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Senator Wayne D. Fontana

Plan to Allocate Federal CARES Act funds

PA CaresLast week, the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus unveiled a plan to allocate federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds. The Pennsylvania CARES Plan, which is supported by the entire caucus, offers a set of spending priorities to best use the $3.9 billion in federal CARES ACT funding the commonwealth is set to receive. A major focus of the PA CARES Plan would fund initiatives that help individuals and families, such as housing assistance programs, student debt relief, veterans’ assistance, utility assistance, and food bank support.  

Other aspects of the proposal would allocate additional assistance to frontline workers, funding for the health care industry and its workers, small business grants, and much-needed support for communities disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. School districts and local governments would also receive support to help offset pandemic-related expenses.

Highlights of the PA CARES plan include:

  • $1.1 billion for assistance for working people
  • $900 million for education and childcare initiatives
  • $650 million for health care industry & frontline workers assistance
  • $425 million for small businesses
  • $350 million for local government assistance
  • $300 million for historically disadvantaged communities

Our response to the COVID-19 pandemic remains focused on helping working people, families and Pennsylvania’s small businesses while checking politics at the door. Lawmakers from both parties and both chambers must work cooperatively, constructively and quickly on a plan to invest our state’s share of federal stimulus dollars. There are a lot of people hurting right now so it’s imperative we put this financial lifeline to work immediately. I hope we can quickly get together and negotiate a workable investment strategy will help Pennsylvania quickly overcome the dire impact of this pandemic.

Legislation to Exempt Purchases of PPE from Taxes

personal protective equipment (PPE)With Governor Wolf’s order that all Pennsylvanians wear a facemask when in public, and the threat of the coronavirus making a comeback in the fall, I am introducing legislation that would make personal protective equipment (PPE) exempt from Pennsylvania sales tax.

Many personal protective items like medical-grade facial masks and gloves are already exempt from sales tax. However, the current pandemic has caused a shortage of these items which has led to many residents and businesses making protective items on their own, in many cases purchasing the necessary materials at local stores. For this reason, facial masks will be considered essential and a necessity under my bill, just like articles of clothing. Therefore, any of the supplies needed to make a mask, like fabric and elastic, will be considered “clothing” and not an “accessory.” The same would apply for items like rubber or latex gloves that can be found in household goods.

My bill would also extend to the workplace. Currently, safety equipment and devices like gloves and masks worn by production personnel in manufacturing, processing, public utility, and farming, to name a few, are tax exempted. This legislation would make PPE purchased and worn by non-production personnel like grocery store clerks or restaurant workers, tax exempt as well.

These are trying times in our state and our country. Food and clothing as essential items are exempt from Pennsylvania sales tax. Items like masks and gloves and the materials used to make them have become essential in 2020 and Pennsylvanians should not be subject to paying a sales tax.

Voter Registration Deadline

If you are planning to vote in the upcoming June 2 primary election and you are not registered to vote, I want to remind you that the deadline to register in order to be able cast a ballot is May18.

Vote PAThe quickest way to register is to do so online by visiting www.votespa.com. You may also click here to complete an online voter registration form.

I also want to remind voters that anyone who wants to vote by mail in the upcoming June 2 primary can apply for a mail-in ballot online at www.votespa.com and can track the status of their application by clicking here.  The deadline to apply for mail-in ballots for the primary is May 26. Applications must be received by the Allegheny County Elections Division by 5 p.m.  The deadline to return completed mail-in ballots is 8 p.m. on Election night, June 2.

Vote By MailFor the June 2 primary election, the Allegheny County Division of Elections will be mailing all registered voters in Allegheny County who have not yet applied for either a traditional absentee ballot or a new mail-in ballot, a mail-in ballot application. The mailing will include the mail-in ballot application and a postage-paid, addressed envelope to return that application to the Elections office.

Moving forward, as I wrote about in last week's edition of my News & Views, I have introduced Senate Bill 1129 (SB 1129), that would change Pennsylvania’s voting system so that all elections are conducted entirely by mail beginning with this November’s general election. To read more about my proposal, please click here.

