In this Update:
Senator Aument Offers Words of Encouragement in Midst of Pandemic
“I am committed to doing all that I can to pass along accurate information as I receive it. Now is not the time for partisanship, nor is it the time for careless speculation, as this only serves to spread unnecessary panic. Now is the time for patience, understanding, compassion – and most importantly, cooperation.
“How we engage with one another, how we respond to the fear, anxiety, anger, and confusion around us, is of critical importance. While it is appropriate to challenge assumptions and to question decisions being made, I think it is much more important that we do so in a positive, respectful, and civil manner. We must seek understanding and engage with one another in love, because anything less is counterproductive…” To read the full op-ed, visit my website at https://www.senatoraument.com/2020/03/23/op-ed-coronavirus/.
Statewide Schools Closure Extended Through at Least April 6
The Department of Education (PDE) announced today all schools in the commonwealth will remain closed through at least April 6 as a result of the COVID-19 response efforts, Senator Aument said.
The closure order could be extended beyond April 6 if necessary to save lives and stop the spread of COVID-19, according to PDE.
Under the new timeline, school buildings would reopen on April 7 for two days to allow school administrators, teachers and other staff time to prepare classrooms, set up cafeterias, schedule transportation and arrange other business operations. Students would return to school on April 9, unless extending the closure is needed in response to the situation with the virus at that time.
The state’s 29 intermediate units will be available to provide technical assistance to help develop continuity of education plans for all students beginning tomorrow, Tuesday, March 24.
Additionally, PDE is cancelling standardized testing for students in career and technical education (CTE) programs for the 2019-20 school year. These include exams from the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute (NOCTI) and National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS).
State & Federal Tax Filing Deadline Extended to July 15
The deadline to file 2019 state personal income tax returns with the Department of Revenue has been extended by 90 days to July 15. The Internal Revenue Service also extended the federal filing deadline to the same date.
All penalties and interest on 2019 personal income tax payments will also be waived through the new deadline. The deadline is also extended for taxpayers who make quarterly estimated payments. First and second quarter payments will be due July 15.
The extension does not apply to local taxes. Community residents are encouraged to check with their local tax collection agency to determine whether local taxes are still due on April 15.
Taxpayers are encouraged to file returns electronically to enable the Department of Revenue to process returns while state offices are closed. Tax returns can be filed for free online through the PAdirectfile system.
Free tax forms and instructions are also available at www.revenue.pa.gov.
The Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department have extended the deadline for individuals and businesses to file and pay federal income taxes until July 15. More guidance from the IRS is available here.
Nursing License Requirements Suspended to Support Coronavirus Response
In order to support the ability of nurses to treat patients during the current public health emergency, the Department of State has suspended a number of administrative requirements for nurses.
Registered Nurses and Practical Nurses will not need to apply for extensions of temporary or graduate permits, and all permits that would normally expire during the next 90 days will be extended for an additional 90 days. Temporary nursing practice permits and graduate permits will also be extended beyond one year and extension fees will be waived.
In addition, Registered Nurses, Certified Registered Nurse Practitioners and Certified Nurse Specialists can continue to care for patients if their licenses are currently in renewal and set to expire on April 30. These licenses will be extended for an additional three months.
Certified Registered Nurse Practitioners will also be given the authority to practice to their full capabilities and assist in the coronavirus response without being required to practice within a specific clinical specialty.
Nursing school graduates can also apply for a graduate permit under certain circumstances to assist in the coronavirus response. More details on measures to help healthcare practitioners treat Pennsylvanians affected by COVID-19 are available here.
Access to Pharmacy Services Expanded
The Department of State has taken a number of steps to relax restrictions on pharmacies to ensure Pennsylvanians can continue to access the medications they need during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Out-of-state pharmacies will be permitted to ship goods into Pennsylvania under some circumstances, and temporary licensure will be granted to pharmacies in other states so they can provide goods and services to Pennsylvanians for the duration of the coronavirus emergency.
Also, pharmacists will be permitted to provide remote supervision by telephone or computer to pharmacy technicians and interns, ensuring these employees can continue to dispense medications without a pharmacist physically on the premises.
