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Senator Wayne D. Fontana

Governor Extends Stay at Home Order

Governor WolfAs COVID-19 cases continue to grow and the state continues to seek relief to save lives and stop the spread of COVID-19, Governor Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine extended their “Stay at Home” orders yesterday through April 30. Allegheny County is among the 26 counties under a stay-at-home-order with Carbon, Cumberland, Dauphin and Schuylkill counties, added to the list yesterday. All Pennsylvania schools will remain closed until further notice. Non-life-sustaining business closures remain in effect. 

Individuals may leave their residence only to perform any of the following allowable individual activities and allowable essential travel: 

  • Tasks essential to maintain health and safety, or the health and safety of their family or household members (including pets), such as obtaining medicine or medical supplies, visiting a health care professional, or obtaining supplies they need to work from home 

  • Getting necessary services or supplies for themselves, for their family or household members, or as part of volunteer efforts, or to deliver those services or supplies to others to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences 

  • Engaging in outdoor activity, such as walking, hiking or running if they maintain social distancing 

  • To perform work providing essential products and services at a life-sustaining business 

  • To care for a family member or pet in another household 

  • Any travel related to the provision of or access to the above-mentioned individual activities or life-sustaining business activities 

  • Travel to care for elderly, minors, dependents, persons with disabilities, or other vulnerable persons 

  • Travel to or from educational institutions for purposes of receiving materials for distance learning, for receiving meals, and any other related services 

  • Travel to return to a place of residence from an outside jurisdiction 

  • Travel required by law enforcement or court order 

  • Travel required for non-residents to return to their place of residence outside the commonwealth 

  • Anyone performing life-sustaining travel does not need paperwork to prove the reason for travel. 

The following operations are exempt: 

  • Life-sustaining business activities 

  • Health care or medical services providers 

  • Access to life-sustaining services for low-income residents, including food banks 

  • Access to child care services for employees of life-sustaining businesses that remain open as follows: child care facilities operating under the Department of Human Services, Office of Child Development and Early Learning waiver process; group and family child care operating in a residence; and part-day school age programs operating under an exemption from the March 19, 2020 business closure Orders 

  • News media 

  • Law enforcement, emergency medical services personnel, firefighters 

  • The federal government 

  • Religious institutions 

Individuals experiencing homelessness are not subject to this order but are strongly urged to find shelter and government agencies are urged to take steps needed to provide shelter for those individuals. 

International students, foster youth, and any other students who would otherwise experience displacement or homelessness as a result of campus closures are exempt and may remain in campus housing. 

The Department of Education will be providing updated guidance and resources on the continuity of education for students to schools in the coming days. 

At this time, law enforcement will be focused on ensuring that residents are aware of the order and informing the public of social distancing practices rather than enforcement. To report a noncompliant business, contact your local law enforcement agency’s non-emergency number or the nearest Pennsylvania State Police station. Please do not call 911 or the Department of Community and Economic Development to file reports. Law enforcement officers should refer to Business Closure Order Enforcement Guidance available online

Federal CARES Act

Last week, the United States Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. This $2 trillion bill includes the following provisions:

  • A $150 billion State and Local Coronavirus Relief Fund with an estimated $4.9 billion for Pennsylvania;

  • $260 billion to expand unemployment benefits, including an additional $600 per week for the next four months, providing an additional 13 weeks of federally funded benefits, and expanding eligibility to include workers in the gig economy and the self-employed;

  • Direct cash payments to Americans of $1,200 for each adult and $500 for each child, beginning to phase out at an annual income of $75,000 for an individual and $150,000 for joint filers;

  • More than $375 billion in small business aid, including $349 billion for forgivable loans to small businesses so they can keep employees on their payroll; $17 billion for debt relief for current and new SBA borrowers; and $10 billion in immediate disaster grants;