Additionally, yesterday I appeared on PCN-TV to talk about my legislation. You can see the interview by clicking here.

PennDOT Extends Expiration Dates on Driver Licenses, ID Cards, Learner’s Permits

PennDOT Extends Expiration Dates on Driver Licenses, ID Cards, Learner’s PermitsThe Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has extended expiration dates for driver licenses, identification cards, and learner’s permits in response to statewide COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

Effective April 30, expiration dates for driver licenses, photo ID cards and learner’s permits scheduled to expire March 16, 2020 through May 31, 2020, are now extended through June 30, 2020. These extensions are in addition to those announced on March 27.

Additionally, all Driver License Centers and Photo License Centers in Pennsylvania are closed until further notice effective close of business on March 16.

As a reminder, customers may complete various transactions and access multiple resources via the Driver and Vehicle Services website, www.dmv.pa.gov. Driver and vehicle online services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and include driver’s license, photo ID and vehicle registration renewals; driver-history services; changes of address; driver license and vehicle registration restoration letters; ability to pay driver license or vehicle insurance restoration fee; driver license and photo ID duplicates; and driver exam scheduling. There are no additional fees for using online services.

Census Reminder

Everyone CountsI want to remind everyone the 2020 Census is ongoing. The 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, and 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.my2020census.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.

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 as of April 29, more than 56 percent of Pennsylvanians have responded to the Census?

Non-flushable Items Cause Problems in Sewer Systems

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is encouraging all Pennsylvanians to only flush toilet paper and human waste, not disinfecting wipes or other non-flushable items that should be disposed of in the trash. Sewage treatment facilities have been dealing with an increase in non-flushable materials clogging filters and equipment since the beginning of the stay-at-home orders in March.

What Not to FlushTissues, paper towels, and single-use wipes, including cleansing and diaper wipes, cannot be safely flushed, even if they are labeled as “flushable” or “biodegradable.” Other non-flushable items include things like diapers, feminine hygiene products, disposable toilet brushes, disposable gloves, cotton swabs, dental floss, and kitty litter.

Flushing or dumping the wrong things down the drain can cause blockages in your own home or business as well as problems in the local sewer system. These products do not break down like toilet paper and can clog systems very quickly. Many sewer blockages occur between your house or business and the sewer main, where the property owner is responsible for correcting and paying for the repair.

Blockages can also lead to sewage overflows that can have adverse effects on the environment, especially if the overflow enters local rivers, lakes, and streams.

Flushing only toilet paper and human waste helps ensure that the toilets, plumbing, sewer systems, and septic systems will continue working properly to safely manage wastewater in Pennsylvania. DEP also encourages residents and businesses to refrain from disposing of food scraps, grease, fat, or oil down the drain. These should also be disposed of in the trash to help keep wastewater pipes clear.

Grease, fat, and oil can solidify and adhere to the insides of the pipes that carry wastewater from homes and businesses to the wastewater treatment plant. Over time, these buildups can restrict the flow of wastewater.

Garbage disposals do not prevent grease from washing down the drain. Detergents that claim to dissolve grease may pass it down the line and cause problems in other parts of the wastewater system.

Food scraps, grease, fat, and oil should be removed from cookware, plates, utensils, and cooking surfaces, placed in a sealed container, and disposed of in the trash. Baskets/strainers can also be installed in sink drains to catch food scraps.

Preventable toilet and sewer backups can pose a threat to human health and present an extra challenge to wastewater utilities and staff. Flushing anything other than toilet paper can damage internal plumbing, local sewer systems, and septic systems. Fixing these backups is costly and takes time and resources away from ensuring that wastewater management systems are otherwise working properly.

Having fully operational wastewater services is critical to containing COVID-19 and protecting Pennsylvanians from other public health risks. DEP thanks wastewater staff and utilities for their dedication, courage, and continuing efforts at a time when resources may be stretched thin. Pennsylvania’s wastewater employees are local heroes on the frontline of protecting human health and the environment every single day.

