As we start 2012, many individuals receiving unemployment compensation are uncertain what their future holds. The economy is gradually showing positive signs of a recovery and the unemployment rate is slowly decreasing.
Extending unemployment benefits has been a contentious issue for Congress over the past several years, most recently in December. Still, unemployed Americans received good news that Congress has extended emergency unemployment for 60 days. However, Pennsylvania’s General Assembly must act for the unemployed to receive this federal extension.
Pennsylvania provides an individual who has lost their job through no fault of their own with a standard unemployment compensation which starts as 26 weeks of eligibility, regardless of the state of the economy. The availability of federal extended benefits is determined by Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate and how it compares to the state’s jobless rate of prior years. A little over a year ago, the U.S. Congress passed a law allowing states the option of altering the existing process to look back three years instead of two. To take advantage of that option, Pennsylvania’s law must be changed by adding another two months to get a rate high enough to qualify for the extended benefits.
This is not the first time state law had to be changed in order for Pennsylvania’s unemployed to receive these federal benefits. Most recently, it occurred in June 2011 when the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 1030 (SB 1030), which extended unemployment benefits until the end of 2011. In addition, several changes were added into Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation system, which saved the state about $120 million.
On January 23rd, the Pennsylvania Senate passed Senate Bill 1375 (SB 1375) that provides the mechanism necessary for the state’s unemployed to receive the additional 60 days of federal extended benefits. The bill is now before the House Labor and Industry Committee. Many representatives are hesitant to pass such legislation because SB 1375 fails to address the solvency of the state’s unemployment compensation trust fund; these individuals feel that the legislature can use this bill as a vehicle to fix additional issues. Come February 4th, if the Pennsylvania House of Representatives does not pass this bill, about 17,000 individuals statewide will lose their extended benefits, 3,000 of which live in the Pittsburgh area.
Allegheny County has held a relatively lower unemployment rate when compared to neighboring counties and to the rest of the state. In fact, our unemployment rate has continued to decline throughout this year. Numbers recently released by the Federal Bureau of Labor and Statistics show that Allegheny County’s unemployment rate was 6.4 percent in November 2011, compared to 7.3 percent in November 2010. While these numbers are encouraging, we must continue to look for ways to help the economy recover quickly.
Earlier last week, I stood with my fellow Senate Democrats and outlined our priorities for the year’s upcoming budget. Last year, Senate Democrats presented Governor Tom Corbett with a comprehensive plan called PA WORKS NOW. Over the past year, we have refined and improved upon this plan. PA Works
focuses on small business, workforce training, critical state investments, clean and green energy, infrastructure investment, and tax fairness. Furthermore, it also gives individuals the opportunity to retrain for fields that are outside of their expertise in hopes of finding employment elsewhere. Overall, the plan will spur the creation of 28,000 jobs, leverage over $2 billion in new private investments and result in more than $150 million in savings to the state.
Inaction is something that we, as a Commonwealth, cannot afford. The issue of job creation is one which the Governor has been silent on during his first year in office, and his lack of leadership has hurt Pennsylvania. I will continue fighting for PA WORKS NOW, to protect Pennsylvania’s working class and get people off unemployment and into jobs while investing back into our communities. I look forward to continuing to work on initiatives that put the people of Allegheny County back to work.
Small Games of Chance
Recently, legislation was sent to the Governor for his signature that would increase prize limits for small games of chance for the first time in 23 years. Under House Bill 169 (HB 169), the maximum cash value for a daily game would increase from $500 to $1,000 and a weekly game from $5,000 to $25,000. Monthly raffle limits will also increase from $5,000 to $10,000.
During these hard economic times when most local organizations’ budgets are being cut, the changes to the Local Option Small Games of Chance Act will help many of Pennsylvania’s nonprofit organizations raise needed funding. Whether it be veterans’ or fraternal organizations, religious groups, or civic or service associations, the new limits will help keep them afloat as most of the money will be returned to the community with an effect that can benefit us all.
HB 169 will also allow a volunteer fire, ambulance or rescue organization that is a not a club licensee to be eligible to receive 10 special permits. In addition to the $100,000 yearly prize limit for special permits, these particular organizations will be able to award up to $50,000 from raffles which will not be subjected to the total aggregate limit.
The legislation does require that organizations use 70 percent of the proceeds for activities and operations and the remaining 30 percent to pay property taxes, utilities, mortgages or insurance. The proceeds cannot be used to pay wages or purchase food or alcohol.
