In this Update:
Budget Hearing Q&A: Week of April 10, 2023
This week the Senate Appropriations Committee wrapped up three weeks of public hearings on the proposed 2023-24 state budget. This week, I spoke with Community & Economic Development (DCED), Corrections/Parole Board, Human Services and Budget Office/General Services. Topics of discussion included local economic development organizations, U.S. defense dollars, teaching inmate farming skills, children’s health insurance programs and more.
For more information about the budget, hearing schedule and more click here.
License Plate Replacement Event
2023 Governor’s Awards for Local Government Excellence
This week we celebrated Local Government Week in PA where we honor and recognize local officials for their successes in undertaking innovative initiatives to improve the quality of life in their communities. The Governor’s Awards for Local Government Excellence is a celebration of successful local government initiatives in many areas. In total, 28 local government leaders and communities from across the state received awards to recognize their achievements.
This year, we congratulate the Douglass Township (Montgomery Count) Board of Supervisors for being awarded the 2023 Innovative Community/ Governmental Initiatives Award! The Board of Supervisors in Douglass Township worked alongside the Douglass Township Emergency Services Board, solicitor, engineer, and the members of Gilbertsville Fire and Rescue Services to develop an innovative plan to establish a near-centralized emergency services building.
By combining services into one location, emergency services can share facilities, improve technology, increase productivity, and increase employee and volunteer morale. As a result of this project, emergency services, along with recruitment and retention, have significantly improved in the volunteer fire and rescue services!
Congratulations to all the award recipients working diligently to make PA a great place to live! You can find the list of the award recipients here.
(Pictured left to right: Lieutenant Governor Austin Davis, Senator Tracy Pennycuick, Township Manager Peter J. Hiryak, BOS Chairman Joshua Stouch, Emergency Service Coordinator Andrew Duncan.)
Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority Approves Guidelines for $200 Million Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program, Will Begin Accepting Applications in May
The federal funding will help Pennsylvania expand broadband in unserved/underserved areas
Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority (Authority) Executive Director Brandon Carson announced the approval of grant guidelines for the Pennsylvania Broadband Infrastructure Program, which will provide $200 million in funding to businesses, non-profits, local government, and economic development organizations. The guidelines will be posted on the Authority’s website on Monday, April 10, 2023 and the application process for this program will open on May 10, 2023.
Too many communities lack access to high-speed internet, and many more cannot afford it. This creates a divide between those who have internet access and those who do not. From day one, Governor Josh Shapiro has said extending and expanding access to broadband across the commonwealth and making connection more reliable and affordable is a top priority of the Shapiro Administration.
The Pennsylvania Broadband Infrastructure Program, funded through the Capital Projects Fund, will fund line extension and development projects, as well as large-scale regional infrastructure projects. Upon completion, projects must deliver service that meets or exceeds symmetrical download and upload speeds of 100 Megabits per second, with prioritization being given to fiber-optic deployment. Projects must include a viable sustainability strategy to maintain, repair, and upgrade networks to ensure their continued operation.
“The Authority is pleased to provide this funding to achieve last-mile connections and increase speed for underserved and unserved regions in Pennsylvania,” said Executive Director Carson. “This is the first grant program the Authority is offering, and we look forward to seeing the impact it makes as we work to close the Commonwealth’s digital divide.”
Key Program requirements include:
The application period will begin May 10, 2023, and will close July 10, 2023, at 11:59 PM. The Authority expects to award grants prior to the end of 2023. Funded projects must reach substantial completion ― defined as services being delivered to end users ― by December 31, 2026. The program will be administered in accordance with U.S. Treasury guidelines and Act 96 of 2021.
For more information about the Pennsylvania Broadband Development Authority, visit the Authority’s website.
DMVA Alerts Veterans, Advocates About Scammers Looking to Poach Military Pensions
PACT Act Law Provides New Target for Poachers
Pennsylvania veterans and their advocates should be aware of scammers looking to poach their military pensions, warns the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA). Pension Poaching is financial exploitation often targeting veterans who are age 65 or older, or veterans who are disabled and may be receiving monthly pension payments from the DMVA and\or the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
“Older veterans may be the prime target for scammers, but all veterans and their advocates should be vigilant when seeking assistance with benefits earned through military service,” said Joel Mutschler, director, DMVA Bureau of Veterans Programs, Initiatives, Reintegration and Outreach. “The best way to avoid being scammed is for veterans to use an accredited veteran service officer when applying for benefits. These trusted counselors do not charge for their services, and always look after the best interest of veterans.”
