Apr. 03, 2020 / Weekly Roundup

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The Weekly Roundup
#Listrak\DateStampLong#  The latest news from the State Capitol
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Coronavirus Update: April 3

With the number of COVID-19 cases continuing to grow, the entire Commonwealth has now joined Carbon County in being placed under a “stay-at-home” order by Gov. Tom Wolf. The order will remain in effect through April 30.

As a reminder, essential activities under the order include going to the grocery store or pharmacy, visiting a health care professional or obtaining supplies you need to work from home. Residents may also travel to get necessary services or supplies for their family members, or volunteer to distribute meals or other life-sustaining services to those in need. Outdoor activities, such as walking or hiking, are permitted as long as you practice social distancing. For full guidance from the Wolf administration on the order, click here.

Also this week, Pennsylvania received a “major disaster” declaration from the federal government this week, making the Commonwealth eligible for additional funding support for state, county and municipal governments and certain nonprofits.

Under the declaration, eligible entities can receive reimbursement for up to 75% of eligible expenses related to the response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Eligible expenses can include but are not limited to costs associated with paying overtime, or materials and equipment purchases. The declaration also provides direct federal assistance, which provides federal materials and supplies to support state and local response efforts.

Other key developments this week related to COVID-19 include the extension of school closures indefinitely, the expansion of stay-at-home orders to more counties and a new end-date of April 30 for those orders.

News about COVID-19 is constantly changing. For real-time updates, please follow me on Facebook. A comprehensive collection of resources, including the state Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is also available at my website. While my district offices are currently closed to in-person service, we remain available to serve you by phone or internet. Please leave a message at 610-377-6363 (Weissport) or 570-722-8700 (Albrightsville) and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

If you received this email because it was forwarded to you, please visit my website to subscribe to receive regular updates. You can do so here. 

As state and federal health officials continue to remind us, it is important to stay calm and stay home if possible. If you are out at a grocery store or pharmacy, for example, be sure to practice social distancing (staying at least 6 feet apart) and promptly wash your hands (or use hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available).

It is also important to stay informed, so please take a moment to review some of the latest news and updates.
 
 
 
Notes About the Federal CARES Act

Last week, Congress approved and the president signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act into law. While this is a federal law, I wanted to share a few highlights:

Unemployment Compensation Update: Benefits for Self-Employed
Many people who are self-employed or working as private contractors are now eligible for unemployment benefits under the CARES Act. PLEASE NOTE: Claims for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program will be filed through the state Department of Labor and Industry; however, the application must be handled separately and is not yet available. As soon as the program is up and running, I will share information about how to apply. You should not file under the current system, as your claim will be rejected.

Economic Impact Checks
The majority of Americans will receive “economic impact” checks to help during these challenging times. Tax filers with adjusted gross income up to $75,000 for individuals and up to $150,000 for married couples filing joint returns will receive the full payment. For filers with income above those amounts, the payment amount is reduced by $5 for each $100 above the $75,000/$150,000 thresholds. Single filers with income exceeding $99,000 and $198,000 for joint filers with no children are not eligible. Most will need to take no action to receive the check.

PLEASE NOTE: the U.S. Treasury Department announced late Wednesday that Social Security beneficiaries who typically do not file a tax return will automatically get the $1,200 relief payment. This is a correction of prior guidance offered by the IRS.

Please be aware of any scammers contacting you asking for Social Security or bank account information; do not provide such information.
More guidance from the IRS is available here. 

Assistance for Employers, Small Business
To help small businesses keep their employees and stay open (or reopen), the federal CARES Act creates a “Paycheck Protection” program to provide eight weeks of cash-flow assistance through 100% federally guaranteed loans to small businesses that maintain their payroll. The program is open to small businesses, veterans organizations, sole proprietorships, self-employed individuals and independent contractors, so long as each entity has 500 or fewer employees. The application period for small businesses and sole proprietors will open on April 3. Self-employed individuals and contractors can apply starting on April 10. Read more here.  
 
 
 
SCAM WARNING

The Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General is warning that scammers may try to take advantage of recent news about a federal stimulus check to steal personal information. You are advised not to take unsolicited calls that claim to be about the COVID-19 pandemic or the federal stimulus, and report suspicious emails and calls to the attorney general at
scams@attorneygeneral.gov.
 
 
 
Teaching Our Kids Despite School Closures

The Wolf Administration announced this week schools will remain closed until further notice. To help ensure our children are continuing to learn at this challenging time, the Department of Education (PDE) has released a set of statewide resources educators can use to help teach their students. The resources secured by PDE are intended to help all schools that want to use them, including those not currently offering online platforms, those requiring additional technology support and those that may rely on traditional methods, such as paper lessons, to continue educating students. These additional resources follow the technical support that was formally initiated last week through the state’s intermediate units. Click here for more information. 

Also, the department is allocating up to $5 million in state funding for equity grants for schools to purchase computer equipment, such as laptops, tablets and internet hot spots, or to use toward providing instructional materials, such as paper lessons and coursework. The department will also allocate new federal money to these grants as the federal appropriations become available.

Schools with the highest percentages of students lacking access to resources will be given priority in receiving the grants. Grant applications will be available on April 6 and must be submitted through the PDE e-Grants system by April 10.


Finally, the department has partnered with Pennsylvania’s public television stations to provide instructional programming to students through the seven individual Public Broadcasting System (PBS) member stations in the state. Public television reaches over 12.4 million Pennsylvanians serving large diverse, rural and underserved audiences. These free “Learning at Home” resources are available to families and educators at https://www.learningathomepa.org. Additional information will be added as the partnership expands.
 