New Development in McKees Rocks
Last week, the Commonwealth Financing Authority awarded over $4 million in grants and loans to a development at the former P & LE Railroad site in McKees Rocks, a development that is expected to generate over 1,100 jobs in the community. These funds will allow for additional property acquisition, site preparation and construction of a storm water management system as part of the public-private partnership. I am proud to have supported this project for once development is complete, this brownfield site will feature an industrial business park that will accommodate light-industrial, office, technology and distribution businesses, opportunities which will bring new development to the borough.
Transforming a brownfield into a business park proves what can be done when government makes an investment in economic development and works together with the private sector and an engaged community. In my role as Minority Chair of the Senate’s Economic, Community and Recreational Development Committee, I will continue advocating for economic development funding at the state level for projects that produce significant community benefit, like this did. Government does have a role to play in economic development and the P & LE project is a perfect example of how to leverage government funding to spur private development.
PA Tech Awards
TechQuest Pennsylvania is accepting nominations for the 2012 PA Tech Awards. Winners will be announced on March 30th at the 2012 PA Tech Awards Gala where individuals and businesses advancing technology across the Commonwealth are celebrated. There are nine award categories: Outstanding Leadership in Technology; Technology Educator of the Year; Technology Provider of the Year; Best Application of Technology; Public Service Innovation; Technology Product of the Year; Growth Company of the Year; Technology Company of the Year; and the People’s Choice Award. To nominate an individual or business in any of the nine categories you can visit the PA Tech Awards website.
IGA Hosts Valentine’s Event
The Market on Broadway IGA in Beechview, in conjunction with the Friends of Beechview Library, is hosting a “Red Hot Valentine” Pepper Party on Saturday, February 11th from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Hot pepper enthusiasts are encouraged to bring a prepared version of a specialty hot pepper dish along with a printed recipe to enter IGA’s Hot Pepper Recipe Challenge. The IGA will also present a selection of hot pepper products to taste and will offer recipes, preparation tips and a selection of local cookbooks from local libraries. For more information on this event, please visit the Market on Broadway IGA website or call 412-388-5018.
National Wear Red Day®
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with the help of The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, American Heart Association, and other national health organizations are calling for Americans to wear red on Friday, February 3rd to show support for women’s heart health. February is American Heart Month and National Wear Red Day ® calls attention specifically to women’s heart disease which is the # 1 killer among women. Nearly 26,000 women in Pennsylvania die each year from heart disease and stroke. One of every three women will die from heart disease, yet less than 60 percent of women recognize heart disease as the # 1 killer of women.
In addition to wearing red on February 3rd you can learn more about women’s heart health by visiting the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women campaign website. Locally, Pittsburgh Go Red for Women is organizing awareness events in February which are listed on the calendar of events section on their website. For more information on Pittsburgh Go Red for Women, or to volunteer please contact Wendy McCabe at 412-702-1128 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Montour Star to Play in Big 33
Congratulations to Montour senior running back Julian Durden on being selected to play in the 2012 Big 33 Football Classic. The annual contest features the best 33 high school football players from Pennsylvania, as selected by the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association, against the best 33 players from Ohio. This year’s contest, the 55th, will be played on June 16th in Hershey. Durden rushed for 2,104 yards and scored 32 touchdowns this season, helping Montour to the WPIAL Class AAA Championship.
The Big 33 Football Classic is much more than a game as it promotes excellence in students and the community by involving players, cheerleaders, buddies, host families, and scholarship winners in a variety of activities during game week.
Did You Know…
Did you know that a Big 33 alumnus has played in every Super Bowl?
High School Sports Update
|Seton-LaSalle's Angela Heintz, averages 15 points per game.
Several local girls and boys high school basketball teams are having strong seasons. Seton-LaSalle’s girls’ basketball team is ranked #1 by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in Class AA and is undefeated through 15 games. Last week, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette featured members of the Seton-LaSalle Girls Basketball team. Bishop Canevin (14-3), Keystone Oaks (13-5), Chartiers Valley (14-2), Baldwin (11-6), and Carlynton (11-7) are all off to strong starts this season as well.
The Pittsburgh Tribune Review recently featured the Sto-Rox boys basketball team who has started the season 13-1 and leads Section 5 in Class AA. Chartiers Valley’s boys’ basketball team is tied for first place in Section 4, Class AAAA and has a record of 15-2. Keystone Oaks (14-2) and Montour (12-1) each lead their respective sections in Class AAA. Seton-LaSalle (13-5), and Brentwood (10-7) are also having strong seasons.
Best of luck the rest of the season to all of our girls and boys basketball teams!
Last week the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette featured Montour wrestler Anthony Marks and tells the story of why Anthony is dedicating his senior season to his father.
U.S. News & World Report recently named the city of Pittsburgh as one of the ten best places to retire in America. The publication cited Pittsburgh’s mix of affordability and amenities as major reasons for inclusion on the list.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana