In this Update:
Senate Set to Question Wolf Administration on Spending Plan
On Feb. 8, Gov. Wolf proposed a $45.7 billion state budget for 2022-23 that would increase spending by $4.5 billion, create a $1.3 billion deficit in the following year and produce a $13 billion deficit by 2026-27.
Next week, the Senate Appropriations Committee kicks off four weeks of public hearings to review the spending plan and question administration officials in preparation for developing a more responsible budget prior to the June 30 constitutional deadline.
You can find livestreams of the hearings, video of previous hearings and daily recaps here. I’ll report back each week with updates on this important process.
Help for Families Navigating the College Aid Process
The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency is offering several free webinars in February, March and April to help students and families plan for college and fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
FAFSA Overview (Feb. 28, April 18)
Financial Aid 101 (March 7, March 28)
Financial Aid Junior Jumpstart (April 13)
Click here for times and registration.
My Bill Would Expand Flexible Learning Options
A sad reality of the pandemic is the learning loss our children experienced as their lives were upended and their teachers were forced to quickly and completely change the educational experience in response. Children were forced to learn at home without the support from their teachers they were used to receiving, and distractions at home were abundant. These challenges were difficult to overcome, as an article by the Trib Live noted.
As school administrators are still facing the decision of whether to operate in person or virtually, we need to give parents more options. Senate Bill 1015, which I sponsored, would create the Pandemic Education Savings Account Grant Program. It would provide $7,000 educational grants to low-income families that could be used for tuition, curriculum, tutoring, and services for students with special needs.
Quite simply, students have different learning needs, and the pandemic highlighted that reality.
Learn more about my bill to support expanded educational options and help combat pandemic-induced learning loss here.
Honoring Local Veteran’s Incredible Legacy of Service to Our Country
Recently on the Senate floor, I had the pleasure of meeting Ray Wallace, one of the few surviving veterans who fought for our country on June 6, 1944. Ray was just 18 years old and a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division on D-Day.
He landed more than 20 miles from his drop zone and ultimately met up with 180 mis-dropped soldiers who fought off more than 2,000 Nazi soldiers for two days. Ray was ultimately captured and spent the remainder of the war in a Nazi prisoner of war camp.
Now 97 years old, Ray lives in Columbia, PA with his family.
Watch my full introduction of Ray on the Senate floor here.
Supporting Public Safety by Helping First Responders Access Funding
Sen. Scott Martin and I hosted a Fire and Emergency Medical Services Grant Seminar at the Lancaster County Public Safety Center. We had a terrific turnout and discussion. Many thanks to our first responders for the incredible work they do.
New Helpline Available for Farmers Seeking Mental Health Services
Pennsylvania farmers and farm families seeking mental health support can now access a free helpline for assistance.
The AgriStress HelpLine for Pennsylvania is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Farmers can call 833-897-AGRI (2474) to speak to a health care professional.
According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, financial challenges, farm or business problems and the fear of losing the farm are top contributors to farmers’ mental health challenges. Cost, embarrassment and stigma often prevent farmers from seeking help or treatment for a mental health condition. The Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee explored the topic in several public forums in recent years.
Halting the Rise in Pennsylvania Traffic Fatalities
In Pennsylvania, 2021 preliminary data shows deaths on our roadways increased by as much as 10%, including increases in fatalities in speeding crashes, distracted driving crashes, crashes involving teen drivers, as well as unrestrained fatalities.
Pennsylvania Highway Safety Law Awareness Week is next week, Feb. 20-26, and it’s an opportunity to think about the laws and driving habits that increase traffic safety.
Highway safety laws that can prevent traffic fatalities include:
You can read more about highway safety at www.PennDOT.gov/safety.
It’s Time to Help PA’s Struggling Small Businesses
Pennsylvania’s small businesses are seriously struggling because of Gov. Tom Wolf’s forced business closures. Without help, recovery from the damage will take years – time that many employers simply don’t have. They’re in trouble now and may not survive without support.
As a response to overbearing COVID-19 mitigation efforts, I launched the Prioritize PA initiative. It is a legislative package that would provide both immediate and long-term relief to the Commonwealth’s struggling restaurants, bars, and small businesses.
Specifically, the initiative would offer no-interest loans, create a temporary business improvement tax credit program, reward successful employers for helping those who are struggling, temporarily waive state fees for retail food and liquor licenses, and allow businesses to deduct their property taxes from their state Corporate Net Income tax or Personal Income Tax liability.
Limiting the ability of small businesses and their employees to survive financially – and in some cases, sending them into bankruptcy – without providing assistance from the same government that forced them to close in the first place is both wrong and immoral.
Learn more about my bills to help small businesses here.
Take My Survey on Abortion to Provide Your Feedback
If you would like to provide your feedback to me on this controversial issue, please take my one-question survey to share your thoughts about abortion and abortion funding in Pennsylvania.