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Senator Wayne D. Fontana

Swift Passage of Four Police Reform Bills

After the Senate Law and Justice and Judiciary Committees heard testimony on police reform measures earlier this month, I was pleased with the quick consideration of several bills on this matter by the Legislature. Last week, the Pennsylvania Senate unanimously passed two pieces of legislation that mandates agencies to keep records of incidents of the use-of-force as well as prohibits chokeholds for most circumstances: 

  • Senate Bill 459 (SB 459) requires law enforcement agencies to maintain records of all incidents involving a use-of-force by police and submit these records to the Pennsylvania State Police.  The State Police would then give an annual report to the Pennsylvania General Assembly about how often officers used force and details such as when the occurrence resulted in serious injury or death. 
  • Senate Bill 1205 (SB 1205) prohibits law enforcement to use chokeholds except in cases in which deadly force is authorized.  Additionally, the measure requires law enforcement agencies to develop and implement a written use of force policy that is consistent with current training and certification standards.  Training and instruction must continue on an annual basis as well as the Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission shall certify that an agency has a use-of-force policy. The policies adopted by an agency must be posted on a website maintained by that law enforcement agency.   

Additionally, the Pennsylvania Senate gave it's approval to two House bills that were unanimously passed in the House of Representatives last week:

  • House Bill 1841 (HB 1841) states that a law enforcement agency must conduct a thorough background investigation on an applicant including a review of employment before they are hired.  A current or previous employer would have to disclose the employment information to the law enforcement agency but would be free from civil liability for sharing the requested information.  Lastly, the legislation creates an electronic database containing separation records of law enforcement officers for use by other law enforcement agencies for hiring purposes.  
  • House Bill 1910 (HB 1910) makes significant changes to the training for municipal police which including the identification and  reporting of suspected child abuse, mandatory mental health evaluation of a law enforcement officer for PTSD within 30 days of use of lethal force and potential treatment for the diagnosis, and interactions with individuals with diverse racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds to their mandatory police education.  The legislation also requires ongoing annual  recertification by the Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission on the use of force, de-escalation and harm-reduction techniques.

Although many of these and other reform bills were introduced but have sat idle after the police killing of Antwon Rose in East Pittsburgh in 2018, I am grateful to see that these measures have been fast tracked for passage.  My hopes are that the House of Representatives quickly returns for a voting session in the coming weeks so that Governor Wolf can sign these impactful bills into law.

Reopening for Appointments

My district offices will reopen for appointments only, beginning Monday, July 6. While we have serviced constituents over the last three-plus months via phone and email, we will now be able to offer in-person assistance on state matters, by appointment. 

To make an appointment in the Brookline office between the hours of 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday thru Friday, please call 412-344-2551 and to make an appointment in the Kennedy office between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday thru Friday, please call 412-331-1208.

Only one constituent will be permitted in either office at one time and constituents must wear masks and practice six-foot social distancing.

COVID-19 Relief Statewide Small Business Assistance Grant Program Opens TODAY!

COVID-19 RELIEF STATEWIDE
SMALL BUSINESS ASSISTANCEThe Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED) has opened the COVID-19 Relief Statewide Small Business Grant Program, which will provide grants ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 to small businesses that have been economically impacted by COVID-19.

Applications can be submitted online at https://pabusinessgrants.com/ or through one of the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) listed further down. The application window for the first round of funding is expected to remain open for 10 business days. Applications will continue to be accepted after 10 business days but will be considered for future rounds of funding.

Under the program, $225 million is available for COVID-19 relief to small businesses through a distribution to Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) for loan payment deferment and portfolio loan loss reserves, main street business revitalization grants, and historically disadvantaged business revitalization grants.

The funds are available through three programs:

  • $100 million for the Main Street Business Revitalization Program for small businesses that experienced loss as a result of the governor’s March 19, 2020 order relating to the closure of all non-life-sustaining businesses and have or will incur costs to adapt to new business operations related to COVID-19;
  • $100 million for the Historically Disadvantaged Business Revitalization Program for small businesses that experienced loss as a result of the business closure order, have or will incur costs to adapt to new business operations related to COVID-19, and in which socially and economically disadvantaged individuals own at least a 51 percent interest and also control management and daily business operations.
  • $25 million for the Loan Payment Deferment and Loss Reserve Program, which will allow the CDFIs the opportunity to offer forbearance and payment relief for existing portfolio businesses that are struggling due to the impact of COVID, as well as shore up the financial position of the CDFIs that are experiencing significant increased defaults in their existing loan portfolios.

