In this update:
Urging federal government to restore the ideal of the American Dream
This week, I teamed up with Sen. Devlin Robinson urging our colleagues to sign onto our forthcoming resolution urging the federal government to rescind their recent policy which punishes homebuyers with good credit.
On May 1, the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) unilaterally adopted a policy that increases fees on homebuyers with good credit, who place large down payments, while rewarding borrowers with bad credit and small down payments.
I am extremely concerned with what this policy does: you play by the rules and do things the right way but get penalized for it. Sen. Robinson and I are seeking support from our colleagues to urge the FHFA to rescind this policy.
Our state treasurer, Stacy Garrity, is doing this on a national level. She has teamed up with other state treasurers urging the FHFA to rescind this policy, asking to focus on policies that will fix the issues at hand, like non-stop inflation and sky-high interest rates.
You can find out more about our effort here.
Safeguarding taxpayer funded public assistance from waste, fraud and abuse
A package of bills to better protect taxpayer dollars spent on public assistance from fraud and abuse passed the Senate this week. The bills were sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Bill 243 would ensure that Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medical Assistance benefits are not spent on the deceased. It would require the Department of Human Services to check death certificates with the Department of Health’s Bureau of Vital Statistics. A state audit found 2,324 Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cardholders received benefits after they passed away.
Senate Bill 244 would require the Department of Human Services to compare income and employment records held by the Department of Labor and Industry with recipients of SNAP and medical assistance benefits to prevent fraud. According to the Office of the State Inspector General, 85 Pennsylvanians have been charged with public assistance fraud in 2023.
Senate Bill 245 would update the Public Assistance Integrity Act to require the Department of Human Services to issue a yearly report on its efforts to ensure lottery winners are not receiving cash benefits. The Public Assistance Integrity Act closed a loophole that did not require lottery winnings to be considered as income when determining eligibility for benefits.
Prohibiting drug injection sites in PA communities
As part of our ongoing effort to strengthen Pennsylvania by advancing policies to foster healthy and safe communities, the Senate passed a bill to prohibit drug “injection sites” in our communities.
Such sites do not help to overcome addiction. They encourage the continued use of illegal – and often deadly – drugs and attract drug dealers who sell to those entering the sites, which operate under a “bring your own drugs” policy. Drug trafficking occurs in plain sight, and drug-related violence increases as dealers protect their turf.
These sites have very poor track records of moving those with substance use disorders into treatment, with some referral rates as low as 1%. They are counterproductive to finding the appropriate strategy to curb the drug abuse epidemic. Rather than sending the incorrect message that illegal drugs can be used safely, we must focus on adequately funding treatment and community-based recovery support services.
Fighting crime to ensure safe communities
To fight crime that threatens safe communities, the Senate approved legislation to crack down on the unchecked crime crisis plaguing Philadelphia’s mass transit system.
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) is the sixth largest mass transit agency in the United States and provides essential transit services for one-third of Pennsylvania’s population. Riders and SEPTA employees have raised alarms on the rising number of people addicted to drugs, experiencing homelessness and suffering from serious mental illness.
Senate Bill 140 would require the Pennsylvania Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor from a county of the first class to re-institute prosecutorial jurisdiction when heinous crimes occur on SEPTA’s property. This prosecutor will address the sweeping inaction of the current Philadelphia District Attorney and ensure scofflaws will answer for their crimes since the current DA has a systemic record of failing to prosecute assaults on victims.
Preventing tax increases and keeping tax dollars local
The Commuter Tax Fairness Act, passed by the Senate, would limit the tax burden for Pennsylvanians by adjusting Philadelphia’s City Wage Tax for non-city residents.
Rather than folks working in Philadelphia paying Philadelphia an income tax AND than having to pay even more local taxes for their communities, this bill restores the equal footing expectation that all municipalities can address their fiscal obligations.
York City, Lancaster City, Pittsburgh, Allentown and Erie all do not have the benefit of double taxation, so this bill does provide tax relief inasmuch as it eliminates double taxation and restores the duty to manage municipal resources to the residents of each municipality.
Currently, the 3.44% city wage tax is imposed on salaries, wages, commissions, and other compensation paid to people working for a Philadelphia employer. Non-residents – even those who work remotely and never go into the city – are forced to pay the full Philadelphia City Wage Tax if their employer is based in the city.
