In This Update:
Lawmakers Review Plans to Reopen Schools Safely
As schools throughout the state continue to refine plans to meet the educational needs of students this fall, the Senate and House Education committees held a joint hearing this week with Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera and Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Rachel Levine to get an update on efforts to safely reopen schools during COVID-19.
The hearing included discussion of several important topics, including questions about reopening guidance, legal liability issues, local control, mask mandates for students and recommendations on responding to COVID-19 cases. Senator Aument used his time to ask questions at the hearing to get Secretary Levine’s opinion about the adverse health effects of keeping students home this fall – you can watch the full exchange here.
Earlier this year, lawmakers dedicated $207 million from Pennsylvania’s share of federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) funding to help schools cover increased costs from COVID-19.
Video and testimony from the hearing are available here.
Senator Aument Introduces Legislation to Give School Districts More Options this Fall
The COVID-19 pandemic has made us rethink the way we do many things, especially education. This Spring, we watched as our schools scrambled to transition to a remote learning format within just a few days. The efforts of our teachers and administrators to provide continued education during this crisis has been laudable but as we look to the future, there are ways we can make their effort easier and more effective.
Moving to online education was not an easy transition for every school and it highlighted some of the obstacles our schools face as they contemplate the way they will teach students for the upcoming school year. One way to make online learning easier for our schools and students would be to provide a database of online learning resources.
To that end, I introduced legislation earlier this week that would increase online learning resources for our school entities by requiring the PA Department of Education (PDE) to establish a central repository of online courses accessible to all public schools, nonpublic schools, home education programs, and the general public. The online course clearinghouse created by this legislation will provide an additional tool for our students, educators, and schools by leveraging existing technology to provide students with the opportunity to pursue coursework which is best-suited to their individual needs, and which might not otherwise be available.
This legislation is a companion to House Bill 2596, introduced by Representative Ortitay.
You can read more about this proposal here.
Hearing Highlights Debate Over Fall School Sports
Governor Wolf’s last-second recommendation that school sports be delayed until 2021 sparked an intense debate about whether these activities can be performed safely during COVID-19. The Pennsylvania Athletic Oversight Committee held a hearing this week with the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) and other stakeholders, including school and sports representatives, to discuss how school sports can take place safely.
PIAA Executive Director Dr. Robert Lombardi said that he believes school sports can resume this fall with proper safeguards in place to protect the health of student-athletes. He also said that a meeting with the Wolf Administration last week presented no specific medical or research reason that would suggest that participation in interscholastic sports inherently increases the risk of COVID-19.
Full video and additional details from the hearing are available here.
Senator Aument’s COVID-19 Response Timeline
As Pennsylvanians prepare to move into the fall and the new school year, I want to remind my constituents that the legislative response to the pandemic as a whole is ongoing. On my website, I’ve built a comprehensive COVID-19 Response Timeline so that my constituents can stay up-to-date with every action I’ve taken to fight the pandemic and restore, rebuild, and reimagine a stronger Pennsylvania moving forward. Some of my recent actions include:
August 20th, 2020: Senator Aument introduced legislation that would increase online learning resources for our school entities by requiring the PA Department of Education (PDE) to establish a central repository of online courses accessible to all public schools, nonpublic schools, home education programs, and the general public.
August 19th, 2020: Senator Aument participated in a joint hearing of the House & Senate Education Committees to discuss the safe reopening of Pennsylvania schools, which included testimony from Secretary Rivera of the PA Department of Education and Secretary Levine of the PA Department of Health, among others. Senator Aument asked Secretary Levine about the adverse health effects of keeping students home this fall.
August 18th, 2020: Senator Aument signed on as a co-sponsor of legislation sponsored by Senator Bob Mensch that would allow a family member or other designated person to visit and care for an elderly relative in a long-term care facility (LTFC).
August 14th, 2020: Senator Aument signed on as a co-sponsor of a legislative package sponsored by Senator Scott Martin that would expand relief to property taxpayers by permitting local governments and school districts to choose to extend their discount period and/or waive penalties in 2021 and the 2021-2022 school year.
You can view the full timeline on my website here.
Senator Aument Announces $1.6 Million in Grant Funding for Lancaster County Communities
Earlier this week, a number of municipalities throughout the 36th Senatorial District were chosen to receive $1.6 million in critical grant funding from the Commonwealth Financing Authority (CFA). The grants were awarded as part of the CFA’s PA Small Water and Sewer Program, which provides financial assistance for the construction, improvement, expansion, or rehabilitation of water supply or sanitary sewer systems throughout Pennsylvania.
Stormwater and sewer upgrades and repairs may not make for exciting headlines, but this infrastructure and its effectiveness is critical to each and every one of our communities. I am thrilled that we were able to secure such significant funding for our local municipalities to perform some much-needed upgrades to this infrastructure to ensure that the residents in these communities can continue receiving these vital services.
Read the full press release with more info about the grant recipients here.
Deadline to Apply for LIHEAP Recovery Crisis Grants is August 31
Pennsylvanians who are struggling to pay utility bills during the COVID-19 pandemic can still apply for assistance through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) Recovery Crisis program. The program offers payments directly to utility companies or fuel providers for renters and homeowners who have been severely impacted by the pandemic.
The program is scheduled to end on August 31. Applications are available online or by contacting your local County Assistance Office.
Be Aware of COVID-19 Scams
The Department of Banking and Securities recently raised concerns about new scams related to COVID-19. Some of the scams involve charitable donations, fraudulent health claims, apps, advance loan fees, foreclosure bailouts and other financial fraud targeting Pennsylvania consumers. More information is available to ensure Pennsylvanians do not fall victim to any of these scams.
State residents can ask questions or file complaints about COVID-19 scams by calling 1-800-722-2657. The department previously offered tips to avoid coronavirus scams in March.
Reminder: Important 2020 Election Deadlines
Although the 2020 general election is still a few months away, it is never too early to register to vote so your voice is heard in November. The deadline to register for the November election is October 19. The graphic above includes several other important deadlines for Pennsylvania voters.