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Senator Wayne D. Fontana

Statement from Senator Fontana:

It is getting increasingly difficult to put into words the feelings I have as I think about yet another black citizen losing his life at the hands of a police officer. Seeing the footage of the officer in Minneapolis suffocating George Floyd brings about a lot of emotions for a lot of people. Anger. Fear. Outrage. Sadness. These are the most prevalent for me right now.

Senator Wayne FontanaWhere does our country go from here?

Some of us have attempted to legislate an end to the unfair treatment that minorities are receiving from police officers. The establishment of more oversight, municipal oversight boards, strengthening existing oversight, background checks for the hiring of police officers, are all ideas with merit that need to be pursued and enacted.

Legislation will help. We need more than legislation though. We need honest communication, with everyone participating. Citizens of all races, police, community leaders, elected leaders - everyone coming together and communicating and understanding one another and valuing each other.

Allegheny County Moving to Green

COVID-Reopening in PA - June 5thWith more than 80 percent of the state in some phase of reopening, Governor Wolf announced on May 29 that 16 additional counties will take another step forward and move to green effective 12:01 a.m., June 5, including Allegheny County. Other counties moving to green include Armstrong, Bedford, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Clinton, Fayette, Fulton, Greene, Indiana, Lycoming, Mercer, Somerset, Washington, and Westmoreland.

With more than half the state poised to be in the green phase on June 5, the governor last week provided an updated order for counties moving to green to give businesses and residents a clearer picture of what is permitted in that phase of reopening. The order includes these highlights:

  • Large gatherings of more than 250 prohibited.
  • Restaurants and bars open at 50% occupancy.
  • Personal care services (including hair salons and barbershops) open at 50% occupancy and by appointment only.
  • Indoor recreation, health and wellness facilities, and personal care services (such as gyms and spas) open at 50% occupancy with appointments strongly encouraged.
  • All entertainment (such as casinos, theaters, and shopping malls) open at 50% occupancy.
  • Construction activity may return to full capacity with continued implementation of protocols.
  • Visitation to prisons and hospitals may resume subject to the discretion of the facility. Visitors who interact with residents and patients must be diligent regarding hygiene. Given the critical importance of limiting COVID-19 exposure in nursing homes, personal care home and long-term care facilities, visitation restrictions will initially remain in place.

Business frequently asked questions were also updated and are available here.

Gov. Wolf also provided more options for counties in the yellow phase by allowing outdoor dining beginning June 5 and providing Summer Camp Guidance for providers, parents and caregivers.

The Summer Camp Guidance includes information on what types of programs for children are permitted during the phased reopening, status of public playgrounds and the operation of community pools, and the status of organized team sports.

The state continues to use risk-based metrics from Carnegie Mellon University, combined with contact tracing and testing capability and a sustained reduction in COVID-19 hospitalizations, to make decisions on county moves. The 50 new cases per 100,000 population continues to be a consideration, but not a sole deciding factor.

To see up-to-date data on case counts and demographics, hospital preparedness and testing, view the COVID-19 Data Dashboard.

Passage of a Five-Month Stop-Gap Budget

BudgetLast week, a stop-gap budget was passed for the 2020-21 Fiscal Year that appropriates about $25.8 billion in state General Fund spending, with no tax increases.  The majority of state agencies and their programs will receive flat-level-funding to get them through to November 30, when the legislative session year ends.  However, early education through higher education like state-supported universities will be funded at the same levels as the current fiscal year, but for one year, to guarantee school districts are able to predict how much money will be coming in as they determine their budgets over the next few months. 

