HARRISBURG — June 5, 2020 — State Senators Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery), John Blake (D-Lackawanna), and Art Haywood (D-Montgomery/Philadelphia touted the $30 million in funding the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus was recently able to secure for higher education grants administered by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Authority (PHEAA).
The funding boost means the maximum award for Pennsylvania State Grants will be $4,525 instead of the $4,123 originally projected by PHEAA. Students are set to receive conditional grant awards in the near future outlining their award for the upcoming academic year.
“The additional $30 million to the PA State Grant program will allow the maximum grant award to increase to the second highest award amount in the history of the program,” said Sen. Fontana, who is also the PHEAA Board Vice Chairman. “This pandemic has fundamentally changed how postsecondary schools operate and continues to create uncertainty for many. This will provide students with a stable source of student aid funding as they decide how to participate in higher education going into the upcoming year.”
Funding for the grant program was set to remain flat from its 2019-20 level, prior to the legislature directing $30 million to PHEAA for state grants. The push to allocate Federal CARES Act funding to higher education grants was a part of the people-focused PA CARES Plan put forth by the caucus.
“Expanding access to higher education should be one of our top priorities as our nation increasingly requires a more educated workforce,” Sen. Hughes said. “I am pleased we were able to direct funds to the grant program in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and look forward to seeing the impact in helping students across our commonwealth. Students may not be able to get summer jobs and their parents may have lost work because of what’s going on in the world. We were able to provide assistance to relieve that pain, which is how we must approach recovery from this crisis in other areas.”
The 2020-21 grant award is the second highest in PHEAA’s history of administering the needs-based higher education grants. In addition to increasing the maximum grant award, PHEAA officials expect to increase the total grant award for the 126,000-plus grant recipients.
“As a member of the PHEAA board, the affordability and accessibility of a quality post-secondary education remains a top priority,” Sen. Blake said. “This additional grant funding will significantly help families that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and allow our universities to continue to develop a stronger, educated workforce.”
New for 2020-21, the PA State Grant formula provides the same eligibility consideration regardless of how coursework is delivered; meaning that otherwise-eligible students enrolled in distance education will maintain full eligibility for PA State Grant awards. This is particularly important in light of a likely increase in distance education enrollments for the 2020 fall term as a result of COVID-19.
“It is an honor to serve on the PHEAA Board and in the state Senate to direct this funding to students seeking higher education,” Sen. Haywood said. “Access to higher education means that an entire family and community will be lifted by students who will make significant contributions.”
PHEAA has provided more than $1 billion in supplemental funding for student aid programs over the last 10 years. The Agency also self-funds the administration of the PA State Grant Program and other student aid programs and services for the Commonwealth, which saves taxpayers $19.2 million annually.
For more on the caucus’ PA CARES Plan visit pasenate.com/pacares.
Harrisburg, Pa. − June 24, 2019 − Members of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus today jointly sent a letter to Governor Tom Wolf requesting a disaster declaration for gun violence in the Commonwealth.
“We believe it is necessary to raise the public’s awareness of the massive loss of human life and the suffering inflicted on affected family, friends and neighbors where this tragedy is unfolding daily,” they wrote. “Just as you have signed six disaster declarations to provide every tool at the Commonwealth’s disposal to combat the opioid epidemic, the death toll and impact from illegal guns should merit immediate and coordinated attention.”
Specifically, a disaster declaration could do the following:
- Establish a task force led by the Department of Health to create and implement a public health framework for addressing gun violence
- Establish a command center in the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to coordinate state and local law enforcement response
- Enhance the Joint-Local State Firearm Taskforce through additional personnel and funding to take illegal guns off the street
- Expand information gathering and sharing between all levels of law enforcement and community groups
- Increase law enforcement presence, both local and state, in targeted areas where gun violence is most prevalent
- Expedite and expand grants and other funding sources for community groups and nonprofit associations with a proven record of violence reduction and prevention
- Provide additional state resources for behavioral and mental health
- Bringing to bear the significant wealth of knowledge and experience in the Departments of Health and Human Services to provide de-escalation and de-confliction training throughout the community
- Require the Pennsylvania Department of Education provide training and professional development on trauma-informed education
View full letter →
Wilkinsburg, August 4, 2016 – At the request of state Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, a joint state Senate-House Democratic Policy Committee hearing was held today on efforts and resources to fight blight within our communities, including the successes and challenges of land banks.
