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Senator Wayne D. Fontana

Moratorium on Evictions Extended

Financial Assistance for Renters and Homeowners

As I wrote about in last week's edition of my News & Views, Senate Democrats have focused on protecting homeowners and renters since this pandemic hit us in March, leading the charge to have a moratorium placed on foreclosures and evictions so people who lost income through no fault of their own still had a place to live. In recent weeks, our caucus reached out to the governor, requested he act again and extend the expiring moratorium on evictions for homeowners and renters. I’m pleased that we have been heard and that the governor is extending the moratorium through August 31.

The new executive order protects homeowners and renters from eviction or foreclosure until Aug. 31, if they have not received assistance from the new program administered by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) or are not already receiving relief through one of several federal foreclosure moratorium programs or judicial orders. Lenders and property owners that receive funds through the PHFA program agree not to pursue foreclosure or eviction actions as a condition of participation in the program.

In late May, with Senate Democrats leading the effort, the General Assembly directed $175 million of federal CARES dollars to the 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.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Federal Housing Finance Agency, including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have each extended eviction and foreclosure protections for housing under their authority to Aug. 31.

In almost all circumstances, renters and homeowners are required to continue making monthly payments if they can. Pennsylvanians struggling to make monthly payments should contact their landlord or mortgage servicer immediately. The governor’s executive order does not apply to proceedings regarding property damage or illegal activity.

The governor previously signed an executive order suspending evictions and foreclosures, which expired Friday. That action followed a Pennsylvania Supreme Court order which closed court eviction proceedings until May 11.

Mail-in Ballots

Mail-in Ballots

The Pennsylvania Department of State is accepting applications from voters for mail-in ballots for the Nov. 3 General Election. Applications can be requested online at www.votespa.com and must be received by the Allegheny County Elections Division by 5 p.m. on Oct. 27. But don’t wait! If you’d like to vote mail by this fall, you can apply today.

In addition to applying online, voters may also download a paper application by clicking here or visiting www.votespa.com. The completed paper application should be mailed to the Allegheny County Elections Division at: 542 Forbes Avenue, Suite 609, Pittsburgh, PA 15219.

As a reminder, unlike absentee ballots, which require an excuse that includes illness, disability or a known absence from the municipality where the voter lives, any voter can apply for a mail-in ballot.

In April, I introduced Senate Bill 1129 (SB 1129), legislation that would change Pennsylvania’s voting system so that all elections are conducted entirely by mail. As the June 2 Primary Election demonstrated, mail-in ballots are a safer and more efficient way of voting, especially as we continue to deal with this pandemic.

Under a bipartisan law approved last year, Act 77, Pennsylvanians already have the option of voting by mail. Beginning with this November’s general election, my legislation would conduct all elections exclusively by mail.

SB 1129 would require county election officials to mail ballots along with postage-free return envelopes to all registered voters weeks before an election. Voters could request a replacement ballot if they lose or misplace their ballot. Citizens could mail in their ballot any time prior to election day.

While I continue to support exclusive mail-in voting elections, I want to remind constituents about the availability of the mail-in voting option that currently exists.

Tax Deadline Tomorrow

Tax Deadline TomorrowThe Pennsylvania Department of Revenue wants to remind everyone who received more than $33 in total gross taxable income in calendar year 2019 about tomorrow’s deadline to file 2019 Pennsylvania personal income tax returns. The original April 15 deadline was extended 90 days due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The extension of this year’s tax-filing deadline to July 15 applied to both final 2019 tax returns and payments, as well as estimated payments for the first and second quarters of 2020. The department also waived penalties and interest on 2019 personal income tax payments through the new deadline of July 15.

Anyone needing assistance can reach the department’s Customer Experience Center by calling 717-787-8201 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The department also offers assistance through its Online Customer Service Center which can be accessed by clicking here. This online option provides taxpayers with answers to specific questions about 2019 personal income tax returns and the department’s electronic filing, or e-filing, options. It also provides an option to submit a question to a Department of Revenue representative through a secure, electronic process that is similar to sending an email.

As a reminder, tax returns that are filed electronically are processed faster, leading to taxpayers receiving their refunds sooner. Pennsylvanians can file their state tax returns by using the following paper-less e-filing options:

  • Padirectfile – a free, secure, state-only electronic income tax filing system, is available through the Department of Revenue’s website. For more information or to begin filing, please click here.
  • Electronic Filing Free – Free electronic filing options are available to file state and federal returns using software from a reputable vendor (income limits may apply). More vendor information is available on the department’s website.
  • Electronic Filing for a Fee – Paid tax preparers and commercial tax preparation software providers offer e-filing for a fee. E-filing offers advantages not available to taxpayers filing by paper, including error-reducing automatic calculators, instant confirmation of successful filing, faster refund processing and direct deposit options.

Taxpayers can request an extension to file a personal income tax return by submitting form REV-276.  The department automatically grants an extension to file when an extension is granted by the IRS. As a reminder, an extension to file is not an extension to pay tax that is due. If you feel you will owe tax, you should send a payment for the amount of tax you expect to owe. Make sure you record your Social Security number on the check with the notation that you are making an "extension payment" for the tax year.

Did You Know…

Did you know that according to the Internal Revenue Service, 90 percent of all Americans file their taxes online?

