In this Update:
Senate Passes Package to Strengthen Cybersecurity, Protect Victims of Data Breaches
The Senate approved a package of bills this week to improve cybersecurity in Pennsylvania and require timely notifications to citizens of government data breaches. The bills were sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Bill 482 consolidates administration and management of the Commonwealth’s information technology operations under a new Office of Information Technology.
The measure would replace the current, uncoordinated approach that led to cases of costly mismanagement, including delayed implementation of a statewide police radio system and bungled upgrades to Unemployment Compensation Call Centers. These delays also lead to significant cost overruns that took money from taxpayers. Other problems included data breaches experienced by the departments of Human Services, Corrections, and Education, which exposed the names and personal information of thousands of individuals, including citizens and state employees.
Senate Bill 726 ensures Commonwealth agencies have strong safeguards in place to discourage, combat and recover from ransomware attacks.
Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until money is paid. Senate Bill 726 would set state penalties for the possession, use, or threatened use of ransomware and prohibit state agencies from paying ransom.
When data breaches do occur, Senate Bill 696 would require state and local governments to notify potential victims within seven days. The requirement applies to any state agency, county, school district, municipality or third-party vendor experiencing a breach.
School Choice Expansion Legislation Advances out of Senate Education Committee
Earlier this week, the Senate Education Committee approved legislation that will expand school choice for thousands of students across Pennsylvania.
Senate Bill 527 would automatically raise the caps for the Educational Improvement Tax Credit Scholarship (EITC) and Opportunity Scholarship Tax Credit (OSTC) programs by 25% annually, so long as at least 90% of the credits were claimed in the year prior.
Each year, arbitrary caps on the EITC/OSTC programs force the state to turn away nearly 43,000 students seeking financial aid to attend the school that best meets their educational goals. The restrictions also limit the number of businesses that can donate to the programs and receive tax credits in return.
The bill could increase the EITC/OSTC programs by $100 million annually, which represents less than 1% of the $30 billion Pennsylvania spends on public education each year. An investment like this could translate into $7.4 billion in additional economic benefit from higher lifetime earnings attained through greater educational achievement and $260 million saved from the reduced social costs associated with crime.
Pennsylvania’s $225 million EITC and $55 million OSTC programs provides scholarships to more than 48,000 students seeking an education outside of their assigned public school.
In 2021, the General Assembly approved a $40 million increase to the EITC cap that funded scholarships for an additional 13,000 students.
The measure now advances to the full Senate for consideration.
Federal Government Launches Website to Provide Home COVID Tests
The federal government has launched a website to order at-home rapid COVID-19 testing kits.
Each household is eligible to order four tests. According to the website, orders will usually ship in 7-12 days and there is no cost.
These are rapid antigen at-home tests, also referred to as self-tests or over the counter (OTC) tests. They produce results within 30 minutes and no lab drop-off is required.
To place an order, provide your name and residential address. You don’t have to provide ID, credit card or health insurance information. You can find answers to frequently asked questions here.
Applications now being accepted for Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP)
The state Department of Human Services (DHS) is now accepting applications for the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP), a temporary emergency program to help low-income families pay overdue water bills.
LIHWAP is a grant, meaning you do not have to repay it.
Grants may be available if you have an emergency situation and are in jeopardy of losing your water service. You can receive one grant for your drinking water service and one grant for your wastewater service, up to $2,500 each. Qualifying situations include past-due water bills; termination of utility service; and danger of having utility service terminated (received a notice that service will be shut off within the next 60 days).
You can apply online at www.compass.state.pa.us, request an application by phone (877-395-8930 for the DHS Statewide Customer Service Center or call PA Relay at 711 for the hearing impaired), go to your local county assistance office and apply in person, or you can download a paper application, print it, fill it out, and return it to your local county assistance office. More about the program can be found on the DHS website.
Transition to 5G Service Will Cause 3G Cell Phones to Stop Operating in 2022
Residents with older cell phones are being urged by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and Pennsylvania State Police to prepare for the phase-out of 3G cellular networks and service, which could come as early as next month.
If your mobile phone is more than a few years old, you may need to upgrade your device before your provider shuts down its 3G network and you lose service – including the ability to call 911. You should contact your cellular service provider to determine if your devices are compliant to ensure you don’t lose connectivity.
The nation’s three major wireless carriers (AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile) have announced plans to shut down their 3G networks to accommodate more advanced services, including 5G, as early as February. That will cause many older phones to be unable to make or receive calls and text messages or use data services. It could also affect other devices that rely on 3G connectivity, such as medical alert devices, tablets, smart watches, home security systems, and in-vehicle safety, security and roadside assistance systems.
Low-income individuals concerned their 911-only phones will no longer be supported can apply for service through the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program.
Galeton Borough Receives $353,908 PENNVEST Loan for Water system Improvements
The Galeton Borough Authority, located in Potter County, this week was awarded a $353,908 low-interest loan by the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST) to better ensure clean water for its customers.
The improvements to be made with the loan will allow the authority to better monitor water quality and prevent the delivery of improperly treated water to system users.
The project is the result of a consent order and agreement between the authority and the Department of Environmental Protection to provide automatic monitoring of treated water quality, alarms and automatic shutdown of water treatment facilities to prevent the delivery of improperly treated water.
The system serves 462 households located primarily in Galeton Borough, as well as a few in two adjacent townships.
Residential user rates are not expected to increase as a result of the project.
PENNVEST’s mission includes funding sewer, storm water and drinking water projects throughout the Commonwealth that contribute to improving the environment and public health, as well as provide opportunities for economic growth and jobs. Financing is provided through the use of federal funding and prior bond issues by the state as well as proceeds from the Marcellus Shale Impact Fee legislation, Act 13 of 2012.
Tax Form Arriving Soon for Pennsylvanians Who Claimed Unemployment Benefits in 2021
According to the Department of Labor and Industry, 1099 tax forms will be mailed no later than Jan. 31 to Pennsylvanians who claimed unemployment benefits in 2021 and need the form to file their federal income taxes.
Claimants of all unemployment programs offered during 2021 will receive a 1099 tax form detailing their benefit payments. This form will be available online soon and viewable in the same system where claimants file their weekly claims. All claimants also have the option to view 1099 tax forms from previous years, if applicable.
The receipt of a 1099 form by a person who didn’t file for unemployment may indicate a case of identity fraud. If someone who didn’t file for unemployment receives what looks to be a 1099 tax form in the mail, they should report this suspected fraud immediately so the department can correct their income with the IRS and prevent any issues with the victim’s taxes.
Resources for Newly Elected Municipal Officials
Many of the local governments within the 25th Senatorial District have elected and appointed officials who are new to municipal public service.
CLICK HERE for a document providing a centralized list of links to resources and contacts pertaining to local government administration, publications from the Department of Community and Economic Development, and contacts for government agencies and municipal associations.
Applications Being Accepted for PennDOT Summer Employment Program
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) offers a summer employment program for students who are registered as full-time college students for the Fall 2022 semester.
The deadline for receiving summer applications is Feb. 18, so I encourage anyone interested in the program to contact my office.
In addition to contacting my office, those interested must also fill out an online application with the PennDOT College Student Summer Worker posting under the open summer jobs section of the website.
The hourly rate is $14.61. Applicants must be enrolled as a full-time college student for the Fall 2022 semester, have a valid PA driver’s license and be 18 years of age before beginning work.
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