With the passage of the Commuter Tax Fairness Act, the Philadelphia City Wage Tax for non-residents would remain 3.44% but 1% could be redirected to the workers’ home municipalities for municipalities that have an earned income tax. The change would reduce the increased burden placed on others living in surrounding municipalities who must pay more for basic services like fire, police and emergency medical services because none of Philadelphia’s City Wage Tax is shared.
Pennsylvanians’ tax dollars should stay local and help their communities, not be diverted to another part of the state. The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate approves measure to stop abuse of housing voucher program
Some people in Pennsylvania are unfairly manipulating the Housing Choice Voucher program, commonly referred to as Section 8, for their own benefit, which hurts those with a legitimate need who follow the rules.
The Senate approved Senate Resolution 45 urging the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to address abuse of the porting process in the program.
Porting is the process by which a family can transfer their Housing Choice Voucher rental subsidy when they move to a location outside the jurisdiction of the agency that provided the voucher.
Individuals circumvent wait lists for in-demand areas by claiming residency in other places, obtaining vouchers, staying for a few months and leaving, opening the door for more individuals to take advantage of the system. Porting also burdens schools and health and human services providers.
Stocking York County streams with PA Fish and Boat
Last week, Reps. Wendy Fink, Joe D’Orsie and I joined the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and local volunteers to stock trout in York County streams. We started in Craley, stocking Fishing Creek and made our way down to the Felton area to stock North Branch Muddy Creek.
We had a great time talking with the volunteers, many who said they enjoy stocking fish more than actually catching the fish, and have been volunteering for years!
Check out my conversation with conservation officer, Carl Maise, on trout stocking in York County.
You can find more information, including stocking schedules and fishing licenses here.
You can find more pictures on my Instagram here.
Hosting Dallastown junior, Olivia Lowry: 2023 PA High School Speech League Champion
It was an honor to host and introduce Dallastown High School junior, Olivia Lowry, during PA Senate session this week. Olivia is the 2023 Pennsylvania High School Speech League Champion in the Lincoln-Douglas Debate!
Congratulations again Olivia!
You can find her guest introduction here.
Grants to improve access to healthy food
Schools and childhood education centers may apply for up to $15,000 per school for a PA Farm Bill Farm-to-School Grant for projects to improve access to healthy, local foods. The money can also be used to increase hands-on learning experiences for children in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.
Farm-to-School Grants enrich the connection between families and local producers of fresh, healthy food by changing food purchasing habits in schools. Projects increase access to markets for local farms and expose children early to agriculture, agriculture careers and healthy food choices.
Grant applications must be submitted online here by May 19 at 5 p.m.
Recognizing national mental health awareness month
Mental Health Awareness Month has been observed in the United States since 1949 to fight stigma, provide support, educate the public and advocate for policies that support millions of Americans impacted by mental health challenges.
Senate Republicans have pushed for investments in mental health, and that push continued last year as we fought for mental health financial support to schools, funding for more support staff in nursing facilities and workforce recruitment and retention payments for frontline workers. We also worked to pass important legislation last session to allow for greater access to drug and alcohol programs.
My colleagues and I will continue to make mental health funding a priority this legislative session.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health challenges, find resources here.
Good Luck to PA Horse in the Kentucky Derby
Congratulations to Angel of Empire, the three-year-old colt that started racing in 2022 and is headed to the Kentucky Derby.
The thoroughbred racehorse was born and raised at Blackstone Farm in Pine Grove in Schuylkill County. His win in the Arkansas Derby made him a horse to watch in the Run for the Roses. The colt will try to become the third Pennsylvania-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby after Lil E. Tee in 1992 and Smarty Jones in 2004.
Good luck to Angel of Empire in the Kentucky Derby, which will begin on Saturday, May 6, at 6:57 p.m.
Upcoming PennDOT maintenance projects
You can view PennDOT’s list of scheduled maintenance projects for next week below. If you have trouble viewing the schedule, please click here.
The Senate of Pennsylvania reconvenes on Monday, May 8, at 1 p.m. Follow me on Twitter for all of the latest updates on session convening times. You can watch all of the Senate votes and view our agenda here.