Fresh Food Financing Initiative COVID-19 Relief Fund

Fresh Food Financing Initiative COVID-19 Relief FundLast week, the Fresh Food Financing Initiative COVID-19 Relief Fund opened with $10 million available to for-profit, nonprofit, or cooperative entities impacted by COVID-19, including grocery stores, corner stores, convenience stores, neighborhood markets, bodegas, food hubs, mobile markets, farmers markets, on-farm markets, urban farms, and food aggregation centers with a direct connection to direct-to-consumer retail outlets.

To be eligible, more than 50 percent of sales must be from staple and perishable foods to consumers and the retailer must serve customers that live in a low-to-moderate income area. Applicants must also provide access to affordable, high-quality fresh produce, meat and dairy products and other healthy grocery items for low-to-moderate income shoppers, and must accept SNAP and WIC to the maximum extent possible.

In recognition of the disproportionate impacts of both COVID-19 and food apartheid on communities made up of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), and especially Black and African American communities, prioritization will be given to businesses owned by minorities and serving low-income BIPOC communities. Additional prioritization criteria include businesses located in or serving a USDA-designated food desert; businesses sourcing and selling Pennsylvania grown or processed products to the extent practicable; and applicants with supplier diversity and offering increased business opportunities for Minority Business Enterprises, Women Business Enterprises, Service-Disabled Veteran Business Enterprises, Veteran Business Enterprises, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Business Enterprises; and Disability-Owned Business Enterprises.

The program is administered by the Department of Agriculture in partnership with the Department of Community and Economic Development. Applications will be accepted through August 14, 2020. Grant funds will be distributed to eligible applicants for impacts related to COVID-19 that have been incurred between March 1, 2020 and November 30, 2020, such as:

  • Higher operating costs related to cleaning and social distancing requirements, including costs related to outside contracting associated with managing social distancing, limited occupancy, and cleaning;
  • Infrastructure improvements including renovation, new construction, or adaptive reuse directly related to COVID-19;
  • Equipment purchases that improve the availability of quality fresh food, such as additional refrigeration to manage volume, or personal protective equipment such as plexiglass dividers;
  • Inventory (higher cost of goods, higher transportation or delivery costs, or procuring Pennsylvania-grown produce, meat, and dairy products, or loss of product);
  • Innovative food access technology such as mobile or pop-up markets, or mobile EBT reader technology;
  • Costs to expand access to Pennsylvania grown or processed produce, dairy and meat products or provide stable market access for Pennsylvania farmers that have lost or limited markets; and
  • Other one-time or increased expenses incurred related to COVID-19.

For more information on this program including eligibility, award amounts, additional prioritizations and criteria, please visit https://www.agriculture.pa.gov/Food_Security/Pages/default.aspx.

COVID-19 Crisis Fire Company & EMS Grant Program

COVID-19 Crisis Fire Company & EMS Grant ProgramThe Pennsylvania Office of the State Fire Commissioner (OSFC) has opened the COVID-19 Crisis Fire Company & Emergency Medical Services Grant Program. This program establishes a one-time grant to be used by eligible Fire, Rescue and EMS companies to provide services during the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic as identified in the proclamation of disaster emergency issued by Gov. Wolf on March 6, 2020. 

These funds are to be used to supplement operational expenses incurred by the lack of opportunities for fundraising and inability to create revenue due to compliance with measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  A total of $50 million will be distributed by the COVID-19 Crisis FCEMS Grant Program from funds received by the Commonwealth under the federal CARES Act.  Of the $50 million, $44 million will be disbursed to eligible fire and rescue companies and $6 million to eligible EMS companies.

Fire, Rescue and EMS companies that received a grant award from the 2019-20 FCEMSGP and register for the COVID-19 Crisis grant program will receive an initial award equal to the amount they received from the 2019-20 FCEMSGP. The surplus funding in the program will be distributed to each eligible company that meets the funding criteria that submits a completed registration, including those that did not receive a 2019-20 FCEMSGP grant award.

Eligible companies seeking a grant under the program should submit a completed online grant registration to OSFC by clicking here. The online registration portal will remain open until Friday, Aug. 7 at 4 p.m.

Assistance with Finding Child Care, Summer Camps

Parents looking for child care programs or camps this summer in Allegheny County can find information through the Region 5 Early Learning Resource Center (ELRC) and a new child care tool, find.alleghenychildcare.org. The tool is a searchable database of current openings available at licensed child care programs and summer camp facilities around the county.

Users of the tool can search separately for camps or child care; they can also search by zip code to find locations that are most convenient. In addition, they can call the ELCR at 1-888-340-3577 or 412-350-3577 to talk with someone about their child care needs. Walk-in service at the Center’s main office downtown or at any of the satellite offices is currently suspended but began recently at most locations by appointment only. For a list of addresses and hours, please visit elrc5.alleghenycounty.us.

The ELRC is a partnership of the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL), the Alliance for Infants and Toddlers, and Trying Together that provides access to information and programs in support of early learning services for low-income families.

Fontana Fact

Pennsylvania currently has 121 state parks with its first state park opening in 1893. The 121 state parks cover approximately 295,000 acres and draw more than 39 million people 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