In This Update:
COVID-19 Relief Bill Signed into Law
Last week, the Senate and the House of Representatives gave final approval to a bill that would provide financial relief for restaurants, schools, employers, and tenants impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The $912 million package allocates $569.8 million for Rental and Utility Assistance and $197 million for education programs through the use of federal funding, as well as $145 million in state funds to support Pennsylvania’s struggling hospitality industry.
Much of the funding in the COVID-19 relief package is targeted to individuals, employers and institutions that have not benefited from previous pandemic support programs.
The bill, which drew bipartisan support, was signed into law as Act 1 of 2021 last week. Guidelines on how to receive funding for rental and utility assistance, education funding and grants for restaurants and hospitality businesses are expected to be available in the weeks ahead.
Hearing Explores Serious Shortcomings in PA Vaccine Rollout
The Wolf Administration’s slow and troubled roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine has raised many questions from Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee and the Senate Aging and Youth Committee held a public hearing last week to take a closer look at these issues and learn about the challenges in getting the vaccine to eligible Pennsylvanians who want to receive it.
The hearing covered a wide range of issues, but the struggles of long-term care facilities to vaccinate residents and staff was the most prominent area of discussion. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control data tracker, Pennsylvania ranks 41st in the percentage of received COVID-19 vaccines administered.
In response to many of the issues raised during the hearing, Governor Wolf recently announced the creation of a new COVID-19 Vaccine Joint Task Force to ensure more accurate and timely information sharing between the Executive and Legislative branches of government.
Since the vaccine rollout began, I have been working to ensure that the residents of the 40th district are able to receive the vaccine asap. This includes both first and second doses. We have already seen too many flaws in the roll out and I will be working with the Wolf Administration to fix any issues that arise during this distribution. I will not stop until everyone who wants the vaccine has access to it.
Constitutional Amendment Limiting Emergency Declarations to be Decided by Voters
Voters in the May 18 primary election will decide whether future emergency declarations should be limited to 21 days unless an extension is approved by the General Assembly. The question will appear on the ballot this spring after the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the proposed constitutional amendment in two consecutive legislative sessions.
The change would prevent the kind of situation we have seen during the COVID-19 emergency, in which the governor has used the emergency declaration to suspend laws, shut down businesses and spend money without the authorization of the General Assembly.
The bill would not impact a governor’s ability to respond quickly to emergencies, nor would it jeopardize federal emergency aid. It would only ensure that the governor and the General Assembly work together to respond to a crisis and ensure all Pennsylvanians are represented during an extended state of emergency.
The bill also provides for a constitutional amendment prohibiting the denial of equal rights based on race or ethnicity, bringing the Pennsylvania Constitution in line with the U.S. Constitution.
Lawmakers Receive Update on PASSHE Redesign Efforts
The General Assembly approved a bill last year that allows the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) to modernize its operations in the face of declining enrollment and new financial pressures. The Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Education Committee held a public hearing with PASSHE Chancellor Dan Greenstein this week to discuss changes to the system, including integrating several universities and leveraging their collective strengths to boost career readiness for system graduates.
PASSHE is expected to present its system redesign proposal in April of this year, to be followed by a public comment period and phased implementation set for fall of 2022. The changes are expected to include uniting several universities within geographic regions, while keeping all campuses open, retaining programs and accreditation for students, and expanding learning opportunities for students.
HuntFishPA Platform Aims to Make Licensing More Convenient
Hunters, anglers and boaters will have a new way to purchase licenses, report harvests and more with the launch of the new HuntFishPA licensing platform. Visitors to www.HuntFish.pa.gov can purchase hunting and fishing licenses, permits, boat renewals and more from any device at any time and benefit from 24/7 call center support and new instructional videos.
The new platform replaces the previous licensing system known as The Outdoor Shop. All profile, purchase and user information was transferred to the new system, so prior users should be able to log in using their existing credentials.
Mortgage Assistance Grant Program Open to Monroe County Residents
In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development there is grant funding available for Monroe County residents for emergency mortgage assistance.
Under the Monroe County Emergency Mortgage Assistance Grant Program ELLIGIBLE applicants can receive a minimum 3 months of mortgage assistance, a maximum monthly assistance of $1,000 per month which is paid directly to the mortgage company. Applicants must meet qualifications in order to be eligible. To find out more information please call the Redevelopment Authority of the County of Monroe at 570-421-4300 or review the guidelines below.
Meeting a Local Hero
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to meet a tremendous young lady, Shea Stauffer. Shea who is only 7 years old is a hero. When her mother suffered a seizure in December Shea knew just what to do, she picked up the phone and called 911.
When Officer Daniel Marino of the Bushkill Township Police Department arrived at the home he asked Shea who contacted 911? She responded “I did. My mom taught me how to call 911 in case this happened.” First responders were amazed by how calm, cool, and collected Shea remained the entire time. It is because of her that her mother received the timely medical attention she needed.
I joined State Rep. Ann Flood in her office so that we could meet this local hero and to present her with a plaque to honor her bravery and quick thinking. You can read more about Shea’s story here.
Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center Administering COVID-19 Vaccine
Wilkes-Barre is now scheduling COVID-19 vaccine appointments for eligible Veterans who are 65 and older. Eligible Veterans include those who:
If you meet all the criteria listed above and are interested in receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, please call 570-830-7076 to schedule your appointment to receive the first dose of the COVID-19 Moderna vaccine at the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center. Please note, you must have a scheduled appointment to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Phone lines operational Monday – Friday 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM
Big Brothers Big Sisters of NEPA Annual Telethon
Now more than ever, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northeastern Pennsylvania needs your support to ignite the power and potential of youth. This year has reminded us just how important is it to have meaningful relationships with people in our community. Big Brothers Big Sisters exists to ensure that young people have someone in their corner, someone they can turn to during times like these. During the pandemic, Big Brothers Big Sisters continued to find innovative ways for Bigs and Littles to stay connected through virtual mentoring or one to one in person mentoring.
Tune in to Channel 13 Blue Ridge Cable or watch on YouTube from 6:00- 8:00 PM February 21, 2021 to hear from local mentors on their experience being a volunteer and to watch some very talented youth in Monroe County. You will see firsthand the impact of having a mentor and also see how you can help them in their mission. You can also visit beabigmonroe.com or call 570-824-8756 to help support them. During the telethon on February 21st you can call 570-228-2303 to donate.
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