|Senator Fontana spoke with the student government at Point Park University in downtown Pittsburgh yesterday afternoon about his Senate Bill 255 which would provide for early voting and answered questions related to voting.
Two Local Projects Receive Funding
I am pleased to announce that two projects in the 42nd Senatorial District are slated to receive state grant funding through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP).
A grant for $4 million for public infrastructure improvements related to the redevelopment work at the Produce Terminal on Smallman Street in the Strip District was approved. The second grant approved was a $1 million grant to help expand the Midwife Center for Birth and Women’s Health facility on Penn Avenue. The funding supplements these local economic development and community resource efforts. This capitalization helps us expedite local development and stoke residual business and job creation efforts. These RACP grants are a good example of how state support can help move these important projects from the planning stages to shovels in the ground.
RACP grants are administered by Gov. Tom Wolf’s Office of Budget and can be used for acquisition and construction of economic development projects in a number of categories including cultural, civic, recreation and historical. I look forward to continue seeking state support for worthy local projects.
Joint Session Called on the Opioid Epidemic
Last week, Governor Wolf held a joint session of the General Assembly to address the epidemic of overdose deaths from prescription painkillers. He expressed the need for new laws and initiatives to prevent the steady rise in addiction based on the magnitude the commonwealth is currently experiencing. The Pennsylvania Legislature is ready to work in a bipartisan fashion to address the modern-day crisis.
Fatal drug overdoses have been increasing annually statewide. Every day we lose 10 Pennsylvanians to the disease of addiction. Overdose deaths in the state topped 3,500 last year, or 1,000 more than 2014. While those numbers include overdoses from many kinds of drugs, opioids – namely heroin or a prescription painkiller such as OxyContin or Vicodin – were found in the bodies of a large proportion.
As you may recall, the General Assembly passed Act 139 in 2014 that allows law enforcement, firefighters, EMS or other organizations the ability to administer a medication known as naloxone, a life-saving opioid reversal medication, to individuals experiencing an opioid overdose. The law also allows individuals such as friends or family members that may be in a position to assist a person at risk of experiencing an opioid related overdose to obtain a prescription for naloxone. What is even more unsettling is that although overdose death numbers continue to climb, the use of emergency naloxone has “saved” 1,502 potentially fatal overdoses since November 2014, meaning the statistics could have been even greater.
As a response to the joint session, several bills unanimously passed the state Senate last week:
- Senate Bill 1367 (SB 1367) – A doctor can only prescribe to a minor a seven-day supply of a controlled substance containing an opioid unless there is a medical emergency that puts the minor’s health or safety at risk. A prescriber must also discuss with the minor and the minor’s parent the risks of addiction, overdose associated with an opioid, and the increased risks of addiction for individuals suffering from mental or substance abuse disorders. A minor’s parent will provide written consent for the prescription.
- Senate Bill 1368 (SB 1368) - Beginning August 1, 2017, requires state and medical schools to develop curriculum on opioid prescriptions and pain management.
- Senate Bill 1212 (SB 1212) - Each public school would be required to develop and incorporate a child opioid awareness program into its curriculum for students in grades 6 through 12. Teachers of courses that include opioid awareness would receive four hours of training every five years.
In addition to the bills that passed the Senate, Governor Wolf urged swift legislative action on requiring insurers that cover opioids to also cover abuse-resistant versions of the drugs and establish a voluntary directive to be used by people who do not want to be prescribed opioids.
Furthermore, the governor called on the General Assembly to strengthen the 2014 Prescription Drug Monitoring Law. Currently, the law requires a doctor to check the first time they prescribe a patient an opioid or if they believe a patient is an addict. Governor Wolf would like to expand the law so that doctors would be required to check the database every time they prescribe opioids and other controlled substances and for pharmacists to enter prescriptions into the database within 24 hours of dispensing the drug. They presently have 72 hours.
It’s important to note that none of the 40 some bills introduced on this matter would put legislative or legal limits on drug manufacturers, which an increasing number of lawmakers and citizens blame for launching the opioid crisis through deceptive sales and marketing tactics.
However, many legislators have expressed their plans to introduce measures that tackle more complex and controversial issues surrounding opioid overdose and addiction when the new legislative session begins in January.