  • Approximately $100 billion for hospitals, health care workers, and health research, including expanding funding for the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) desperately needed by our health care workers, including ventilators, N95 masks, gowns, gloves, etc.; and

  • More than $100 billion in Emergency Appropriations, including:
    • $30.75 billion for the Education Stabilization Fund;
    • $25 billion for transit agencies;
    • $2 billion for HUD Emergency Solution Grants to states for housing;
    • $3.5 billion for the Child Care and Development Block Grant to help with child care for first responders and health care workers;
    • $900 million to help low-income families pay their heating and cooling bills;
    • $850 million for state and local law enforcement agencies to obtain the personal protective equipment and other medical items they may need during this public health emergency; and
    • $750 million in CDC State, Local, and Tribal Grants Minimum Awards to help agencies cope with the public health emergency.

State action

Last week the Pennsylvania General Assembly convened, with many of us voting remotely from our districts, to pass necessary legislation in the state’s fight against the Coronavirus:  

$50 Million for Medical Equipment and Supplies

Act 10 authorizes the Secretary of the Budget to transfer $50 million from special funds under the Governor’s jurisdiction to a restricted account to acquire medical equipment and supplies, like N95 masks and ventilators, for health care entities during the pandemic.  Health care entities are defined as, but not limited to hospitals, nursing facilities and emergency medical services.   

New Pennsylvania Primary Date – June 2

ElectionDay June 2, 2020Act 12 delays the state’s primary election date from April 28 to June 2, 2020.   This five week delay was necessary since many felt there would be a lack of poll workers and voters who would not have participated out of fear for their health. Not to mention the limits on social gatherings to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus.  The new date was chosen since June 9 is considered the deadline set by the Democratic National Committee for states to pick their nominee.  Pennsylvania now joins at least 10 other states that have moved their primary to June 2.

The act also made a number of other election-related changes including allowing polling places to be consolidated without court approval and located in places that serve alcoholic beverages provided that voting does not take place in the same room where those beverages are served.  Another accomplishment of Act 12 is that it allows county election officials to begin processing mail-in and absentee ballots at 7 a.m. on Election Day instead of the current 8 p.m. as long as the results are not published or officially recorded.  Many feel this additional time is necessary since the expectation is that many voters will choose to vote by mail during this election cycle.

Changes for Pennsylvania’s K-12 Schools and Teachers

Pennsylvania schools were shut down in mid-March by Governor Wolf to help slow the spread of the Coronavirus.  Because of this unprecedented move, legislation needed to be passed to assist schools.  Act 13 accomplishes many things:

  • Eliminates the 180-day instructional requirement on all K-12 public and private schools for the 2019-20 school year;

  • Permits the state Education Secretary to increase the number of allowable flexible instruction days and waive the timeline regarding those days; 

  • Student teacher 12-week requirement is waived;

  • Ensures that school districts make a “good faith effort” to develop a plan to offer continuing education during the closure of schools.  These plans will be developed locally by each district with guidance from PDE; 

  • School employees who are responsible for cleaning during the pandemic will receive appropriate cleaning materials and protective gear;

  • Requires school entities to provide written notice to parents/guardians who have an IEP of the plans to ensure students receive free and appropriate education;

  • PDE to apply for federal waivers to cancel standardized testing for this school year;

  • School bus contracts are addressed to ensure that once the current crisis ends, school buses will be ready to provide services.

Also under Act 13, school entities closed as a result of the pandemic would not receive less subsidy payments, reimbursements, allocations, tuition or other payment from PDE they would otherwise be entitled to under this legislation.  Additionally, the new law guarantees that school employees will continue to get paid and receive retirement credit through the shutdown. Lastly, Act 13 includes reforms to the state’s evaluation system for educators.  It places emphasis on classroom observation and reduces the impact of certain performance measures, such as standardized testing.  