Eligible businesses with 25 or fewer employees may receive a maximum grant of $50,000 so long as the business was in operation on February 15, 2020 and, if required, paid income taxes to the state and federal government, as reported on individual or business tax returns; COVID-19 has had an adverse economic impact and makes this grant request necessary to support the ongoing operations of the applicant; the grant will be used cover COVID-19 related costs; and during the period beginning on June 1, 2020 and ending on December 31, 2020, the applicant has not and will not receive another grant under this state program.

The CDFIs who will be implementing the program in Allegheny County are:

For more information about the program, you can also visit the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) website at https://dced.pa.gov/ and can sign up with DCED to get on their email list by clicking here.

Pennsylvania Extends Unemployment Compensation Benefits 13 More Weeks

UC Update

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) announced yesterday that people who exhaust their regular unemployment compensation (UC) and federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) may now qualify for 13 additional weeks of payments through the state’s Unemployment Compensation Extended Benefits program.

Extended Benefits (EB) are additional UC benefits payable to qualified workers whenever the state’s unemployment rate reaches a certain level determined by law. The last time the EB program was triggered in Pennsylvania was 2009.

The current EB period began May 3, 2020, but benefits are not payable until an individual has exhausted PEUC benefits. EB payments will begin with the week ending July 4, 2020 and are payable only for weeks of unemployment during an EB period.

Important information about the EB program follows and will be sent by mail to all individuals who potentially qualify for the additional benefits.

Eligibility
 
You may be eligible for EB if:

  • You are totally or partially unemployed;
  • You have exhausted your regular state benefits on your most recent UC claim, or your most recent UC benefit year has ended; and
  • You have received the maximum amount of PEUC that you were eligible to receive.

 
Additional eligibility information is available here.

How to Receive EB

  • If you collect the maximum amount of PEUC that you are eligible to receive, an EB Notice of Financial Determination will be mailed to you.
  • You must complete your weekly EB online certification in order to claim EB for weeks that you are totally or partially unemployed.
  • Each EB online certification corresponds to one specific week, as indicated on the web form. Individuals who opt to use paper claim forms should only use the form that is specifically dated for the week of unemployment you are claiming.
  • If you do not receive your Financial Determination within two weeks after you receive your final PEUC payment, call the UC Service Center at 1-888-313-7284.

 
EB Weekly Benefit Amount

  • EB weekly benefit payments are the same as regular UC.
  • The total amount of EB that you may receive is 50 percent of the amount of regular UC you were financially eligible to receive on your most recent claim. Example:
    • If you were financially eligible for 26 weeks of regular UC, you may receive up to 13 weeks of EB.
  • There is an additional wage test for EB eligibility, so not all individuals will financially qualify.
  • EB may only be paid for weeks ending during an EB period.
  • If you are entitled to Trade Readjustment Allowances, you may receive fewer weeks of EB.

 
EB is currently fully federally-funded through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Public Law (Pub. L.) 116-127, specifically Division D, the Emergency Unemployment Insurance Stabilization and Access Act of 2020 (EUISAA).

CARES Financial Assistance for Renters and Homeowners

Financial Assistance for Renters and Homeowners

Renters and homeowners who were financially impacted by the economic slowdown related to the coronavirus pandemic are now able to access applications for rent and mortgage relief by visiting the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency’s website at www.phfa.org. PHFA is administering both programs. Please click in the red banner on the website to access the applications and other helpful background information.

The Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, passed in March, provided $3.9 billion for Pennsylvania and is intended to help people hurt economically during the pandemic. In late May, the General Assembly directed $175 million of these CARES dollars to PHFA to provide assistance for struggling renters and homeowners. The portion for rent assistance is at least $150 million, and $25 million was set aside for mortgage assistance.

During June, in a period of about four weeks, PHFA is developing detailed programs for distributing this financial assistance quickly to people in need while following legislative requirements. The agency will begin accepting completed applications for rent and mortgage assistance on July 6.

