In this Update:
RACC Tour and Response To Governor’s Higher Education Proposal
Earlier this week I had the opportunity to tour Reading Area Community College (RACC) in downtown Reading. I was truly impressed by their entire campus and all their educational facilities. They offer first-rate courses from nursing and phlebotomy to electrical engineering and robotics on a very adaptive and user-friendly schedule with the most state-of-the-art technology. It is great to see RACC working cooperatively with the community and local businesses to provide the most up-to-date education and skills for their students. Thank you to Dr. Susan Looney for taking the time to show me around campus and updating me on the latest programs.
My tour yesterday coincidentally coincides with an announcement from Governor Shapiro’s office touting his desire to create a new higher education system here in Pennsylvania. I can certainly get behind the idea that our current PASSHE system is in dire need of consolidation and modernization. However, I have serious concerns about his idea of incorporating our PASSHE universities and our 15 community colleges under a new singular system.
Today’s announcement does nothing to address the already failing cost structures the PASSHE school system is suffering from along with a 30% decline in enrollment. This is clear evidence that the system is too large in its current state, and we need to take a hard look at the existing institutions. Consolidating and shrinking the PASSHE footprint should be the conversation, not an expansion of the organization.
Only by examining each individual school can we identify the ones that are succeeding and ones that are failing instead of this current one size fits all proposal. Pennsylvania’s community colleges, like RACC, are successful precisely because they are hardwired into their unique local communities and maintain an incredible degree of flexibility and creativeness, something I fear they may lose if they get tied into the large statewide system.
Lebanon County Christian Ministries’ Opens Fresh Start Emergency Shelter and Resource Center
I was excited to attend the opening of Lebanon County Christian Ministries’ new Fresh Start Emergency Shelter and Resource Center, located at the Chestnut Street Community Center. In partnership with WellSpan Health, the shelter will provide beds for patients who need a safe, temporary place to heal from a short-term health issue when homelessness or living conditions are not safe for their recovery.
Lebanon County Christian Ministries and WellSpan are both great community partners, and it was an honor to help them receive state grant funding for this project. The program will connect patients to healthcare and social resources with the goals of individual empowerment and to avoid costly inpatient hospitalization.
To learn more about the center, click here.
2023 Accomplishments: Public Safety
The men and women of law enforcement and emergency response work hard to keep us safe. As their jobs become even more difficult, they need our support.
Last year, we passed legislation to combat different forms of theft. We have new laws that target looting and organized retail theft by increasing penalties and crack down on “porch pirating” by setting penalties for theft of mail, which includes a package, bag or letter.
We also passed measures to prevent the exploitation of older Pennsylvanians and update 911 funding to meet the expanding cost of services so help is available when Pennsylvanians face emergencies. We also provided an additional $20 million for county mental health programs. Ensuring safe communities is among the Senate Republican priorities to protect jobs, empower families and defend freedoms.
Healthy Rainy Day Fund Cushions Against Hard Times
As of the beginning of January, the state’s Rainy Day Fund sits at a record high of $6.1 billion thanks to prudent decisions the Senate made in the past three years. Most recently, we deposited $900 million as part of the current state budget. While others wanted to spend the money on all sorts of things, we prioritized smart saving so we would have a cushion in the event of hard times.
To build on the benefits of smart budgeting, Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity announced a new investment pool specifically for the Rainy Day Fund. It’s designed to earn even better returns while continuing to ensure that money will be available when needed.
A strong Rainy Day Fund offers more than just a financial buffer. Because of the state’s healthy nest egg, Pennsylvania received rating improvements from three rating agencies: Moody’s, S&P and Fitch. The better ratings help Pennsylvania taxpayers by reducing the cost of borrowing for the state.
Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program Now Serves More People
Financial relief is available to more people than ever through the Pennsylvania Property Tax/Rent Rebate (PTRR) Program, which supports homeowners and renters across the commonwealth using gaming and Pennsylvania Lottery proceeds.
New this year, the income cap increased to $45,000 for both homeowners and renters. Only half of an applicant’s Social Security income is included in the calculations for eligibility. Starting this year, income caps are tied to the annual cost-of-living increases. Additionally, the maximum standard rebate on property taxes or rent paid increased to $1,000. The program is open to state residents 65 and older, widows and widowers 50 or older, or anyone age 18 and over who is 100% disabled.
My office can provide free PTRR application assistance to residents. If interested, please call my office and bring all proof of income, your ID and a voided check if you wish to have the rebate direct deposited. In addition, property owners must have paid property taxes stamped or signed by the tax collector. Renters must have a rent certificate filled out and signed by their landlord.
Free FAFSA Workshops Across PA
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) underwent changes resulting from the FAFSA Simplification Act, a federal law intended to streamline the financial aid application process.
Filing the FAFSA online is the first step for students and families to determine if they qualify for a Federal Pell Grant, Pennsylvania State Grant, scholarships, institutional awards and federal student loans.
Because of the changes, free FAFSA workshops are being held across the state. Find one near you.
Prioritizing Mental Health at All Ages
January is Mental Wellness Awareness Month, which is a great reminder of how important it is to focus on our mental health, particularly as mental health challenges increased for so many people in the past few years because of the pandemic and the many impacts it had on all of us.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in 20 adults in the United States experience serious mental illness each year. With 50% of all lifetime mental illness beginning by age 14, it’s important to support young people.
As part of this fiscal year’s budget, Senate Republicans dedicated $100 million for school mental health, helping to address a major need as mental health needs for young people continue to rise.
Thursday, January 25-27: 52nd Annual Lebanon Builders Association Home & Garden Show
Thursday, January 25-28, 2024 PA Auto Show
Friday, January 26-28: 7th Annual West Reading Ice N Spice Fest
Friday, January 26-27, Winter Craft Show at the Expo
Saturday, January 27, 10am-3pm: 11th Annual Touch a Heart Event
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