Unemployment Compensation Updates

Important Information Unemployment Compensation - Status of Claims

The following information has been provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry regarding Unemployment Compensation (UC):

  • The Governor has temporarily suspended the waiting-week requirement in Section 401(e) of the UC Law.   With this suspension, a claimant can immediately file for benefits, and the first week of unemployment will be a compensable week. The suspension of this section will also be in effect for the length of the emergency declaration.

  • The provisions of the emergency declaration allow the Governor to immediately suspend the work registration and work search requirements in Unemployment Compensation Law and adopted Regulations and the Governor has temporarily suspended these requirements for the length of the emergency declaration.

The Pennsylvania UC Law allows for employers to be relieved of charges for compensation once there has been a federal disaster declaration under the Stafford Act and the individuals would have been eligible for Disaster Unemployment Assistance. Therefore, an employer may be relieved from charges for compensation paid to an individual with respect to any week of unemployment occurring due to COVID-19.

Legislation that passed the General Assembly in a remote session last week requires that employers provide notification of the availability of UC to employees at the time of separation. The notification shall include information on the availability of benefits and assistance with filing a claim.

The Department has also created a resource page for employees and employers impacted by COVID-19 which can be accessed by clicking here

Expansion of Family & Medical Leave

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) was signed into law by the president on March 18. The legislation provided for the expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This is a federal program administered by the US Department of Labor.

Information on this expansion and to determine eligibility is available by clicking here.

Reminder on Mail-In Ballots

Vote By MailI want to remind everyone that several changes were made to the Election Code in Pennsylvania with the passage of Act 77 last year, including the introduction of no excuse mail-in voting.  In light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and as we try to limit personal interactions to reduce the spread of infection, I wanted to again highlight this important change to voting that will enable voters to participate in the election process without needing to go to the polls if they choose not to.

Act 77 created mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania beginning with the 2020 Primary Election. Unlike the current absentee ballot application, mail-in ballots can be requested by any voter with no excuse required.

The current absentee ballot process remains in place, where voters can request an absentee ballot if they are sick, disabled, or going to be out of their municipality on Election Day.  However, anyone can request a new mail-in ballot.  Additionally, voters can also request an annual mail-in ballot. If a voter indicates on the mail-in ballot application that they would like to be added to the annual mail-in ballot request list, they will receive an application to renew their request for a mail-in ballot each year. Once the application is approved, the voter will automatically receive ballots for the remainder of the year, and they do not need to submit an application for each election.

Applications can be downloaded at www.votespa.com. Voters can also submit an online application on the site.

The deadline to apply for mail-in ballots is 5 p.m. on the Tuesday before Election Day and the deadline to return completed ballots is 8 p.m. on Election Day.

I have long been an advocate of early voting and it is my hope that the new mail-in ballot provides anyone who may have difficulty getting to the polls the chance to vote more easily.

Small Business & Non-Profit Injury Disaster Loans

Woman WorriedThe U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has low-interest loans available for small businesses and eligible non-profits in all 67 counties in Pennsylvania.

SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loans offer up to $2 million in assistance and can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing. These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact.

The interest rate is 3.75 percent for small businesses without credit available elsewhere; businesses with credit available elsewhere are not eligible. The interest rate for non-profits is 2.75 percent.

SBA offers loans with long-term repayments in order to keep payments affordable, up to a maximum of 30 years. Terms are determined on a case-by-case basis, based upon each borrower’s ability to repay.

Businesses may obtain information and loan applications by calling the SBA’s Customer Service Center at 1-800-659-2955 (1-800-877-8339 for the hearing impaired), or by e-mailing disastercustomerservice@sba.gov. Loan applications can also be downloaded at www.sba.gov/disaster. Applicants may apply online using the Electronic Loan Application (ELA) via the SBA’s secure website at https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela. Completed applications should be returned to the local DLOC or mailed to:

U.S. Small Business Administration
Processing and Disbursement Center
14925 Kingsport Road
Fort Worth, TX 76155

The deadline to return economic injury disaster loan applications is Dec. 21, 2020.

COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program

There is $61 million available for working capital loans of up to $100,000 for small businesses that employ fewer than 100 employees through the COVID-19 Working Capital Access (CWCA) program. This program is being administered by the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority (PIDA) and provides critical working capital financing to small businesses located within the Commonwealth that are adversely impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

All CWCA loan applications must be submitted through a Certified Economic Development Organization (CEDO). For the list of CEDO’s operating within Pennsylvania, please refer to www.dced.pa.gov/CWCA.

The interest rate is currently 3 percent; however, the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority (PIDA) board has the authority to adjust the interest rates lower. $40 million of the available funding was moved from the Commonwealth Financing Authority through an agreement between the General Assembly and Governor Wolf.

Small businesses can apply for these loans at www.dced.pa.gov.

Additionally, the University of Pittsburgh Small Business Development Center has put together a resource guide that features other loan programs currently available for small businesses. Please click here to access the resource guide.

Critical Medical Supplies Procurement Portal

Last week, Governor Wolf announced the creation of a new web portal that will expedite the procurement of critical medical supplies for Pennsylvania’s health care system during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Critical Medical Supplies Procurement Portal was developed through a joint effort between the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the Pennsylvania Department of General Services, and the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED) to source the most needed supplies for medical providers, emergency responders, and health care professionals.

The Portal is for manufacturers, distributors and other suppliers to inform us of supplies available for purchase and will allow us to more quickly and efficiently procure these supplies for hospitals and medical facilities across Pennsylvania.

Links for the Expansion of Supply Chain Capacity and Manufacturing Innovation and Donations will also be available very soon for those organizations who wish to inform the commonwealth of their expanded supply chain and manufacturing capacity or to donate goods and services for distribution across Pennsylvania.

Most needed personal protective equipment (PPE) includes: surgical/procedure masks, N95/N99 Form Fitting Respirators, face masks with integrated shields, Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPR), and alcohol-based hand rubs. Needed hospital supplies include: ventilators with PEEP functionality, ventilator circuits, endotracheal tubes, and hospital gowns. Needed lab supplies include: UVT 3 mL with flocked flex minitip and Nasopharyngeal (NP) flocked swabs and viral transport media tubes (1-3 mL). Needed diagnostic supplies include: Roche MagNA Pure 96 DNA and Viral NA small volume kits, Roche MagNA Pure 96 system fluid and tips, Roche MagNA Pure 96 external lysis buffer, and Biomerieux NuciSENS EasyMAG extraction system and supplies.

Questions on the portal can be directed to the Department of General Services at RA-procinternet@pa.gov.

PennDOT Extensions

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) announced that expiration dates for driver licenses, identification cards, learner's permits, persons with disability placards, vehicle registrations and safety and emission inspections will be extended for Pennsylvania residents in response to statewide COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

Deadlines on the following products will be extended effective March 27, 2020:

  • Driver licenses, photo ID cards and learner's permits scheduled to expire from March 16, 2020 through April 30, 2020, the expiration date is now extended through May 31, 2020.

  • Vehicle registrations, safety inspections and emissions inspections scheduled to expire from March 16 through April 30, 2020, the expiration date is now extended through May 31, 2020.

  • Persons with Disabilities parking placards scheduled to expire from March 16 through April 30, 2020, the expiration date is now extended through May 31, 2020.

REAL ID Extended to October 2021

REAL ID Extended to October 2021The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has announced that the Department of Homeland Security has postponed the enforcement date for REAL ID from October 1, 2020, to October 1, 2021, in response to COVID-19 and the national emergency declaration.

PennDOT closed all driver and photo license centers on March 16 and paused REAL ID issuance in the state out of an abundance of caution and in the interest of public health. Centers will reopen no sooner than April 3. PennDOT also sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, requesting that the agency consider extending the October 1, 2020 REAL ID enforcement deadline.