For renters to be eligible for financial assistance under the CARES Rent Relief Program (RRP), they will need to document at least a 30% reduction in annual income since March 1 related to COVID-19, or they must have become unemployed after March 1. If unemployed, they must have filed for unemployment compensation with the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. Their household income cannot exceed the Area Median Income for their county of residence, adjusted for the number of people in their home. 

Renters who qualify may receive assistance equal to 100 percent of their monthly rent up to $750 a month for a maximum of six months of assistance for the time period between March 1 and Nov. 30, 2020. Payments will be made to their landlord on their behalf. Renters or landlords can apply for rent relief for apartment tenants, but renters are responsible for submitting all the documents needed to ensure their eligibility.

Homeowners who became unemployed after March 1 or who suffered at least a 30 percent reduction in annual income due to reduced work hours and wages related to COVID-19 may be eligible for financial assistance to help with missed mortgage payments. To qualify for the Pandemic Mortgage Assistance Program (PMAP), they must be an owner-occupant of their residence, the dwelling must consist of one or two separate units, the mortgage must be at least 30 days delinquent, and the homeowner’s annual household income must not exceed the Area Median Income for their county of residence, adjusted for the number of people in their home.

The assistance available for homeowners can be up to $1,000 a month for a maximum period of six months. The time period eligible for assistance is for mortgage payments owed from March 2020 through Dec. 2020, however any CARES assistance provided must be disbursed by Nov. 30, 2020. Financial assistance payments through this program will be made directly to the mortgagee. Homeowners or their lenders can apply for mortgage relief, but homeowners are responsible for providing all the documents needed to determine their eligibility.

The agency’s call center is available weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to assist the public and help with questions about the programs. The toll-free number is 1-855-U-Are-Home (827-3466). Callers should listen for the prompt mentioning CARES assistance for renters and homeowners. The county organizations to which CARES applications are submitted will also have webpages offering useful information.

The CARES funding for renters and homeowners must be completely distributed by Nov. 30, 2020, although it is expected the assistance will be exhausted before the deadline because of the tremendous need by people hurt financially by the pandemic. 

CARES Act Funding Now Available to Museums and Cultural Organizations

Last week, The Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA) approved the program guidelines for the COVID-19 Cultural and Museum Preservation Grant Program, which is funded through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The program provides $20 million in grant funding for cultural organizations and museums to offset lost revenue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting shutdown order and will be administered by the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).

CARES Act Funding Now Available to Museums and Cultural OrganizationsEligible cultural organizations or museums must be one of the following categories to be eligible for funding through the COVID-19 Cultural and Museum Preservation Grant Program:

  • Children’s Museum
  • General Museum with at least two equally significant disciplines
  • History Museum or Historical Site
  • Military or Maritime Museum
  • Natural History Museum
  • Accredited Zoo
  • Planetarium
  • Science and Technology Center
  • Orchestra
  • Art Museum
  • Performing Arts Organization

The minimum amount of grant funding will be $25,000 to a maximum of $500,000. Funds may be used to offset lost revenue for eligible cultural organizations and museums that were subject to closure by the proclamation of disaster emergency issued by the Governor on March 6, 2020, and any renewal of the state of disaster emergency and that experienced a loss of revenue related to the closure. Funds cannot be used to offset revenue which has already been offset from other sources, including philanthropic and federal, state and local government sources.  Additional eligibility requirements and program details can be found in the program guidelines.

Applications will be accepted between June 29, 2020, and July 31, 2020 at https://www.esa.dced.state.pa.us/login.aspx?var=5. More information about the Commonwealth Financing Authority can be found on the Department of Community & Economic Development website.

DEP Launches Expanded Online Permitting Options to Assist Businesses

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has created a new online permit application tool that will help permit applicants submit their permit applications electronically. The new tool, OnBase-DEP Upload Form, will allow applicants to submit applications for all DEP authorizations.

DEP had previously developed several online permit applications in its e-Permitting system and has reduced the backlog of permits under review by nearly 90 percent. Payment for application fees is not a part of the tool, and applicants will still need to submit payment under separate cover. Applications for permits that are included in DEP’s e-Permitting system should only be submitted in the e-Permitting system.

