Budget Hearings Update
The Senate and House Appropriations Committee hearings for the Administration’s 2013-14 Fiscal Year budget proposal continue through this week. As Democratic Chairman of the Senate Committee on Community, Economic and Recreational Development, I had the opportunity to question the Department of Community and Economic Development yesterday on their initiatives.
During the hearing, I was pleased that DCED Secretary Walker signaled that he was open to a proposal I have authored – Senate Bill 205 (SB 205). The Second Stage Loan Guarantee Program was enacted several years ago to provide banks and other commercial lenders access to capital for small businesses in the life science, advanced technology and manufacturing industries in their early stages of development. Because this important program has gone underutilized, I have proposed legislation that would expand eligibility to local government agencies that make loans and would also open the program to all industry sectors rather than limiting it to three. I was encouraged by the interest of the Secretary and look forward to working toward achieving this goal.
Another issue we discussed in depth was the state’s Film Production Tax Credit. Since its inception in 2007, this wildly successful program has brought in an estimated $1.4 billion to the state economy and created approximately 18,000 jobs. I stressed my position for continued support for the program which has been a pivotal instrument for the Pittsburgh region to attract movie and television productions thereby boosting the local economy and helping as a marketing tool for the area.
Last year, the United States Supreme Court ruled that it is up to each individual state to voluntarily decide to expand the Medicaid program as part of the decision on the federal Affordable Care Act, which will begin to cover people on January 1, 2014. Last week, Governor Corbett announced that at this time Pennsylvania will not opt into expansion.
Medicaid is the state-federal program created in the 1960s to provide health care benefits for working individuals with income levels below the federal poverty level. An expansion in Pennsylvania would raise the income level of those who qualify for Medicaid to people earning up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level, which is about $15,000 for a single person and $31,000 for a family of four. Currently, it is estimated that over 1.3 million Pennsylvanians are uninsured. An expansion of this program will cover as many as 682,000 citizens in our state with uninsured adults being the primary beneficiaries.
As an incentive for states to opt into raising the income level of those who qualify for Medicaid, the federal government has promised to pay the full cost of the expansion for three years, with the federal share shrinking to 90 percent in 2020 and thereafter. Although there is no deadline for states to sign up to expand Medicaid, all of Pennsylvania’s neighboring states are on board with the Medicaid expansion, except for West Virginia, where the governor is still considering.
Governor Corbett has expressed that the major reason for not opting into expanding this health care program for the poor is because he has major concerns with the cost of an expansion to our state. In addition, he claims that Pennsylvania officials still have many unanswered questions about raising the income levels of those who would qualify for this program. The Governor also insists that states have flexibility to shape Medicaid’s coverage plans for different populations which the federal government has made assurances for months that these options are in fact available to states.
Proponents for expansion say the plan will bring $3 billion in federal funds to the state annually to provide health insurance for at least a half million uninsured Pennsylvanians with low incomes. This influx of federal money into Pennsylvania’s economy could also result in as many as 41,000 new or sustainable jobs related to the health care industry, employees of small businesses gaining health care coverage, new tax revenue and savings on emergency treatment which would relieve some of the state’s existing health care costs.
In an unusual show of support, many prominent members of the Senate majority party have expressed interest in a possible expansion and have stated that their caucus will be having a discussion and take a position on this matter before the passage of the state budget in June. With all of the mounting pressure from both chambers of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, Governor Corbett has said that he will be meeting with the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary in the coming days to discuss the issues surrounding an expansion of Medicaid.
Over the past few years since Governor Corbett has taken office, his policy has been to cut programs and spending to catastrophic levels. Every citizen has felt the pinch in one way or another. Our economy has been slow to recover and our unemployment levels remain the same as the national rate. Something needs to change. We can no longer turn our backs on those who need assistance. A Medicaid expansion would primarily benefit adult working individuals.
Going forward, I think the Governor and his administration need to re-evaluate why 21 other states have decided that an expansion would benefit their citizens, yet Pennsylvania does not feel the same. How can we sit back and allow billions of dollars of federal money to remain untouched? The Supreme Court ruling has provided states great flexibility and states can opt into a Medicaid expansion at any time, even after an initial decision has been made. With over one million uninsured individuals in Pennsylvania, I think the right decision would be for the state to reconsider and expand Medicaid after all.
In an effort to further discuss the issue, I hope you will consider joining myself and the Senate Democratic Appropriations Committee by attending a hearing on Pennsylvania’s option to participate in Medicaid expansion. The event will take place on Friday, March 8th from 10 a.m. until noon, at the Wyndham University Center (formerly Holiday Inn University Center), 100 Lytton Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15213. For more information about the hearing, please click here.
On Friday, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl announced that he would not seek re-election. I have been a state Senator, helping to advance the city of Pittsburgh with Mayor Ravenstahl for the last seven years. By working together with the Ravenstahl administration, I was proud to advance the revitalization and transformation of some of my district communities, especially the Beechview neighborhood and downtown Pittsburgh. I respect the Mayor's decision and wish him the best in the future.
Problem Gambling Awareness Month
Since the passage of Act 71 of 2004, the introduction of gaming in Pennsylvania over the last several years has benefitted our Commonwealth greatly. Casinos across Pennsylvania employ over 16,000 Pennsylvanians and collectively generate an average of $4 million in tax revenue daily. That revenue is used for property tax reduction, supports the Commonwealth’s horse racing industry and fire companies, funds a statewide water and sewer project grant program and provides a new stream of tax revenue to local governments that host casinos for community projects.