Getting a REAL ID is optional for Pennsylvania residents but as a reminder, beginning with the new enforcement date of October 1, 2021, Pennsylvanians will need a REAL ID-compliant driver's license, photo ID card, or another form of federally-acceptable identification (such as a valid passport or military ID) to board a domestic commercial flight or enter a federal building or military installation that requires ID.

To learn more about REAL ID, please click here.

Census

Everyone CountsThe 2020 Census determines how $675 million in federal funding will be distributed across neighborhoods, towns and cities across the country. That means for every Pennsylvanian who completes the Census brings about $2,000 into our state. Making sure that every person is accurately counted in the Census assures that funds will be available for community grants, Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The Census also determines electoral districts at the local, state, and federal levels for the next 10 years.

Filling out the 2020 Census has never been easier. In about 10 minutes, the Census can be completed online at www.mycensus.gov, by phone at 1-844-330-2020 or by mail to:

U.S. Census Bureau National Processing Center
National Processing Center
1201 E 10th Street
Jeffersonville, IN 47144

Data collected by the Census is extremely valuable and strong security measures are employed to keep that data safe. When completing the Census, make sure that you are giving your information to the right people. If you are asked for your social security number (SSN), bank or credit card information, money or donations, or anything on behalf of a political party you should be highly suspicious.

Census2020Tomorrow, April 1, is Census day, when all mail invitations to the Census have been distributed. All 2020 Census activity is scheduled to be completed by July 31, 2020. With the COVID-19 pandemic effecting the everyday lives of all Americans, it is encouraged that all Pennsylvanians complete the census from their homes online, by mail, or by phone to prevent the need for Census takers to go door to door.

For more information about the 2020 Census in Pennsylvania, visit pa.gov/census.

Did You Know…

Did you know that though best known for witness protection and hunting fugitives, U.S. marshals were also required by an act of Congress to count the inhabitants in their respective districts? As result, they hired roughly 650 assistants for the first census in 1790 and sent them door-to-door, more often than not in extremely rural terrain.

Tele-Town Hall

Thank you to the more than 1,500 individuals who called in for last week’s Tele-Town Hall I hosted with Dr. Arvind Venkat, President of the Emergency Physicians Coalition. Anyone who missed the event can listen to the audio by visiting www.senatorfontana.com.

Federal, State, City Income Tax Deadlines Extended

The City of Pittsburgh has extended its personal income tax deadline until July 15, 2020. Last week, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue announced that the deadline for taxpayers to file their 2019 Pennsylvania personal income tax returns has been extended to July 15. The Internal Revenue Service also extended the federal filing deadline to July 15.

Although the state filing deadline has been extended, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue is encouraging taxpayers who are able to file their returns electronically to do so. This will enable the department to continue to process returns as commonwealth offices are closed. Additionally, if you are expecting a refund from the commonwealth, filing electronically will help avoid a delay in the release of your refund.

Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program Extended

HomeIn response to the COVID-19 outbreak, the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue has extended the deadline to apply for the 2019 Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program.  Applications will now be accepted through Dec. 31, 2020. The previous deadline was June 30, 2020.

If you filed a paper rebate last year, you should receive an application in the mail. Applications are also currently available online at www.revenue.pa.gov or by calling 1-888-222-9190.

The Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program benefits eligible Pennsylvanians age 65 and older; widows and widowers age 50 and older; and people with disabilities age 18 and older. The income limit is $35,000 for homeowners and $15,000 for renters. Please keep in mind, half of Social Security income is excluded.

The program is funded by the Pennsylvania Lottery and revenue from slots gaming.

PFBC Makes Adjustments to Opening of Trout Season

Keep a minium distance of 6 feel between anglersAmid concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19, the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission (PFBC) has made several changes to the 2020 trout season intended to protect the safety of the public and staff, while preserving the opportunity to enjoy the fun and recreational health benefits of fishing.