Benefits of the online tool include:

  •  Lower costs for DEP and applicants – no paper and mailing envelopes
  • Better efficiency for DEP staff, applications can more easily be moved between staff to prevent backlog
  • Allows DEP staff to continue to process applications without going into an office, ensuring continued operations through pandemic conditions

Guidance for the new permit application is available by clicking here and instructions for applicants to submit permit fees is available by clicking here.

PUC Announces Public Input Hearings for PSWA Rate Increase Requests

telephonic hearings

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) has announced six telephonic hearings in early July to gather public input on rate increases proposed by the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority (PWSA) – for water and wastewater services to approximately 80,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers in Pittsburgh and surrounding communities.

Telephonic public input hearings for PWSA’s requests are scheduled for the following dates and times:

  • Tuesday, July 7, 2020 – Hearings will begin at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.
  • Wednesday, July 8, 2020 – Hearings will begin at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.
  • Thursday, July 9, 2020 – Hearings will begin at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Administrative Law Judges Mary Long and Emily DeVoe will preside over the hearings.

Individuals who wish to testify at the telephonic public input hearings must register by Monday, July 6 at 1 p.m., either by calling Pennsylvania Office of Consumer Advocate (OCA) toll free at 1-800-684-6560, or by logging onto PWSA’s hearing registration website and completing the registration form. On the day of the hearings, consumers will testify in the order they signed up. 

If you do not wish to testify, but want to listen to the public input hearings, you may contact OCA by 1 p.m. on Monday, July 6 to obtain call-in information or use PWSA’s hearing link at any time to listen to any of the public input hearings.

Under the request filed by PWSA, a multi-year rate increase for water service would increase total annual operating revenues for water service by approximately $30.2 million (27.5%), effective January 1, 2021, and by approximately $7.2 million (5.7%), effective January 1, 2022.

PWSA has also filed a multi-year request to increase rates for wastewater service, increasing total annual operating revenues for wastewater service by approximately $13.6 million (21.8%), effective January 1, 2021, and by approximately $6.7 million (9.7%), effective January 1, 2022.

The combined proposals submitted by PWSA would increase the typical residential water and wastewater bill (for a customer using 3,000 gallons per month) from $72.49 to $86.31 per month (19.1%) in 2021.

In 2022, the PWSA proposals would increase that same monthly residential water and wastewater bill from $86.31 to $91.71 (6.26%).

The PUC offers tips on how to participate in a public input hearing, including:

  • Prepare what you are going to say beforehand. Even though it is not required, you may want to write out your statement, which can be read.
  • Any formal testimony that is offered during the hearing will become part of the record on which the PUC will issue its final decision.
  • Understand that parties in the case may want to ask you a question to clarify something you said.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission balances the needs of consumers and utilities; ensures safe and reliable utility service at reasonable rates; protects the public interest; educates consumers to make independent and informed utility choices; furthers economic development; and fosters new technologies and competitive markets in an environmentally sound manner.

Visit the PUC’s website at www.puc.pa.gov for recent news releases and video of select proceedings.

Tips to Protect Seniors from Financial Abuse

The Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities (DoBS) reminds all Pennsylvanians about signs of senior financial exploitation and ways to help prevent this type of abuse.

While elder financial abuse can happen at any time, perpetrators often strike during times in a senior’s life when they may be more vulnerable, such as during a health crisis or after the death of a loved one. Scammers often gather personal details from obituaries and social media posts and use this information to target their victims. Some even will exploit trust within seniors’ social and support groups to become more involved in their lives.

Warning signs of senior financial exploitation can be difficult to identify or recognize. Common signs to watch for include:

  • A new and overly protective friend or caregiver or surrendering control of finances to a new friend or partner.
  • Fear or sudden change in feelings about somebody.
  • A lack of knowledge about financial status or reluctance to discuss financial matters.
  • Sudden or unexplained changes in spending habits, a will, trust, or beneficiary designations.
  • Unexplained checks made out to cash, unexplained loans, or unexplained disappearance of assets (cash, valuables, securities, etc.). Also watch for suspicious signatures on the senior’s checks or other documents.