Senate Bill 1108 (SB 1108) was also passed that distributes roughly $2.6 billion in federal CARES Act funding and will be allocated accordingly:

  • Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency - $150 million
  • Dept. Of Agriculture - $40 million
  • Dept. Of Community and Economic Development - $930 million
  • Dept. Of Education - $9 million
  • State System of Higher Education - $30 million
  • Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency - $42.2 million
  • Dept. Of Health - $20 million
  • Dept. Of Human Services - $1.106 billion
  • Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency - $100 million
  • Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency - $175 million

The remaining CARES Act money, which is $1.3 billion, will be placed into the COVID-19 Response Restricted Account.  Since the Commonwealth cannot use CARES funding to replace lost state or local revenues, the $1.3 will billion will be used at a later date to address additional virus-related costs as the state finds necessary.   

The Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) has estimated between a $1.3 to $1.5 billion shortfall for Pennsylvania for the remaining 2019-20 fiscal year.  Even more dire is the IFO’s prediction of a permanent loss of $5 billion in revenue through next June without even taking into consideration another COVID pandemic in the fall as many health officials are predicting.  The stop-gap budget allows the General Assembly to assess and revisit our state’s financial and economic situation several months from now when hopefully the pandemic has died down and our lives get back to a little more normalcy.

The additional time will also give Pennsylvania the chance to see how badly the virus-related shutdown has damaged tax collections.  It has been estimated that as much as $2 billion may be coming in after the start of the new fiscal year on July 1 due to tax deadlines being delayed.  There is also speculation that the federal Government will do a second aid package to the state that is more flexible or specifically for lost revenue. 

Although the stop-gap budget is not ideal, the unprecedented times have forced us to take measures that are often uncomfortable.  We do not know what our future holds and this was the most fiscally responsible approach to take until we have a better idea of the economic impact this crisis has taken.  If nothing else, the Pennsylvania Legislature has made a commitment to continue to fund education so that students can get back to learning safely. 

Today is Election Day!

Mail-in Ballot DeadlinesAmid a surge in mail-in ballots, the COVID-19 public health emergency and civil disturbances in six counties, Governor Wolf last night signed an executive order extending the deadline for county election offices in Allegheny, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties to receive absentee or mail-in ballots by mail to 5 p.m. June 9, 2020. The ballot must be postmarked no later than Tuesday, June 2, 2020. The deadline to hand deliver absentee or mail-in ballots remains 8 p.m. June 2, 2020.

Voted ballots may not be taken to polling places on Election Day. If you have not mailed your completed mail-in or absentee ballot yet, it needs to be delivered to the lobby of the County Office Building, located at 542 Forbes Avenue by 8 p.m. Voters may only drop off their own ballot. Multiple ballots will not be accepted. 

If a person who applied for a mail-in or absentee ballot did not receive the ballot they may go to their polling place to vote. The poll book will show workers that a mail-in or absentee ballot was applied for and the voter will be asked to vote by provisional ballot. The voted provisional ballot will be returned to the poll workers in a security envelope which will then be opened and reviewed as part of the Return Board process. If the voter’s mail-in or absentee ballot is received by the deadline, the provisional ballot would be voided and not counted. If the mail-in or absentee ballot is not received or is not received timely, the provisional ballot will be counted.

Voters intending to vote in-person today can do so between 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. Voters are reminded that there are several changes and that the process, itself, will be slightly different due to measures in place to mitigate potential exposure to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a reminder, polling places have been consolidated and with the exception of the City of Pittsburgh, all municipalities have one location for today’s election. Below is a listing of consolidated polling places for today’s election within the 42nd Senatorial District:

