Apr. 01, 2020 / Weekly Roundup

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#Listrak\DateStampLong# The latest news from the State Capitol
COVID-19 Update: April 2
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.

According to administration officials, staff from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency will reach out to potential applicants to review the application process and necessary documentation. As the response period for the COVID-19 outbreak is continuing, the process will take weeks. All reimbursements are handled electronically.

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 office is currently closed to in-person service, we remain available to serve you by phone or internet. Please call 717-534-1323. However, due to the overabundance of calls my office is receiving, please leave a message if your call is not answered. Someone will get back to you as soon as possible. You can also contact me through my website at www.RepMehaffie.com.

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.

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry has a page with information about unemployment claims, which have reached record levels. You can access that page here.
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 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 also available to nonprofits and veterans organizations. Read more here.

Small business owners can learn about loans from the Small Business Administration here. A separate program through the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry, the Working Capital Access Program, is no longer accepting applications.

The 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.

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 at 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. 

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.

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.

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.

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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159-B East Wing | PO Box 202106 | Harrisburg, PA 17120-2106 | Phone: (717) 787-2684
Email  Address: TMehaffie@pahousegop.com