How You Can Help:

  • Contact older family members, friends, and neighbors to let them know you are thinking of them. While in-person visits may not be possible yet, call or leave a note on their front door. If they have the technology, send them a text or email, or video chat.
  • Inform older family members to know that fraudsters and scammers have found ways to exploit the pandemic. Make them aware of the red flags of fraud, which remain consistent regardless of the fraud or scam.
  • Act! DOBS asks anyone with suspicions of possible senior financial exploitation to report it by calling the 24-hour statewide abuse hotline at 1-800-490-8505. If you believe you have fallen victim to a scam, contact local law enforcement.

The Department of Aging’s Protective Services Office and Office of Long-Term Care (LTC) Ombudsman continue to prevent abuse of older Pennsylvanians during and beyond the pandemic. The Protective Services Office continues to respond to and investigate reports of abuse and neglect of older adults, including reports of financial exploitation. The LTC Ombudsman has also served as a source of protection against financial abuse, responding to consumer complaints of long-term care facilities requesting that residents surrender part or all of their federal stimulus check to pay for services. Families who have concerns about residents’ stimulus checks can call the LTC State Ombudsman at 717-783-8975.

For more detailed information related to financial scams and tips for protecting yourself, DoBS has developed a financial scams guide. Learn more about the free, non-commercial programs and presentations available virtually for your organization or community by contacting informed@pa.gov.

The DoBS Investor Education and Consumer Outreach Office works with state and local government agencies, service providers, community and trade organizations, the General Assembly, the military community, schools, and other partners to help Pennsylvanians across the commonwealth become well-informed about the financial marketplace.

Resources for Helping Kids and Parents Cope Amidst COVID-19

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry offers resources that can assist children and parents coping during the COVID-19 pandemic. These resources include how to talk to children about coronavirus; talking to children about sick adults and lost loved ones; supporting parents of children with disabilities; general coping tips; activities for children and much more. To view these resources please click here or visit the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry online at www.aacap.org.

Fish-for-Free Day

Fish-for-Free Day

The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission (PFBC) wants to remind everyone that Saturday, July 4 is a Fish-for-Free Day in Pennsylvania in celebration of Independence Day.  Fish-for-Free Days allow anyone (resident or non-resident) to legally fish on Pennsylvania waterways on the designated days with no fishing license required. Trout/Salmon and Lake Erie permits are also not required.  All other fishing regulations still apply. Those regulations can be viewed by clicking here.

Did You Know…

Did you know that in 2019 in Pennsylvania more than 1.2 million fishing licenses were sold?

New Tool Helps Port Authority Customers Social Distance

Room2RideThe Port Authority of Allegheny County has launched a new online tool to help riders plan trips with safe social distancing in mind. The Room2Ride tool shows riders how many other people they can expect on their bus when it gets to their stop by providing color-coded results based on the vehicle capacity limits established as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The tool can be found at www.PortAuthority.org/Room2Ride.

In April, the Port Authority set vehicle capacity limits to encourage social distancing and provide riders more space to spread out:

  • 10 riders on a 35-foot bus
  • 15 riders on a 40-foot bus
  • 25 riders on a 60-foot articulated bus or light rail

Using two weeks of historical data, Room2Ride shows how many riders have been on a particular trip at scheduled bus stop times points:

  • Blue means the vehicle capacity is below the capacity limit
  • Gray means the vehicle is at the limit
  • Orange means the vehicle is above the limit

Room2Ride will be updated weekly and will reflect new capacity limits as coronavirus restrictions ease.

The Port Authority already provides real-time vehicle capacity information with TrueTime, an online trip planning and vehicle tracking tool, which can be found at www.PortAuthority.org/TrueTime.

For more information, riders are encouraged to contact Port Authority Customer Service by calling 412-442-2000, on Twitter @pghtransitcare or via Live Chat at www.portauthority.org.

Fontana Fact

Riverview Park on Pittsburgh’s Northside was created in 1894, predating the City of Allegheny’s annexation to the City of Pittsburgh in 1907. Formed largely from farmland, today’s Riverview Park is known for its dense woodlands and steep topography. Nestled between Perrysville Avenue, Woods Run and Marshall Avenue, the 259-acre park is known for its wooded trails and dramatically steep hillsides.

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