These changes, effective immediately, include consolidating the 2020 trout season schedule into a single, statewide schedule for all Pennsylvania counties; accelerating trout stocking operations and limiting volunteer participation; and adding more convenient ways to purchase fishing licenses online and display proof of a fishing license and boating documents on a digital device.

The PFBC will operate under a consolidated statewide schedule for all counties during the 2020 trout season. Under this revised plan, a single Mentored Youth Trout Day will occur on Saturday, April 11, and a Statewide Opening Day of trout season will take place on Saturday, April 18.

2020 trout stocking will be conducted on an accelerated schedule, and volunteers will not be permitted to assist with stocking activities.

To complete trout stocking operations without the assistance of the public, the PFBC will modify stocking methods for this year. Many PFBC staff are being reassigned from their normal work duties to assist with stocking fish into lakes and streams. In some cases, pre-season and in-season allocations of trout will be combined into single stocking events to increase the efficiency of stocking trips. Initially, stockings will be prioritized to deliver trout to regions of the Commonwealth that are predicted to be affected most severely by COVID-19 that could result in restrictions on travel.

Moving forward this season, trout stockings will be announced upon their completion, rather than in advance on the FishBoatPA mobile app and PFBC website (www.fishandboat.com). The change in stocking procedures will not result in any reduction in the approximately 3.2 million trout scheduled to be stocked statewide in 2020, and stocking will occur seven days a week until further notice.

To reduce unnecessary travel and social contact amid health concerns, anglers and boaters will be able to display their fishing license, launch permit, or boat registration renewal digitally on a phone or other mobile device as proof of possession.

This change will allow customers who may be unable to, or feel uncomfortable visiting a store to purchase a fishing license, launch permit, or boat registration renewal to make the purchase using the FishBoatPA app or computer through The Outdoor Shop (www.pa.wildlifelicense.com) and not have to possess a printed copy of the document. Upon purchase of a fishing license, a .pdf file containing an image of your license is provided and can be saved to a mobile device or computer. Similarly, with each boating related transaction, customers will receive a digital receipt that serves a temporary permit or registration valid for immediate use. Eventually, customers will receive validation decals and registration cards in the mail from the PFBC, which can take several weeks.

If approached by a Waterways Conservation Officer (WCO) in the field, the angler or boater would only have to produce the digital image of the license, permit or registration on their phone or mobile device. A digital copy of the .pdf, photo, or screenshot of your fishing license, launch permit or boat registration on your phone or mobile device will all be accepted as proof of possession.

Anyone with questions can call the PFBC at 717-705-7800 or email RA-BE@pa.gov.

Free Online Resources for Teachers, Parents

Computer learningWith schools being temporarily closed, Junior Achievement of Western PA is providing free online resources to teachers and parents. Junior Achievement is providing access to learning experiences that students can do on their own, with a parent or other caring adult, or with teachers via a digital/virtual environment. Resources are organized by school level and can be used whether or not you have engaged in a Junior Achievement program in the past.

To learn more about these resources and how to utilize them, please visit. www.ja.org/tomorrows.

March is National Nutrition Month Fontana Fact

March is National Nutrition Month in the United States. The most widely consumed fruit in the country are bananas with the average person consuming more than 11 pounds of the fruit each year. Apples are the second most widely consumed fruit with the average person consuming roughly 10 pounds of apples each year.

Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana

Brookline District
1039 Brookline Boulevard
Suite 2
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Phone: 412-344-2551
Weekdays – 9 am – 5 pm
Harrisburg
543 Main Capitol | Box 203042
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Phone: 717-787-5300
Fax: 717-772-5484
Weekdays – 8:30 am – 5 pm
Kennedy Township
Kenmawr Plaza
524 Pine Hollow Road
Kennedy Twp, PA 15136
Phone: 412-331-1208
Weekdays – 10 am – 4 pm
Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
By appointment