Did You Know…
Did you know that drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, with 47,055 lethal drug overdoses in 2014? Opioid addiction is driving this epidemic, with 18,893 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers, and 10,574 overdose deaths related to heroin in 2014.
All Senate offices will be closed on Monday, October 10 in observance of Columbus Day. My offices will reopen on Tuesday, October 11 as scheduled.
Flu/Pneumonia Shot & Senior Clinic
Thank you to everyone who came out to my Flu/Pneumonia Shot & Senior Clinic on Friday in Brookline. Thanks to American HealthCare Group for providing the vaccinations and to Church of the Resurrection for providing us the space. I appreciate the following organizations for taking time to join us to provide seniors with important information on available services and resources: AARP; Allegheny County Bar Association; Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh; Duquesne University Mylan School of Pharmacy; Office of the Consumer Advocate; Public Utility Commission; the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office; Seton Center; OASIS; Life Pittsburgh; PA APPRISE and ACCESS.
New Date for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid
I want to remind students and families that the U.S. Department of Education has moved up when the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will be available online. The FAFSA became available on October 1 which gives students and their families more time to consider where to go to college and how to pay for it. The FAFSA is a tool that colleges and universities use to determine how much financial aid to offer students and whether those students are eligible for federal grants, student loans and other types of federal and state aid.
Not only is completing the FAFSA required to be considered for federal student aid, such as the Pell Grant or federal student loans, it’s also used to determine eligibility for many kinds of scholarships and grants, including the Pennsylvania State Grant Program.
In the past, the FAFSA wasn’t available until January 1. Typically, colleges had spring deadlines for prospective students to complete their FAFSA. Then colleges would mail or email financial aid packages to prospective students they had accepted. May 1 has been the universal date by which students were supposed to let colleges know their choice. This date did not give families much time to figure out if they could afford to pay tuition once they knew what aid their student would receive.
Although the aid starts with the 2017-18 school year, families will need to use their income and tax information from 2015 to fill out the FAFSA. The FAFSA previously required income data from the tax year that had recently ended. However, since most people are not able to access the necessary tax information, like wage statements, to file their tax returns in early January, they had to complete the FAFSA using estimated data, which often needed to be amended after they filed their tax returns later in the year. Now, a key benefit of being able to use 2015 tax return data when completing the 2017-18 FAFSA is that more applicants can use the Internal Revenue Service’s Data Retrieval Tool, which automatically fills in the online FAFSA form with the necessary tax information. This streamlines the process significantly and increases accuracy.
The U.S. Department of Education also made this date change to better align the financial aid application process with the actual college admissions timeline. The feds hope that colleges will provide prospective students with their own financial aid packages earlier as well.
As the Vice Chairman of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) Board of Directors, I can’t stress enough the importance of not overlooking the new October kickoff and not procrastinating as you could risk losing out to others who realize that some financial aid is offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
For information on the higher education financial aid process, schedules for upcoming FAFSA Completion Sessions, reminders of financial aid deadlines, and information pertaining to planning for higher education, students can visit www.PHEAA.org. A student can also call the Federal Student Aid Information Center at 1-800-433-3243.
Voter Registration Deadline – October 11
The Pennsylvania Department of State recently launched 2Vote, a new voter registration text messaging service. Eligible Pennsylvania citizens can text the word “PA” to “2Vote” (28683) on their smartphones. The user will receive a link that provides direct access to the online voter registration application, voter registration status, polling place locator, and link to contacts for county offices and the Department of State. The Department is launching this service as part of its Everyone votesPA education initiative that was introduced in March.
The text message link also provides users with important dates and deadlines significant to the November 8 general election. Standard messaging rates may apply. To remind everyone, the voter registration deadline for the November general election is October 11.
Absentee Ballot Deadline
I want to remind everyone that any voter who needs an absentee ballot for the Nov. 8 General Election must complete and return the application to the Allegheny County Division of Elections no later than 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 1. The Division of Elections is located in the County Office Building, 542 Forbes Avenue, Room 604 in downtown Pittsburgh. You can download and print an application by clicking here or you can pick one up at any of my district offices.