Department of Agriculture Adopts Temporary FDA Food Labeling Policy, New Products Debut in Grocers, Restaurant Delivery

Food LabelingThe Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has reviewed the Food and Drug Administration's temporary policy regarding nutrition labeling during the COVID-19 public health crisis, and provided clarity behind new items for sale in Pennsylvania's grocery stores and restaurants.

This temporary policy by the FDA allows restaurants to sell ingredients and bulk prepared foods direct to consumers, and allows food manufacturers to distribute foods intended for restaurant-use to grocery stores for purchase by consumers. This means grocery shoppers may see industrial sized bags of soup or other prepared items, with non-traditional nutrition information labels. Eggs by the flat, instead of by the dozen, have also been approved by a separate guidance document from the FDA. This temporary flexibility also allows restaurants to sell meal kits or raw ingredients in addition to their regular menu of takeout items.

Similar to recognizing a need for decreased food labeling requirements, the FDA issued guidance offering restaurants and retail food establishments flexibility for menu labeling. Under normal circumstances, restaurants and retail food establishments that are a part of a chain of 20 or more locations must provide nutrition information (calorie declarations) for standard menu items. Recognizing that business practices have been required to change as a result of COVID-19 – including modified menus, printed takeout menus, or online portals – the FDA will not object to restaurants that do not meet requirements.

These federal policies will remain in effect, and enforced as such by Pennsylvania's food safety inspectors, for the duration of the public health emergency related to COVID-19.

CarryoutPAPennsylvanians are encouraged to support local restaurants by visiting CarryoutPA, a website with a comprehensive list restaurants offering takeout, curbside, or delivery services during the state's Stay at Home order. CarryoutPA was developed by the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association to serve as a go-to resource for dine-out options in support of the commonwealth's restaurant industry, which accounts for 10 percent of jobs statewide. I encourage any restaurants who are offering takeout, curbside or delivery services to consider using this tool.

Pursue Your Hominess, Spread Kindness

Pursue Your Hominess, Spread KindnessDuring these unprecedented times while we are being asked to social distance, the Pennsylvania Tourism Office has launched three initiatives with the goals of supporting our beautiful state from the comfort of our homes, supporting our local small businesses and spreading kindness.

In addition to CarryoutPA, an initiative that supports our small businesses which I highlighted above, the Tourism Office has created the Pursue Your Hominess campaign. This statewide initiative allows people to visit some of Pennsylvania’s iconic destinations virtually while staying safe in their homes. Learn more at https://www.visitpa.com/hominess.

Another initiative of the Pennsylvania Tourism Office is Spread Kindness, #143PA. In times of uncertainty, simple acts of kindness mean the most. You can help reflect how grateful you are to have people in your lives and share your acts of kindness with your followers on social media with the hashtag, #143PA. 1-4-3 or I-Love-You. As the birthplace of Fred Rogers, America’s most beloved neighbor, PA is a place where kindness and gratitude to those who make up our community is part of who we are.

Favorite Recipes?

Do you have a favorite recipe? A favorite dish you like to prepare?

As we continue to adhere to the current stay-at-home order issued by the governor, many are eating more meals at home than usual, and many are trying to stretch food out as long as possible to reduce trips to the grocery store and reduce costs. As such, maybe you are looking to try something new?

I encourage anyone who would like to share a favorite recipe with others to please do so by emailing fontana@pasenate.com and we’ll share through this forum. This week, I’d like to present a recipe that was submitted by Keith from my staff.

Chicken Noodle Soup – Pour 3 inches of water into a large pot along with 64 ounces of chicken broth. Chop a celery stalk and 6-10 carrots and dump into pot and boil for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, add 2 large chicken breasts and boil for 30 minutes. Add a dash of onion salt. Once chicken is cooked, take out and chop into small pieces and put back into pot and keep on warm. In a separate pot boil ½ bag of medium egg noodles. Add noodles to pot and enjoy!

laughter is the best medicineFontana Fact

In addition to serving as a stress reliever, there is a saying that suggests “laughter is the best medicine.” Well, studies do show that 10 to 15 minutes of laughter a day can burn up to 40 calories and that laughter over a longer term period can improve an individual’s immune system.

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