 
Other Notable News Regarding COVID-19

Food Distribution Assistance
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has granted a waiver to allow the Commonwealth to distribute more food at hundreds of locations across the state, while temporarily waiving the need to verify household eligibility. The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) will help provide critical food supplies to Pennsylvanians left unemployed or otherwise adversely affected as a result of statewide COVID-19 mitigation efforts through the state’s network of food banks, food pantries and pop-up distribution sites.

License to Carry Extension
If you have a license to carry permit that is set to expire as of March 19 or later, the Pennsylvania State Police announced this week those permits will remain valid through May 30. An additional extension may be considered as that date gets closer.

Emergency Medical Services Staffing Exceptions
To help ensure vital ambulance services remain ready and available to help people in need, the Department of Health has issued exceptions to several staffing requirements. Specifically, the minimum staffing complement for a Basic Life Support ambulance has been adjusted to one Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and a driver; the minimum staffing complement for an iALS ambulance has been adjusted to one Advanced Emergency Medical Technician (AEMT) and a driver; and the minimum staffing complement for an ALS ambulance has been adjusted to one Paramedic and an Emergency Medical Responder (EMR). The requirement that an Emergency Medical Services Vehicle Operator be credentialed in order to operate an EMS vehicle of any type, including QRS, is also suspended.

Be Counted! 2020 Census Underway Despite COVID-19
You probably already received a letter from the Census Bureau encouraging you to be counted, as it impacts our representation in Congress and how much federal funding comes here to help our state and communities. This year, you have the option of completing the Census online, by phone or the traditional paper questionnaire. The Census Bureau has suspended its field operations as a result of COVID-19, and workers looking to complete the more detailed surveys will be calling rather than visiting the homes of citizens designated to participate. However, it’s important for the Census to move forward with your participation. Learn more a www.pa.gov/census/.

Election Deadline Changes
As a result of legislation passed last week to postpone the primary election until June 2, you now have until May 18 to register to vote and until May 26 to sign up to vote by mail-in ballot. Click here for more information.

Transportation
PennDOT has further extended the expiration dates for driver licenses, identification cards, learner’s permits, persons with disability placards, vehicle registrations and safety and emission inspections. If you have a driver license, photo ID card or learner’s permit scheduled to expire between March 16 and April 30, it will now be valid through May 31. The same applies to vehicle registrations, safety inspections, emissions inspections and parking placards for people with disabilities. All Driver License Centers and Photo License Centers and the Harrisburg Riverfront Office Center are closed for counter service until further notice.

The Department also announced this week that work is continuing on 61 emergency and critical highway and bridge projects to ensure a reliable transportation system for the Commonwealth. Projects include things like landslide repairs; critical bridge, tunnel and drainage repairs; and work needed to eliminate roadway restrictions that could impede the movement of life-sustaining goods and services.

Housing
The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) is offering loan forbearance on the home loans it services for more than 60,000 borrowers across the state. Borrowers will not be charged any late fees during the forbearance period, and their credit rating will not be negatively impacted. The forbearance may be extended if homeowners are unable to resume full loan payments at the end of the forbearance period. PHFA has frozen evictions and foreclosure actions for all of its home loan customers who are delinquent on their mortgage accounts.

As the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) administrator for Pennsylvania, PHFA has also been in contact with apartment owners and managers who receive tax credits and provide affordable rents to their residents. The agency has strongly encouraged LIHTC recipients to be flexible with late payments from renters hurt by the current economic slowdown. Managers of these multifamily buildings have been asked to refrain from evictions during these difficult times.

Also this week, Attorney General Josh Shapiro stressed that Pennsylvanians cannot be evicted at this time. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered courts closed to eviction proceedings due to the COVID-19 state of emergency. The court’s order is applicable to all Pennsylvania property owners, managers and landlords, as well as mortgage brokers and lenders.

If you are facing challenges with your mortgage or rent payments, you are encouraged to contact your lender or landlord to discuss your payment options. If you believe you were wrongfully evicted from your home or wrongfully had your property foreclosed, you may file a complaint here. 

Finances
The Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities (DoBS) is warning of an anticipated surge in fraudulent investment schemes. Potential investors should be on the lookout for investments specifically tied to the threat of COVID-19, such as those falsely purporting to raise capital for companies manufacturing medical equipment or miracle cures; touting get-rich-quick schemes that will help pay basic expenses; and targeting retirees and senior citizens, promising to safely recoup any losses to their retirement portfolios. For tips on how to protect yourself from fraudulent investments, click here. 

Recreation
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) is encouraging boaters and paddlers to take advantage of a wealth of online educational resources. Many of these resources, designed to enhance knowledge of boating regulations and best safety practices, are free of charge, while some providers charge nominal fees for services. This online learning library can be accessed through a computer, phone or tablet. These online educational experiences will help the entire family learn how to be a safe boater and direct them to the best local boating or paddling destinations when you are ready to spend time on the water. For more information,
 click here.

 

 
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Office Locations
204B Bridge St., Weissport, PA 18235 | (610) 377-6363
2681 State Route 903, Unit 3, Albrightsville, PA 18210 | (570) 722-8700
Room 420 Irvis Office Building, PO Box 202122, Harrisburg, PA 17120-2122 | (717) 260-6139
Email: dheffley@pahousegop.com
TTY: 855-282-0614 
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