More details about this announcement are available here.
Mental Health Crisis Line Available During Coronavirus Emergency
The public health emergency prompted by the COVID-19 coronavirus has created a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety throughout the state and the nation. The Department of Health encourages state residents to practice self-care, read only news from reliable sources, take breaks from the news, and focus on things you can control, like having good hygiene.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, contact the state’s crisis hotline by texting PA to 741-741.
Precautions Taken to Protect Veterans During COVID-19 Outbreak
A number of measures have been implemented by the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) recently to protect the safety of residents in the state’s six veterans’ homes and ensure all Pennsylvania veterans can continue to access vital services.
Normal visitation, admissions and transfers have been placed on hold in veterans’ homes, and screening stations have either been established or are in development at all six homes. Other safety precautions are outlined here.
DMVA is continuing to process applications for all programs as they are received, including Veterans Temporary Assistance, the Military Family Relief and Assistance Program, the Disabled Veteran Real Estate Tax Exemption Program and more.
More information about these programs and future updates on measures to protect Pennsylvania’s veteran population are available here.
PUC Announces Utility Shut-off Suspension
Utility shut-offs are suspended by the PA Public Utility Commission covering electricity, gas, water, wastewater, telecommunications, and steam utilities. Under the order, terminations would be permitted only in the event of a safety emergency: http://www.puc.pa.gov/about_puc/press_releases.aspx?ShowPR=4326
Guidance Offered for Pet Owners, Animal Shelters, Boarding Facilities
Animal shelters, boarding facilities, rescues and other organizations that are critical to the care of pets are permitted to stay open, but the decision is voluntary and should be made on a case-by-case basis. The Department of Agriculture has issued guidelines to help minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure for employees, volunteers and Pennsylvanians using their services.
That information is available here.
Pet owners are also encouraged to have plenty of food, medications and supplies on hand for pets and identify a family member or friend who can care for pets in case of illness. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control offers a number of recommendations for pet disaster preparedness on its website here.
Telemedicine Services Encouraged for Healthcare Providers
Medicaid-enrolled providers and managed care organizations are encouraged to use telemedicine in order to reduce person-to-person contact and minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus. Telemedicine is especially important for patients to receive medically necessary services while quarantined or in isolation due to possible exposure to COVID-19.
Department of Health guidelines on telemedicine are available here.
Department of Revenue Waives Penalties on Accelerated Sales Tax Prepayments
The Department of Revenue is waiving penalties for businesses that were required to make Accelerated Sales Tax (AST) payments by yesterday’s deadline. The department will also waive AST prepayment requirements for April sales tax collected in March.
More information is available here.
Be Aware of Scams Related to Coronavirus
The Pennsylvania State Police is reminding all state residents to be aware of scams related to the coronavirus. Some of the scams include fraudulent fundraising campaigns, fake charities, price gouging on household supplies, phishing emails claiming to be from the CDC or WHO, and malicious websites masquerading as legitimate COVID-19 resources.
A full breakdown of frequent scams and recommendations to avoid them are available here.
Recommendations Issued for Employment and Training Programs During Coronavirus Mitigation
The Department of Human Services has released guidance for employment and training programs while coronavirus mitigation measures are in effect. Individuals who are participating in programs to meet a work participation requirement are encouraged to work remotely or be excused for the period that programs are unable to operate.
No individual will be subject to sanctions associated with COVID-19, and participants should remain enrolled until the program reopens. Full guidance is available here.
Food Insecurity Assistance Available
Individuals out of work due to coronavirus mitigation efforts can seek emergency food assistance at local food banks. Many food banks, pantries, shelters and soup kitchens offer special drive-through services to limit close contact. Locations and guidelines from the PA Agriculture Department:
PA CareerLink Lancaster County Sets Up Remote Call-in Center
PA CareerLink Lancaster County is working to help connect displaced workers with local businesses who have immediate needs for workers. individuals who have been displaced and who are looking for temporary work can call 1-844-744-8451, and businesses that have immediate needs for workers are encouraged to call 717-584-4932.
More information for Lancaster County job-seekers, employers and community residents is available here.