Veteran pension poaching occurs when scammers, unscrupulous players or dishonest financial planners charge veterans or their advocates for assistance in applying for or submitting applications for military pensions. The scheme often involves financial maneuvers such as advising claimants to hide their assets in trusts or annuity products sometimes resulting in lost investments and lucrative fees paid to the advisor.
Mutschler said veterans and advocates should be especially vigilant now about PACT Act-related scams. The new PACT Act law expands VA health care and benefits for veterans exposed to burn pits, Agent Orange, and other toxic substances.
Here is how veterans and advocates can protect against PACT Act scams:
Mutschler said he wants to make clear that veterans or their advocates should never pay for the following:
There are approximately 200 veteran service officers in Pennsylvania who work within organizations such as the DMVA, county veterans affairs offices and several veterans service organizations.
Experienced or suspect a pension scam? Call (717) 783-1944, email PAvets@attorneygeneral.gov, or submit a complaint online at www.attorneygeneral.gov. You can also report any VA-related scam to the VA benefits hotline at 800-827-1000.
Senate Concludes State Budget Hearings
The Senate Appropriations Committee this week finished three weeks of public hearings about the proposed 2023-24 state budget.
Gov. Josh Shapiro proposed a $45.8 billion budget that would increase spending by $1.3 billion and all but deplete the state’s Rainy Day Fund in five years.
Among the key points from this week’s hearings:
Workforce issues, the state’s tax structure and the need to help businesses grow and stay in Pennsylvania drove the conversation during the Department of Community and Economic Development hearing.
The Department of Corrections/Pennsylvania Parole Board hearing covered the state’s recidivism rate and declining inmate population. The costs associated with the 750 vacancies in the Department of Corrections – which results in increased use of overtime – and efforts to protect inmates from human trafficking were also discussed.
Questions about how the Department of Human Services is handling reduced federal emergency funding were raised during the hearing. The conversation also covered the Shapiro Administration’s request for state taxpayers to backfill millions of dollars cut by the Biden Administration.
The Senate will use findings from the hearings to craft an alternative spending plan to the governor’s, with the aim of enacting a final 2023-24 state budget.
You can find video and recaps of every budget hearing at PASenateGOP.com.
Monthly Appropriations Update Shows Lagging Sales Tax Collections
Each month, the Senate Appropriations Committee prepares an update about the state’s financial health. The most recent report shows that sales and use tax (SUT) collections were $25 million, or 2.3%, below estimate for the month. Perhaps more importantly, March’s SUT collections were below March 2022’s collections.
SUT is the second-largest source of revenue for the General Fund and is mostly due on a “pay-as-you-go” basis throughout the year. Closely monitoring these collections for continued weakness could help signify any potential slowing of the economy.
The full update, including the monthly revenue report, is available here.
Safely Dispose of Unused Prescriptions on April 22
Conveniently remove opioids and other unused medicines from your home on Saturday, April 22, as part of the National Prescription Drug Take Back Day.
More than 13 tons of prescription drugs were disposed of across Pennsylvania in the Prescription Drug Take Back Day held last October.
Find a location to safely dispose of unused drugs here.
Farmers, Help PA Claim Federal Funding
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is collecting responses for the 2022 Census of Agriculture, which impacts funding priorities for numerous programs. Any farmers who have not returned their questionnaires are encouraged to respond by mail or online here.
In addition to directing the use of tax dollars, the census data also informs decisions about policy, farm and conservation programs, infrastructure and rural development, research, education and more.
State Grant Deadline is May 1 for PA College Students
The deadline for students and families to submit their applications for the 2023-24 Pennsylvania State Grant program is May 1. This deadline applies to all renewal applicants and first-time applicants who plan to enroll in a degree program or other college or university (excluding community colleges).
To apply for a Pennsylvania State Grant, applicants must first complete the 2023-24 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Applicants can access the FAFSA online at www.PHEAA.org/FAFSA or www.fafsa.gov. Completing the FAFSA online saves time and reduces application and processing errors.
Students and families with questions about the FAFSA or the State Grant Program can call 800-692-7392 for personal assistance.
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