Municipality Polling Place Location Street Address
Avalon Avalon Middle School 721 California Ave.
Baldwin Twp. Baldwin Twp. Municipal Building Upper Level 10 Community Park
Bellevue Bellevue Municipal Building 537 Bayne Ave.
Ben Avon Ben Avon Vol. Fire Dept. 7219 Church Ave.
Carnegie Carnegie Municipal Building One Veterans Way
Castle Shannon Myrtle Avenue Elementary School 3724 Myrtle Ave.
Coraopolis Keith-Holmes VFW Post 402 412 Mulberry St.
Crafton American Legion Frank R. Kirk Post 145 One American Legion Plaza
Dormont Thomas R. Lloyd Recreation Center 1801 Dormont Ave.
Green Tree Green Tree Volunteer Fire Department 825 Poplar St.
Heidelberg Heidelberg Volunteer Fire Department 456 First St.
Ingram Ingram Municipal Building 40 West Prospect Ave.
Kennedy David E. Williams Middle School 60 Gawaldo Dr.
McKees Rocks Holy Ghost Byzantine Catholic 225 Olivia St.
Neville Neville Island Volunteer Fire Department 5009 Grand Ave.
Reserve Reserve Township Volunteer Fire Department 33 Lonsdale St.
Scott Chartiers Valley Intermediate School 2030 Swallow Hill Rd.
Sharpsburg Sharpsburg Municipal Building 1611 Main St.
Stowe Stowe Municipal Building 555 Broadway Ave.
     
City of Pittsburgh Polling Place Location Street Address
1st Ward Ebeneezer Baptist Church 2001 Wylie Ave.
2nd Ward Ebeneezer Baptist Church 2001 Wylie Ave.
3rd Ward Ebeneezer Baptist Church 2001 Wylie Ave.
5th Ward Pittsburgh Weil School 2250 Centre Ave.
6th Ward Teamsters Temple Banquet Hall 4701 Butler St.
9th Ward Teamsters Temple Banquet Hall 4701 Butler St.
10th Ward Pittsburgh Sunnyside School 4801 Stanton Ave.
18th Ward Carrick High School 125 Parkfield St.
19th Ward Brashear High School 590 Crane Ave.
20th Ward Langley High School 2940 Sheraden Blvd.
21st Ward Pittsburgh Manchester 1612 Manhattan St.
22nd Ward Pittsburgh Manchester 1612 Manhattan St.
23rd Ward Perry Traditional Academy 3875 Perrysville Ave.
24th Ward Perry Traditional Academy 3875 Perrysville Ave.
25th Ward Perry Traditional Academy 3875 Perrysville Ave.
26h Ward Perry Traditional Academy 3875 Perrysville Ave.
27th Ward Perry Traditional Academy 3875 Perrysville Ave.
28th Ward Langley High School 2940 Sheraden Blvd.
30th Ward Carrick High School 125 Parkfield St.
32nd Ward Carrick High School 125 Parkfield St.

Some of the changes that Allegheny County would like voters to be aware of today include:

  • Within the polling locations may be multiple sign-in tables or rooms to effect social distancing. Voters do not need to know their ward or district as poll books will be organized alphabetically to make the process easier. Locations will have poll workers to assist in directing voters to the appropriate tables or rooms.
  • Poll workers will be asking voters to adhere to physical distancing guidelines by remaining six feet apart from other voters in line. Tape will be placed on the floors to reflect those distances.
  • Voters are asked to wear face coverings and to keep them in place, covering their nose and mouth, while in the polling place. If someone comes to the polling place without one, they will be offered a mask.
  • If voters have concerns about using pens that are also being used by other voters, they should consider bringing their own pen to the polling place. Blue ink pens are preferred, but other color inks will be read by the scanners. Polling places will also have pens available for voters.
  • Be patient.

Before going to the polling place, residents should verify their registration and their polling place online. As Pennsylvania is a closed primary state, only voters registered as Democrats or Republicans may vote today. Voters can also view a sample ballot online. The Elections webpage (www.alleghenycounty.us/elections) also contains frequently asked questions and other information for voters.

Vote PAIf you have any questions related to voting, I encourage you to visit www.votespa.com.  You may also reach the Allegheny County Elections Division by phone at 412-350-4500.

Any registered voter who wishes to file a complaint about alleged election law violations can do so by visiting www.votespa.com and clicking on the “Election Complaints” tab.  The voter will be asked to enter their first and last name, address, county of residence, and date of birth to ensure they are a registered voter.  Once submitted, these complaint forms will be directed to the county election board for the county in which the voter making the complaint resides.  Written statements of complaint are available at all polling places and the Allegheny County Board of Elections.  You may also call 1-877-VOTES-PA (1-877-868-3772) to obtain a complaint statement.