While the overall success of the gaming industry can be celebrated, we can’t ignore the fact that gambling can become an issue for some. The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) reports that between six and nine million Americans will have a gambling problem in a given year. Problem gambling is gambling behavior that disrupts or damages personal, family, social, or workplace pursuits. It is a public health issue that affects individuals of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds in all communities. Problem gambling can be treated but only a small percentage of individuals affected seek treatment options and make use of available programs.
Last month, I, along with Senator Kim Ward, introduced Senate Resolution 30 (SR 30) which designates March as Problem Gambling Awareness Month in Pennsylvania and formally observes the week beginning March 3rd as National Problem Gambling Awareness Week. SR 30 was adopted by the Senate on February 11th.
If you, or anyone in your life, has a problem with gambling, there are resources that can be of assistance. The Council on Compulsive Gambling of Pennsylvania has a website, www.pacouncil.com that includes information on problem gambling and what signs to look for when determining whether an individual has a problem. I encourage anyone with a gambling problem to visit this site or to call 1-800-GAMBLER (1-800-848-1880).
FAFSA Completion Assistance Still Available
I have written in past editions of my News & Views that the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (CLP) and the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) partnered recently to offer free assistance to students and families in completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). These sessions, FAFSA Saturdays, have been taking place at library branches throughout the city and four sessions remain.
March 9 – CLP Knoxville (412-381-6543)
March 23 – CLP Main-Oakland (412-622-3133)
April 20 – CLP Homestead (412-731-3080)
April 27 – CLP East Liberty (412-363-8232)
To register for one of these remaining sessions, please call the library location listed above or visit www.clpgh.org.
In addition to FAFSA Saturdays, PHEAA continues to host free FAFSA Completion Sessions across the Commonwealth. To view a schedule of upcoming free sessions, please visit the FAFSA Completion Help page on PHEAA's website.
I encourage any student considering a post-secondary education to complete and submit the FAFSA as soon as possible as this is the only way to qualify for most need-based financial assistance, including PA State Grants, Federal Pell Grants, work-study programs, many scholarships and school-based aid, and low-cost federal student loans.
Adult Trout Stocking Schedules
As the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) begins stocking adult trout in lakes and streams throughout the Commonwealth, anglers can easily search the stocking schedule online. The PFBC has posted where and when those fish will be released on their website, www.fishandboat.com. To begin a search go to the PFBC site and click on the link for “2013 Trout Stocking Schedules” or click on this link and select a county and a start and end date from the calendars at the top of the page. Then press “Go” to generate a schedule.
The search results will provide a listing of each body of water within a particular county that is scheduled for stocking as well as the section of water, date of stocking and other important information.
The statewide opening of Trout Season is April 13th with 18 southeastern PA counties opening on March 30th. Also, I want to remind you that three- and five-year fishing licenses are now being offered by the PFBC. For more information please visit, www.fishandboat.com.
Did You Know…
Did you know the PFBC each year stocks roughly 3.2 million adult trout in 735 streams and 123 lakes open to public angling throughout the Commonwealth?
LHRC Hosts Property Tax Assessment Update
The Landmarks Housing Resource Center (LHRC), a program of the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation (PHLF) is hosting a free seminar on March 7th. Greg Biernacki, a Pittsburgh tax attorney with Real Estate Tax Consultants, Inc. will provide a comprehensive overview on Allegheny County’s property tax assessment system and will discuss what to know about the reassessment process and appeals, and filing and appeal dates to keep in mind during tax season.
This seminar is free and is open to the public and will run from 6 – 7:30 p.m. at the LHRC, located at 744 Rebecca Avenue in Wilkinsburg. To RSVP, please contact Mary Lu Denny at 412-471-5808 ext. 527 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The LHRC offers workshops and seminars on home ownership, restoration, do-it-yourself work, cost-effective tips on green initiatives, and discussions on neighborhood and community development. You can learn more about LHRC by visiting them at www.landmarkshousingresource.org.
Don’t Forget to Spring Ahead!
Daylight Saving Time resumes on March 10th at 2 a.m. Make sure you “Spring Forward” and remember to turn your clocks ahead one hour!
High School Basketball Update
Congratulations to the Montour boys’ basketball and the Bishop Canevin girls’ basketball teams on winning the W.P.I.A.L. championship in their respective classifications!
Montour defeated Chartiers Valley 47-40 in the Class AAA championship game on Friday, March 1st to win their second W.P.I.A.L. title in the last three years.
Montour and Chartiers Valley will both compete in the state playoffs which begin this weekend. Also competing in the state playoffs is Brentwood, which qualified in Class AA.
Bishop Canevin defeated Seton-LaSalle 56-47 to win the W.P.I.A.L. Class AA girls’ championship for the first time in school history on March 1st. Both teams qualified for the state playoffs. The Chartiers Valley girls’ team lost in the Class AAAA championship game to Bethel Park but qualified for the state playoffs as well.
Congratulations to these teams on great seasons and best of luck in the state playoffs!
Point Park University began in 1933 as a small business training college. By 1960, the business school grew to serve 800 students and became known as Point Park Junior College. Six years later, the college was granted four-year status and officially became Point Park College. In 2003, Point Park achieved university status and became known as Point Park University. Today, nearly 4,000 full- and part-time students attend the University and are enrolled in 87 undergraduate programs and 13 graduate programs.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana
|| Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
543 Main Capitol
Harrisburg, PA 17120
524 Pine Hollow Rd
| Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15216