Anyone voting by absentee ballot will be required to provide a PA Driver’s License number, PennDOT ID number, or last four digits of your Social Security number. If you do not possess any of the aforementioned items, a copy of an acceptable ID must be provided with the application. For any questions related to registering to vote, please contact 412-350-4510 or visit www.votespa.com.
Annual Gaming Report Available
Last week, the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board released its 2015-16 Annual Report in electronic format. The report can be downloaded by visiting the Gaming Control Board’s website at www.gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov and choosing the 2015-16 PGCB Annual Report link under the Quick Links section on the homepage.
In addition to an encapsulation of statewide casino gaming revenue generated during the fiscal year, the report also highlights:
- Breakdowns of slot machine and table game gross revenue and tax revenue for each casino including amounts distributed through the Local Share Fund to counties and municipalities that host a casino;
- Reports and pertinent statistical figures from all of the Gaming Control Board’s key bureaus;
- A list of all Executive Sessions held during the fiscal year;
- Revenue and expenditures during the fiscal year by the Gaming Control Board, along with a breakdown of employment at the agency, and;
- A report on the Gaming Control Board’s efforts to educate youth and parents about underage gaming.
Volunteer Fire Company/Ambulance Grants
I want to remind volunteer fire companies and ambulance services that the Pennsylvania Office of the State Fire Commissioner (OSFC) has opened the online grant application process for the 2016-17 Fire Company, Emergency Medical Service Grant Program (FCEMSGP). The application period is open through October 21 at 4 p.m. No applications will be accepted after October 21.
All fire companies, emergency medical services and volunteer rescue squads are eligible to apply for grant funding. Eligible projects include: construction and/or renovation of the fire company’s or ambulance service’s facility; purchase or repair of fixtures and furnishings necessary to maintain or improve the capability of the company to provide fire, ambulance and rescue services; purchase or repair of firefighting, ambulance or rescue equipment; debt reduction associated with the facility or equipment; training and certification of members; or training and education materials regarding fire prevention for the general public.
Grant applications are available online by clicking here or by visiting www.osfc.pa.gov.
Non-Profit Grant Opportunity
Dominion is inviting non-profit organizations that provide essential community services in areas of housing, food security, medicine and medical services to apply for grants of up to $50,000 each. Dominion’s philanthropic arm, the Dominion Foundation, has pledged to provide grants totaling $1 million this year for eligible programs meeting these critical community needs.
Eligible organizations in areas within Dominion’s footprint are encouraged to apply and online applications will be accepted until next Monday, October 10. Priority will be given to organizations that demonstrate the ability to serve communities through partnerships and have a proven track record of meeting basic human needs and preventing future need for assistance. For more information on the grant program and to apply online please visit https://www.dom.com/communityneedsgrants.
Senator Fontana visited the Pittsburgh Musical Theater in the West End on Saturday, Oct. 1 where students performed a variety of numbers during their “Dancing in the Streets” days. The annual event is held as part of RADical Days. Senator Fontana is joined here with Rich Hudic, Executive Director of RAD, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Colleen Doyno, Pittsburgh Musical Theater Executive Artist Director, along with PMT students.
RADical Days, the annual event sponsored by the Allegheny Regional Asset District (RAD), runs through this Sunday. In its 15th year, RADical Days is an initiative of RAD and its funded assets that thanks the public for the sales tax funds that support our region’s parks, libraries, sports and civic facilities, and arts and culture organizations.
Assets are not offering free admission every day. You may visit the RADical Days page at www.radworkshere.org to view a full schedule and listing of participating venues. You may also sign up on the site to receive RADical Days text alerts. Admissions are first-come, first-served and don’t offer rain checks.
Columbus Day is a U.S. holiday that commemorates the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World on October 12, 1492. It was unofficially celebrated in a number of cities and states as early as the 18th century but did not become a federal holiday until 1937.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana
| Brookline District
932 Brookline Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Weekdays – 9 am – 5 pm
543 Main Capitol
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Weekdays – 8:30 am – 5 pm
524 Pine Hollow Road
Weekdays – 10 am – 4 pm
| Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
Tuesdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|Northside (Mobile Office)
1230 Federal Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Wednesdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|Lawrenceville (Mobile Office)
279 Fisk Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15201
Thursdays - 11 am - 4 pm