucus.

Consolidation of Economic Development Programs Senseless

The Senate Policy Committee held a hearing last week at the Father Ryan Arts Center in McKees Rocks where I and other members of the committee heard testimony from several economic development programs about their successes and return on investment for the Commonwealth. After hearing the success stories from these organizations, I can’t believe it makes any sense to eliminate or consolidate programs like these that are so successful.

This morning, the Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee also held a public hearing to hear from the Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED) Secretary C. Alan Walker about the Partnerships for Regional Economic Performance (PREP) program. Specifically, the hearing was held to inform committee members about the purpose and need of the program, its proposed governance, guidance, funding and the proposed regions of the Commonwealth.

Did You Know…

Since 1990 alone, the SBDCs have helped Pennsylvania entrepreneurs start more than 24,300 new businesses; obtain over $2.1 billion in start-up and expansion capital; expand sales by $8.7 billion, including over $2.1 billion in government contracts and $1.3 billion in export sales; create over 104,800 new jobs at an average cost of $1,145 per job; and, generate more than $796 million in new tax revenues.

In the last six years, Industrial Resource Centers have aided PA manufacturers in increasing retained sales by $5.2 billion, providing cost savings of $612.3 million, making investments of $847 million; and, creating or retaining 38,711 jobs.

In FY 09-10 alone, PA Local Development Districts created or retained one job for every $347.26 invested by the Commonwealth; leveraged $55.9 million in private funds; leveraged $30.6 million in federal funds; and were responsible for an 18.5% increase in export sales for its clients.

There are a lot of questions about this proposal and while there were answers provided today, there is still a definite vagueness about this proposal and how it will work. While I had hoped that this hearing would clear up some of those questions, the hour and a half spent barely scratched the surface. The PREP program clearly remains a work in progress. I think that it is important that we all understand where DCED is going with this program. We also need to be aware of the concerns and issues that the organizations that will be participating in this program have as well.

The PREP proposal makes no sense to me. We should be eliminating what doesn’t work in this budget and keeping what does. I have not had one user of these programs who has said that their experience wasn’t worth the money that the Commonwealth is putting into these programs. The return from these programs is much higher than the cost to Pennsylvania. It’s clear that these programs and their staffs do excellent work for the businesses in our community. While DCED says the same, they still are using the program as a “hammer” to encourage efficiencies and other cooperative efforts. Perhaps that isn’t the best way to approach this issue.

Each of these organizations serves a very specific purpose and they already work together to serve the businesses in our region in the best manner. Allowing them the time to work towards the vision that DCED has in mind, while assuring them that they will continue to receive funding to provide the services that businesses rely upon may be the best way to approach this issue.

Offices Closed for Memorial Day

All Senate offices will be closed Monday, May 30th in observance of the Memorial Day holiday. They will reopen as scheduled Tuesday, May 31st.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a time to join together as a nation to honor the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Originally known as Decoration Day to honor soldiers who died in defense of their country during the Civil War, it was extended to honor those who had died in all American wars soon after World War I. Congress declared Memorial Day an official federal holiday in 1971. In observance of the holiday, many Americans visit cemeteries and memorials, and volunteers place American flags on graves at national cemeteries. Each year a national moment of remembrance takes place at 3 p.m. local time to encourage all Americans to pause for a minute in an act of unity. It is important to remember that we are free today thanks to the fallen heroes of our country’s armed forces.

Hollywood Theater Opens Full-Time in June

The Hollywood Theater in Dormont is expanding its schedule in the month of June, just in time for summer. The historic theater will open full-time beginning Wednesday, June 8th, with a variety of movies running throughout the month. June showings include movie classics (The Philadelphia Story, Cool Hand Luke), mainstream hits (The Green Hornet, True Grit), and family-friendly features (Yogi Bear, The Incredible Mr. Limpet).

Friends of the Hollywood Theater has done a great job reviving a Pittsburgh treasure and providing another forum to educate the community about the art of film. You can view the full schedule for June, check out pictures, and post your own comments by visiting the Hollywood Theater on Facebook. As a member of the Advisory Board, it’s exciting to witness the progression of the theater only a month into its reopening. The Hollywood Theater adds to the economic vitality of Dormont’s business district and provides another attraction to the arts and culture scene in Pittsburgh.

Help with Medicare Expenses

Older adults and people with disabilities may be able to save money on their Medicare insurance premiums and co-payments. There are now two separate programs available depending on income and assets.

The Medicare Savings Program covers the cost of the Part B premium, and possibly co-payments and deductibles, depending upon the applicant’s level of income. To qualify, an individual’s monthly income must be no greater than $1,218 with resources no greater than $6,680. For a married couple, the combined monthly income should be no greater than $1,639 with resources no greater than $10,020. The resources that are counted include money in the bank, stocks, bonds or other types of investment. The lower the amount of income and resources the applicant has, the greater the level of assistance available.

The “Extra Help” Program provides assistance with Medicare Part D (prescription drug) premiums and co-payments. In order to qualify, an individual’s income must be no greater than $1,353 per month with resources no greater than $12,640. For a married couple, the combined monthly income should be no greater than $1,821 with resources no greater than $25,620.

Anyone wishing to apply for either program can contact the Allegheny County Department of Human Services Medicare Outreach Coordinator by dialing 412-350-7079, or by email at Applications are also available in my district offices.

Fontana Fact

The historic Hollywood Theater in Dormont was originally a bowling and billiards complex when it opened in 1924. The building wasn’t turned into a theater until 1933. Today it is the last surviving single-screen theater in the South Hills of Pittsburgh (the Harris South Hills Theater was razed in 2010).

Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana