State Grant Program
As the Vice-Chair of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA), I am pleased to report that last week the PHEAA Board of Directors approved an additional $11 million to $50 million of funding to cover grants through Pennsylvania State Grant Program. More than 145,000 students receiving grants through the State Grant Program will see their awards forwarded to their respective schools in the next two weeks.
In May 2015, PHEAA announced estimated 2015-16 State Grant amounts based on level funding from the previous year. When the governor signed the budget at the end of December, he also cut roughly $6 billion from various parts, including nearly 11 percent from last year’s amount to the State Grant Program. This cut would have resulted in State Grant maximum awards being reduced by $126 from $4,340 to $4,214.
PHEAA already provided $75 million in supplemental funding this year to the State Grant Program from business earnings from its student loan servicing activities. The additional contribution will ensure that projected awards are made whole, restoring the maximum award to $4,340.
Did You Know…
Did you know that from the 2011-12 fiscal year though the 2014-15 fiscal year, PHEAA provided $275 million in supplemental funding to the State Grant Program?
Completing the FAFSA
I want to again remind high school seniors and their families to complete the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) as soon as possible. The FAFSA is the federal form that all college-bound high school seniors must submit to determine eligibility for most forms of need-based financial assistance, including the Pennsylvania State Grant, the Federal Pell Grant, work-study programs, Pennsylvania Targeted Industry Program (PA-TIP), various scholarships, some school-based aid, and federal student loans for the 2016-17 academic year. Students who are eligible for awards can reduce their family’s out-of-pocket expenses and make the cost of a higher education more manageable.
The FAFSA became available on January 1 and now is the time to get a jump on the application process by preparing, before sitting down to complete the FAFSA application. Students and families are able to complete the FAFSA online at www.fafsa.ed.gov and will need the following information when beginning the application process:
- Social Security Numbers
- Student’s driver’s license
- Alien registration number, if not a U.S. citizen
- W-2 forms
- Records of untaxed income received, including workers’ compensation, child support, payments to tax-deferred pension and savings plans, etc.
- Federal income tax return (1040, 1040A, 1040EZ)
- Current bank statements and records of stocks, bonds and other investments
It is better to complete and submit the FAFSA as soon as possible as schools’ financial aid deadlines vary. Once again in 2016, PHEAA will host FAFSA Completion Sessions across Pennsylvania where PHEAA, in partnership with PASFAA (Pennsylvania Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators), provides free assistance to families needing help in completing the FAFSA. You can click here to view a listing of scheduled FAFSA Completion Sessions. PHEAA will continue to update this list as more sessions are added in the coming weeks.
I also want to encourage students and families to only complete the FAFSA on the FAFSA.gov website and to avoid any dot com sites, which often charge a fee for what can be accomplished for free.
Health Insurance Costs
Last week a national study performed by GOBankingrates.com found that Pennsylvania has the fifth-lowest cost among all states for the most popular individual health care plans, silver plans, offered under the Affordable Care Act. The study compares several factors of each state’s lowest-cost silver plans. These factors include the plan’s monthly premium, the deductible consumers pay, the emergency care co-pay, and the co-pay from a primary physician.
The open enrollment period for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act runs through this Sunday. To see what plans are available or to get assistance with selecting a plan, please visit www.healthcare.gov. You may also receive assistance in shopping for a plan by viewing a shopper’s guide and video developed by the Pennsylvania Insurance Department by clicking here or visiting www.insurance.pa.gov and clicking on “Health” under Top Pages.
Record Gaming Revenue
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board announced recently that record table games revenue in 2015 helped propel overall gaming revenue this past year to the highest annual figure since legalized casino gaming began in Pennsylvania.
Gross revenue of over $808 million from the play of table games at Pennsylvania’s 12 casinos in 2015 was nearly 8 percent higher than 2014 figures. Combined with annual slot machine revenue figures, the more than $3.1 billion of total revenue produced from gaming in 2015 was over 3.4 percent higher than in 2014. This year’s figure also edged out 2012 as the highest gaming revenue year ever in Pennsylvania and marks the fifth consecutive year in which total casino revenue topped $3 billon. Total gaming revenue generated since the first casino opened in Pennsylvania now totals over $22.6 billion through the end of 2015.
Tax revenue in 2015 from the combined play of slot machines and table games was over $1.379 billion. Revenue returned to Pennsylvania in the form of taxes and license fees since the first casino opened now stands at approximately $11.8 billion.
Table games in Pennsylvania are taxed at 14 percent with the majority of that revenue directed into the state’s General Fund and the remaining funds directed to local governments. Slot machines are taxed at 55 percent in Pennsylvania and directed as follows: 34 percent for property tax reduction; 12 percent supporting the horse racing industry; five percent is placed in a state economic development fund; and two percent goes to local governments that host casinos.
The state’s gaming industry employs over 17,700 people and generates an average of $3.7 million per day in tax revenue from both table games and slot machines. For more information on gaming in Pennsylvania and to read reports from the Gaming Control Board, please visit them online at www.gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov.
The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) continues to accept applications for this season’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The program helps low income families pay their heating bills. You can apply and check the status of your application on the state’s COMPASS website. You can also pick up an application in my district offices or download one yourself from the DHS LIHEAP website. Completed paper applications should be returned to one of the Allegheny County Assistance Offices.
Funding for LIHEAP is provided by the federal government and eligibility is based on Federal Poverty Income Guidelines. The income limits for this season are as follows:
|For each additional person add
After your application is received you will receive a written notice explaining your eligibility and the amount of assistance you will receive. Payments are generally sent directly to a utility company or fuel provider and will be credited to your heating account. Crisis grants may also be available if you have an emergency situation and are in jeopardy of losing your heat. For more information, please contact the LIHEAP hotline at 1-866-857-7095.
Volunteers Needed for Snow Angels Program
Allegheny County and the City of Pittsburgh are seeking volunteers to help the elderly and residents with disabilities stay safe this winter through the Allegheny Snow Angels Program. This program helps minimize the hardships of winter by pairing volunteers with elderly residents or residents with disabilities to assist with snow removal, keeping sidewalks and walkways safer for everyone.
Snow Angels was launched in 2011 by the City of Pittsburgh’s servePGH initiative, which successfully matched hundreds of volunteers to shovel more than 50,000 square feet of city sidewalks. In 2013, the program was adopted by Family Services of Western PA, giving volunteers the opportunity to make an even larger, county-wide impact. Snow Angels is administered by Family Services of Western PA in partnership with the United Way's Open Your Heart to a Senior volunteer initiative, North Hills Community Outreach, and Pittsburgh's 311 Response Center.
Volunteer opportunities are open to anyone living in Allegheny County, and are great for families and high school students. Volunteers are asked to help at least one resident for the entire 2015-16 winter season and shovels and salt are available by request. To register as a volunteer with the program please call 412-863-5939, 3-1-1, or visit http://alleghenysnowangels.org
In 2016, Pittsburgh celebrates the 200th anniversary of its incorporation as a city with many exciting events planned throughout the year. Pittsburgh was first incorporated as a township in 1771 and then as a borough in 1794 but it wasn’t until the Pennsylvania House and Senate passed a law in 1816 that Pittsburgh officially became a city.
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
|Strip District (Mobile Office)
Pittsburgh Public Market
2401 Penn Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
Thursdays – 10 am – 4 pm
|Northside (Mobile Office)
1230 Federal Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Wednesdays – 10 am – 4 pm