In this Update:
Bills Passed in 2021: Pandemic Recovery
This fall, the Senate continued its work to lead Pennsylvania from pandemic to recovery by passing legislation extending waivers of an array of regulatory statutes, rules and regulations that were implemented during the COVID-19 response.
This regulatory flexibility ensured continuation of the safe delivery of health care and assistance to vulnerable citizens, permitted more remote work for state-licensed businesses, and more.
Earlier this year, the Senate approved a resolution carrying out the will of voters and terminating the pandemic emergency declaration, ending the governor’s power to close employers, limit occupancy, suspend state statutes or issue stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19. Voters got the chance to weigh in after the Senate approved putting the issue on the May primary ballot.
The Senate also approved the allocation of emergency funds for schools impacted by the pandemic, aid for rental and utility bills, and assistance to support Pennsylvania’s struggling restaurants and taverns coping with the devastation created by the pandemic and the governor’s mandated closings and restrictions.
You can find a complete rundown of key pandemic response bills here.
Funding Available to Improve High-Speed Internet Access in Rural PA
Applications will be accepted until Feb. 22, 2022 for up to $1.15 billion in loans and grants to help people in rural areas get access to high-speed internet.
Those eligible for the funding, which is being made available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Program, include state and local governments, corporations, limited liability companies and cooperative organizations.
The funding is available for projects that serve rural areas where at least 90% of the households lack broadband service at speeds of 100/20 Mbps. Priority is given to projects that will serve people in low-density rural areas and areas lacking internet access services at speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps.
You Can Give the Gift of Education
More than 80% of parents would welcome contributions to a 529 college savings plan for their children, but less than half will ask family members and friends for such gifts, according to a survey from the College Savings Foundation.
Anyone can contribute to a child’s PA 529 account with a Ugift code, and gift contributions may be deductible from PA state income taxes. If you already have a PA 529 account for your child, you can share your Ugift code by email with family and friends who wish to contribute to your child’s education savings.
You can learn more about starting to save with PA 529 accounts at pa529.com. There are two plans to help families save, including the PA 529 Investment Plan, with earnings tied to financial markets, and the PA 529 Guaranteed Savings Plan, where earnings are tied to tuition inflation. Families can choose the plan that best meets their savings goals.
Look Out for Holiday Charity Scams
Many people are donating to charitable organizations this time of the year, and scam artists prey on this generosity by masquerading as charities and pocketing the donations.
The Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities and Pennsylvania Department of State offer these Red Flags of Charity Scams:
You can find more tips on charitable giving here. Anyone can contact the Department of Banking and Securities at 1-800-PA-BANKS (1-800-722-2657) to ask questions or file complaints about financial transactions, companies or products.
VA Alerts Veterans About Printing and Mailing Delays Affecting Claims
Many veterans have been experiencing long delays with receiving correspondence from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
The VA announced that due to supply chain issues and staffing shortages, the vendor contracted to provide printing services for the VA is experiencing delays in printing and mailing notification letters to veterans and claimants, with the disruption potentially impacting the ability of some claimants to meet required deadlines via written correspondence with the VA.
In response to the mailing delays and to protect the best interest of claimants, the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) is extending its response period by 90 calendar days for claimants with letters dated between July 13, 2021 and Dec. 31, 2021.
If a claimant does not reply to a time-limited notification, such as making an election of benefits or services or reporting for a scheduled compensation and pension examination, VBA will not take adverse action to deny, reduce or terminate benefits and services unless: 1) the claimant is contacted and there is documentation of his or her right to respond; 2) the requested information has been received; or 3) the response period has lapsed.
Veterans and claimants with questions can contact the VA at 800-827-1000.