“Blight is a scourge that impedes both business and residential interest in a community,” Costa said. “We must do what we can to give our municipalities the resources, tools and flexibility they need to quickly eradicate blight and begin revitalization efforts.”
Costa said blight poses health and safety risks, reduces neighborhood property values, drains municipal revenue on enforcement and maintenance efforts, and discourages community investment and growth.
Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton), who chairs the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, said “transforming dilapidated properties from community liabilities to revitalization linchpins must be our shared goal.”
Boscola added that Pennsylvania has approximately 300,000 vacant properties – many of them eye-sores. She said legislators should steer clear of “one-size-fits-all solutions” and give local government leaders the “flexibility to tailor revitalization efforts that fit their unique needs.”
State Rep. Ed Gainey (D-Allegheny), who co-chaired the hearing, said the state has passed several laws in recent years aimed at assisting local governments in blight removal and revitalization initiatives. He added that there are also numerous proposals under consideration in the legislature that would generate more funding for demolition and revitalization work and toughen penalties against absentee owners.
Costa said a 2012 law that established land banks provides an innovative way to acquire and ready properties for reinvestment. He pointed to the local Tri-COG Land Bank as a “promising program that numerous Allegheny county communities should look into.” Tri-COG recently received a pledge of $1.5 million in seed funding from the Heinz endowment.
A land bank acquires blighted properties, clears delinquent taxes and liens, and prepares the property for investment and revitalization – all aimed at returning the property to the tax rolls and productive use. A county or municipality must have a population of at least 10,000 to form a land bank. Local governments have the option of joining and must pay 5 percent of yearly delinquent tax collections to help fund the program.
Urban Redevelopment Authority Director Kyra Straussman lamented that a fourth of the city’s footprint is abandoned and vacant property that the government does not control.
“While our tax base is eroding, we are simultaneously directly paying millions in tax dollars annually to keep problem vacant and abandoned property just as it is,” she said.
Matt Madia, who serves as chief strategy and development officer for Bridgestone Capital investment program, discussed his firm’s revitalization work, including its $9.6 million effort to revitalize the Homewood neighborhood in Pittsburgh. He said some of their business loans have resulted in new businesses occupying commercial space that would otherwise be vacant. He said providing this core business sector with its products and services helps make a neighborhood “welcoming and livable.”
Mark Mohn, vice-chair state Association of Realtors Legislative Committee, said rising property local taxes has worsened the blight problem by making home ownership less affordable. He said lawmakers should consider shifting the tax burden away from homeowners to more broad-based local and state resources.
“It’s time to stop picking the pockets of homebuyers,” Mohn added, suggesting that lawmakers should consider allowing bond referendums and Social Impact Bonds where municipalities can pay back outside investors for transforming blighted properties into productive ones.
Others who testified were: Cynthia Whitman Daley, policy director of the PA Housing Alliance; Tracey Evans, executive director of the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation; A. William Schenck, TriState Capital Bank Board Member, Pennsylvania Economy League of Greater Pittsburgh; An Lewis, Director, Steel Rivers COG; Daniel Lavelle, board member, Pittsburg Land Bank; and Liz Kozub, Community Development coordinator, Turtle Creek COG.
Joining Costa, Gainey and Boscola were Senators John Blake (D-Lackawanna), Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland), Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), and Representatives Chris Sainato (D-Lawrence) and Paul Costa (D-Allegheny).
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