In This Update:
Wolf Administration Announces Plan to Add Tolls to Nine Existing PA Bridges
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) unveiled a proposal last week to toll nine existing bridges on the Interstate System. The plan raised serious concerns since it was done unilaterally by the Wolf Administration without any sense of transparency or accountability, and without the input or authorization of the General Assembly.
Eight of the nine bridges are in Senate Districts represented by Republicans. The tolling proposal would impact the following bridges:
Imposing these bridge tolls will negatively impact the people who use those highways as part of their daily commute — just as surely as if we would impose any of the other taxes that the governor wants to levy as part of his budget this year. Legislation will be proposed soon to reform the statute that PennDOT is utilizing to push this plan forward and prevent new tolling without proper transparency and oversight.
Lawmakers Authorize Use of PA National Guard to Distribute COVID-19 Vaccine
The Senate voted recently to authorize the use of the Pennsylvania National Guard to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine. The bill would allow the National Guard to operate under the guidance of the Pennsylvania Departments of Health and Human Services to help collect, secure and transport doses of the vaccine.
In addition, National Guard members who have the necessary training would be permitted to administer the vaccine to Pennsylvanians who want to receive it. The proposal could help improve Pennsylvania’s troubled roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine. The state currently ranks 46th in the nation in terms of the percentage of distributed vaccines that have been administered.
Senate Approves Bill to Generate More Private Donations to Support Veterans
Pennsylvanians could donate more money to help veterans under a bill the Senate approved on Wednesday. The legislation would increase the donation amounts to the Veterans’ Trust Fund when Pennsylvanians renew a driver’s license, ID card or vehicle registration.
The bill would increase the donation amount from $3 to $5, or from $6 to $10 when applying for a two-year vehicle registration. All donations support grants to county directors of veterans’ affairs, veterans’ service organizations and other charitable organizations that provide assistance, shelter and living necessities to veterans and their families.
Legislation Would Create Medals of Commendation for Firefighters, Law Enforcement, EMS
The Senate passed legislation this week that would create a new way to honor members of law enforcement, firefighters, and EMS personnel who demonstrate uncommon heroism in the line of duty. The bill would establish special medals of commendation to be awarded to members of these organizations who are injured or killed in the line of duty, or who demonstrate exceptional gallantry, heroism and bravery in the face of life-threatening circumstances.
The color of each medal – the Star of Valor, Heart and Medal of Ultimate Sacrifice – would coordinate with the respective program: blue for law enforcement, red for firefighters, and white for EMS personnel.
Senate Passes Bill to Boost Farmland Preservation
Pennsylvania’s farmland preservation efforts could take a critical step forward under legislation approved by the Senate on Tuesday. The bill would help generate new funding for the program without placing additional burdens on taxpayers.
The legislation dedicates a portion of existing farmland preservation funding to private land trusts – groups that take stewardship over a property with the permission of the landowner. Land trusts would be required to provide matching funds, which would make more resources available to preserve farms.
Monroe County COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program – NOW AVAILABLE
Financial help is on the way for the hospitality industry, bars and restaurants in Monroe County. The County Commissioners applied for and anticipate receiving $1.9 Million through Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program (CHIRP). This funding was recently made available by the State Senate to help the hospitality industry. In Monroe County the grant program will be administered by Pocono Mountains Industries, Inc. known as PMEDC. The program will make available grants, not loans, ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 for eligible businesses within the hospitality industry that has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation Claimants Must File by March 12
The Mixed Earners Unemployment Compensation program provides an additional $100 in weekly benefits for claimants who earned at least $5,000 in net income from self-employment. Claimants must submit acceptable documentation by March 12 to receive the extra benefits. The additional benefit applies from January 2 through March 13.
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claimants are not eligible for the program. Details on the program, applicable tax years and documentation are available here.
Around the 40th District
It was an honor to speak last week at the announcement of the Tom Bowditch Veteran Education Center and Museum in Mt. Pocono. I joined PA State Rep. Jack Rader and members of American Legion Post 903 to reveal a project years in the making.
Post 903 was formed about 10 years ago but up until recently was a nomadic post, with no true fixed location to operate from. Rather, the Post operated out of members’ homes and garages while they worked toward the goal of having a location of their own one day.
Last summer, Post 903 bought the former St. Mary’s of the Mount Church and Rectory which had been vacant for seven years. The plan is to turn the property into a post home that would include office space for area veterans service organizations and temporary housing for homeless veterans. The church will become the Tom Bowditch Veteran Education Center and Museum, in honor of the post’s late commander who sadly passed away in February 2020.
In time, the museum will house U.S. military equipment from various war eras and conflicts, along with a replica of the wall from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. A special exhibit space will be created to specifically honor Monroe County veterans, along with a display listing the names of every conflict or war the United States has been involved in during its history.
The rectory building will serve as a home to the post as well as the Monroe County Joint Veterans Honor Guard. Additional space will be used by various veteran service organizations including Operation Chillout and Disabled American Veterans (DAV) giving improved access to services for our veterans in that area of Monroe County.
American Legion Post 903 is currently seeking the public’s help in order to renovate the facility. For more information visit the post’s website.
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