Did You Know…

Did you know that approximately 1.8 million Pennsylvanians requested mail-in ballots for the Primary Election?

Property Tax/Rent Rebate Funds Being Distributed Early

The General Assembly recently passed legislation that was signed by the governor that allow rebates from the Property Tax/Rent Rebate program to be distributed early. House Bill 1076 (HB 1076) allows rebates to be issued beginning May 20 to approved applicants instead of the traditional July 1 date of distribution.

The distribution of rebates by the Department of Revenue and Treasury is different than prior years. Rather than a large distribution of rebates on July 1, rebates will be processed and distributed on a first-in-first-out basis. This gradual process means some claimants will receive their rebates earlier than others.

Applicants who included their bank account information on their Property Tax/Rent Rebate application form (PA-1000) will receive their rebates through direct deposit. Applicants who requested a paper check to be mailed to them should expect to receive their payment in the mail.
The Department of Revenue is asking claimants to keep in mind that its main call centers are operating in a limited capacity due to the efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania. As a result, claimants are encouraged to use online tools and other automated resources to check the status of their rebates or ask a question.

  • Claimants who already applied for rebates may use the Where's my PA Property Tax/Rent Rebate? tool to check the status of their rebate. You will need your Social Security number, claim year and date of birth to use this tool.
  • Call 1-888-PATAXES to check the status of your rebate. This automated toll-free service is available 24 hours a day. You will need your Social Security number, date of birth and the anticipated amount of your rebate to use this service.
  •  Claimants who included their phone number on their Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program application form (PA-1000) will receive automated calls from the Department of Revenue updating them on the status of their claim. Claimants should know that these automated phone calls require no further action. They will not be asked to key in any numbers or to provide any additional information.
  •  Claimants can visit the department's Online Customer Service Center to find helpful tips and answers to commonly asked questions about the Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program. The Online Customer Service Center also allows you to submit a question to a Department of Revenue representative through a secure process that is similar to sending an email.

For eligible applicants who have yet to file their Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program application, the Department of Revenue is offering help for those who need it. Eligible claimants are encouraged to call 1-888-222-9190 for guidance.

As a reminder, the deadline for older adults and Pennsylvania residents with disabilities to apply for rebates on rent and property taxes paid in 2019 was extended from June 30 to Dec. 31, 2020.

The 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 a year for homeowners and $15,000 annually for renters, and half of Social Security income is excluded. It is free to apply for a rebate. The maximum standard rebate is $650, but supplemental rebates for certain qualifying homeowners can boost rebates to $975. The Department of Revenue automatically calculates supplemental rebates for qualifying homeowners.

2020-21 PA State Grant Awarding Formula

studentAs Vice-Chair of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) board of directors, I want to report that last week the board approved an awarding formula for the 2020-21 PA State Grant Program that maintains a maximum award of $4,123, while serving approximately 126,455 students.

The PHEAA Board of Directors reviews the PA State Grant awarding formula each year and adopts modifications as needed to maximize available financial resources, while providing the most meaningful benefits to students who have the most financial need.

PHEAA’s newly approved awarding formula will be used to calculate 2020-21 “conditional award” notices for students. These early notices are provided each year for planning purposes and are subject to change, pending final passage of the Commonwealth budget. 

The formula takes into consideration several factors, including family resources, the cost of tuition, the projected number of applicants, and the expected available financial resources.

The General Assembly recently passed a stopgap budget for the Commonwealth that provides 12 months of level funding for PHEAA-administered student aid programs, including $310.7 million for the 2020-21 PA State Grant Program.  

The PHEAA Board also approved a $15 million supplement for the PA State Grant Program, bringing total financial resources for 2020-21 to $325.7 million, which is needed to maintain the $4,123 maximum award.  PHEAA’s supplement is funded entirely by the Agency’s business operations at no cost to taxpayers.

