Senator Cris Dush E-Newsletter

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In this Update:

  • Bills Passed in 2021: Pandemic Recovery
  • Walk-up COVID-19 Testing in Clinton County Extended
  • Soliciting Comments About Maryland Air National Guard’s Use of PA Wilds as Military Training Air Space
  • PA Historical and Museum Commission Announces Awards
  • Mansfield University Develops Law Enforcement Continuing Education and Training Options
  • You Can Give the Gift of Education
  • Look Out for Holiday Charity Scams
  • VA Alerts Veterans About Printing and Mailing Delays Affecting Claims

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.

Walk-up COVID-19 Testing in Clinton County Extended

Last week I mentioned walk-up COVID-19 testing was being made available to Clinton County residents by the Pennsylvania Health Department, in conjunction with AMI Expeditionary Healthcare, the Clinton County Department of Emergency Services and Lock Haven University.

The testing was to run through Dec. 11, but the testing period has been extended until Dec. 22, with other dates planned for Dec. 27 through Dec. 29.

The testing is being done at Lock Haven University’s East Campus Gymnasium, located at 340 West Main Street in Lock Haven. The location is open from 10 a.m. through 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and from 8 a.m. through 2 p.m. on Saturday.

All Clinton County residents, age 3 and older, can receive the testing on a first come, first serve basis, with 350 tests to be conducted daily.

The tests being performed are mid-nasal passage swab PCR tests. Turnaround time for the testing is two to seven days. Those seeking testing do not have to have COVID-19 symptoms to be tested, and there is no appointment necessary. You are encouraged to bring a photo-ID or insurance card (children without a photo-ID can have their parent or guardian provide the child’s Social Security Number and complete a HIPPA Form). Those without health insurance will be tested at no charge.

Soliciting Comments About Maryland Air National Guard’s Use of PA Wilds as Military Training Air Space

The Maryland Air National Guard (MD ANG) is taking public comment until Dec. 31 on its proposed 2,178-square-mile, low-fly military operations area (MOA) for the PA Wilds. The area will cover almost all of Potter County and parts of Clinton, Tioga, McKean, Elk and Cameron counties.

According to the MD ANG, the proposal would allow A-10 Thunderbolt II flights between 100 feet above tree-top level to 7,999 feet, two hours a day with no more than six total aircraft, 170 days a year including weekends. Nighttime operations would be at above 1,000 feet.

Flights would normally be between 10 a.m. and noon, and between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. The majority of the flight time would be at higher altitudes, with 10 minutes or less below 1,000 feet, MD ANG information states.

MD ANG has not yet held any informational meetings with the public, and a full environmental impact statement has yet to be done. While I support our military, it’s important to know how the MD ANG proposal will change the natural heritage, tourism, economy and beauty of the PA Wilds and Dark Sky regions.

The MD ANG has said it will review all comments before making a decision on whether there is sufficient interest in having a public meeting and whether such a meeting would be beneficial or necessary.

We need to let the MD ANG know they should hold public meetings in the affected counties to share their proposal, provide details of its impacts and address questions from the public.

The PA Wilds Center has sent a letter to the MD ANG requesting public meetings, and the MD ANG has produced a draft environmental assessment on which it is accepting public comment that can be emailed to ngb.a4.a4a.nepa.comments.org@us.af.mil. Requests for public meetings can also be emailed to Major Jeff Andrieu of the Maryland Air National Guard at jeffrey.andrieu.4@us.af.mil.

PA Historical and Museum Commission Announces Awards

The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) has awarded almost $2 million in Cultural and Historical Support Grants to 154 eligible museums and official county historical societies from 56 Pennsylvania counties.

In the 25th Senatorial District, the following organizations received awards:

  • Clinton County: Clinton County Historical Society ($4,000); Greater Renovo Area Heritage Park ($5,000).
  • Elk County: Elk County Historical Society ($4,000).
  • Jefferson County: Jefferson County Historical Society ($4,000); Punxsutawney Weather Discovery Center ($4,000); Punxsutawney Area Historical & Genealogical Society ($5,000).
  • McKean County: Eldred World War II Museum Inc. ($4,000); McKean County Historical Society ($4,000).
  • Tioga County: Tioga County Historical Society ($4,000).

The goal of the Cultural and Historical Support Grant program is to strengthen Pennsylvania’s museum community by supporting the general operations of eligible museums and official county historical societies that are not supported by other state agency funding programs. An eligible museum must have an annual operating budget exceeding $100,000 (excluding capital and in-kind services) and at least one full-time professional staff person (or approved equivalent).

Mansfield University Develops Law Enforcement Continuing Education and Training Options

From left to right: Senator Dush, Josh Battin, Ph.D., Assoc. Provost, Mansfield University, Bashar Hanna, Ph.D., Interim President, Mansfield University, Governor Wolf, Erick Coolidge, Tioga County Commissioner, Scott Henry, Director of the Mansfield University Public Safety Training Institute (MUPSTI)

The Pennsylvania System of Higher Education (PASSHE) has come under a lot of scrutiny, and both the Legislature and the PASHHE Board have had to examine some tough decision options relating to several of the state-owned universities, including Mansfield.  It has forced the universities to come up with innovative ideas to justify the expenses the people of the Commonwealth have been making, and Mansfield is taking the lead in the continuing education space.  The fact that it involves law enforcement training fits right in my wheelhouse.

Scott Henry, Director of the Mansfield University Public Safety Training Institute (MUPSTI), has been developing relationships with private industry and police agency partners to develop a continuing education and training curriculum that is not just centered on a degree program or Act 120 training requirements for municipal police departments.  He found a willing partner Josh Battin, Ph.D., Associate Provost, who is helping bring this model to fruition.

From using virtual reality technologies to new gloves and other control devices and standardizing use of force training, Mansfield will be able to provide on-going training and certifications to small municipal governments at little to no cost for things which will help these governments avoid use of force litigation and workers compensation claims for their officers.

Josh and Scott have not been worrying about the upcoming university integration with Bloomsburg University and Lock Haven University; they’ve been diligently working to not only create options for Mansfield University, but to put it at the forefront of innovative education practices.

Their efforts have caught the attention of Gov. Wolf, who came to Mansfield Wednesday to tour the current facility and listen to the partners, from multi-national and national corporations like AT&T and others who are stepping up to help fund this project.  Tioga County Commissioners have also been key players in this partnership, with Commissioner Erick Coolidge leading this particular effort.

The crisis the PASHHE system is facing presents opportunities for system schools to begin reaching out to the people who will employ the systems customers (students) to have the education and training necessary to actually do the jobs.  This team at Mansfield is doing just that.

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:

  1. Similar Sounding Name — Scammers often use names that sound similar to legitimate charities to intentionally create confusion.
  1. High Pressure Solicitation — Fraudsters will try to force a hasty decision by turning up the pressure. They may cold call, identifying you as a previous contributor, and ask for your renewed support or to update your credit card information. These attempts rely on catching consumers off guard to extract financial information.
  1. 100% Guarantee — Most people want to ensure that their donations are going toward legitimate program expenses. Every organization has some level of administrative cost. An organization that promises 100% of your funds are going directly to an individual in need might require additional scrutiny.
  1. Donation by Wire Transfer or Gift Card — Legitimate charities will not ask you to make payment via money order or wire transfer. If you are being solicited for a donation and are asked to pay by these means, hang up immediately. A charity may ask for donations of gift cards, such as from a grocery store, to supply to someone in need. Never read the information from a gift card over the phone or provide it via email.

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.

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