New for 2020-21, the PA State Grant formula provides the same eligibility consideration regardless of how coursework is delivered; meaning that otherwise-eligible students enrolled in distance education will maintain full eligibility for PA State Grant awards.  This is particularly important in light of a likely increase in distance education enrollments for the 2020 fall term as a result of COVID-19.

This pandemic has fundamentally changed how postsecondary schools operate and how students participate in their classes – both physically and virtually. Considering today’s higher education environment, if a student’s eligibility for a PA State Grant is otherwise equal, then how they choose to participate, or how their school may require them to participate, should also be considered equally.

Previously, the awarding formula made an eligibility distinction between traditional in-classroom students, who qualified for a $4,123 maximum award, and distance education students, who qualified for a $3,092 maximum award, or 75 percent of a traditional award in 2019-20. 

PHEAA’s Board of Directors temporarily eliminated this distinction at their March 2020 Board Meeting as part of a COVID-19 student aid rules relief package. Last week’s board action formally removes this distinction for the entire 2020-21 school year.

PHEAA has provided more than $1 billion in supplemental funding for student aid programs over the last 10 years.  The Agency also self-funds the administration of the PA State Grant Program and other student aid programs and services for the Commonwealth, which saves taxpayers $19.2 million annually.

Students and families are encouraged to visit PHEAA on Facebook, at facebook.com/pheaa.aid, where they can learn more about the higher education financial aid process, obtain reminders of financial aid deadlines, and gain information pertaining to planning for higher education. Additionally, video tutorials explaining the student aid process and types of aid available can be found at YouTube.com/PHEAAstudentAid.

Summer Camp & Recreation Guidance

The Wolf Administration recently issued frequently asked questions to provide guidance to parents, summer camp operators, public bathing places, part-day school-age programs, and other entities that provide necessary child care and enrichment and recreational activities for children and youth during the summer months.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health issued the FAQs that include guidance on:

  • The types of summer programs for children and youth permitted to operate during Gov. Wolf’s phased-in reopening plan.
  • Additional requirements for summer programs operating in counties in yellow and green phases beyond what is required by the CDC guidance for youth programs and camps.
  • The summer programs operating in counties in yellow and green phases that are permitted to operate fully indoor, fully outdoor, or a combination of indoor and outdoor.
  • Group sizes for summer programs that are permitted to operate in counties in the yellow phase.
  • Requirements on staff and youth face-coverings in child care and summer programs permitted to operate in yellow phase counties.
  • Enrollment restrictions on summer programs in counties in yellow or green phase.
  • Status of public playgrounds during the phased reopening.
  • Status of organized team sports during the phased reopening.
  • Operation of public bathing places and community pools during the phased reopening.
  • Operation of camping, campgrounds and group camping separate from organized summer camps for youth.
  • Status of Department of Conservation and Natural Resources facilities during the various phases of reopening.

The FAQs can be viewed by clicking here.

The guidance does not apply to public school-operated summer programs or extended school year services. Guidance related to reopening public schools will be released by the Pennsylvania Department of Education later.

Favorite Recipes?

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

As we continue to adhere to mitigation efforts, 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 Darlene from Overbrook:

One Pan Italian Chicken Dinner

4 boneless skinless chicken breast
4 potatoes peeled and quartered
12 ounces green beans or your choice of vegetable
1 bottle Italian salad dressing

Spray 9 by 13 pan with nonstick oil. Place chicken, potatoes and vegetables in pan.  Cover with Italian dressing.  Place foil over pan and cook for 1 hour @ 375 in oven.

June is National Fruit and Vegetable MonthFontana Fact

June is National Fruit and Vegetable Month in the United States. In 2019, bananas and apples were tied as the most popular fruit purchased in the United States while potatoes were the most popular purchased vegetable.

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