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Senator Wayne D. Fontana

First-Time Homebuyers

As a realtor, I am aware of the difficulties young people face when trying to buy their first home. Due to a variety of factors, home ownership among young adults is low. One of the biggest factors that has contributed to this decline is personal debt, and in many cases, student loan debt.

homebuyersLast month, the Senate unanimously passed legislation that would create first-time homebuyers savings accounts in Pennsylvania. Senate Bill 309 (SB 309), which I was proud to co-sponsor, will allow individuals and their families to open a First-Time Homebuyer Savings Account at a financial institution, to put money aside for a future purchase. The money saved would be eligible for an income tax deduction.

Since the 2009 financial crisis, the share of first-time homebuyers in the national home sale market has fallen from 45 percent to just 32 percent.

A study conducted by the PA Association of Realtors showed this program could increase home purchases by up to 4,000 annually throughout Pennsylvania and the program’s economic impact could reach as much as $69 million.

I am pleased this legislation enjoyed strong bi-partisan support in the Senate and am hopeful the House takes up this bill in a timely manner so we can provide more opportunities for young people to enjoy home ownership.

Did You Know…

Did you know that in 2019 the median age of a first-time homebuyer in the U.S. was 33, a record high?

Re-Elected PHEAA Vice Chair

PHEAAI was honored last week to have been re-elected as the Vice Chair of the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) board of directors. PHEAA is unique among Commonwealth agencies in that we open doors to a college education, especially for those who might otherwise not be able to afford it, while also saving taxpayers millions of dollars each year. This makes our work particularly rewarding, not only from the perspective of a State Senator, but also as a parent and grandparent who has experienced many of the same college-planning challenges that families across Pennsylvania are facing every year.

PHEAA was created in 1963 by the Pennsylvania General Assembly with the mission of creating affordable access to higher education and has since evolved into one of the nation’s leading student aid organizations.  PHEAA’s business earnings are used to support its public service mission for the Commonwealth and to pay its operating costs, including administration of the Pennsylvania State Grant and other student aid programs. This saves taxpayers millions of dollars annually while ensuring that every dollar that the General Assembly appropriates to a student aid program goes directly to support Pennsylvania students.   Over the last 10 years, PHEAA has provided nearly $1 billion from its business earnings to support student aid programs for Pennsylvania’s students and families.

Absentee, Mail-in Ballot Applications Available

Mail-in Ballot I again want to remind voters of the changes made to election law in Pennsylvania that will allow Pennsylvanians the opportunity to vote early. As I wrote about in the Jan. 21 edition of my News & Views, Act 77 makes changes to voting in Pennsylvania, beginning with the upcoming April 28 Primary Election. One of the biggest changes is allowing voters to vote by mail, without having to qualify for an absentee ballot.

Both absentee ballot applications and mail-in ballot applications are available online at www.votespa.com. Simply click on “Mail-in and Absentee Ballot” to get started. If you plan to be out of the municipality on election day or if you have a disability or illness, you can request an absentee ballot, which still requires you to list a reason for your ballot. If you aren’t an absentee voter, you may apply for a mail-in ballot. You may simply request this ballot without a reason.

Voters may also download and print absentee ballot and mail-in ballot applications by visiting www.votespa.com.  Once completing either ballot application, voters can mail the application to the Allegheny County Elections Division at:

542 Forbes Avenue, Suite 609
Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Vote PAVoters can also obtain copies of absentee ballot applications and mail-in ballot applications at either of my district offices.

Absentee and mail-in ballot applications for the April 28, primary election must be received by the county election office by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, April 21. The deadline to return your voted absentee or mail-in ballot is 8 p.m. on election day. If you are unable to return your ballot by the deadline either in person or mail, you may only vote by a provisional ballot at your polling place.

I have long advocated for early voting in Pennsylvania and while these changes are not exactly what I had proposed in the legislation I drafted; they ultimately make it easier for citizens to participate in our democracy.

LIHEAP

LIHEAPThe Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) is still accepting applications for this season’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) on Nov 1.  The program helps low income families pay their heating bills.  You can apply and check the status of your application on the state’s COMPASS website (www.compass.state.pa.us).  You can also pick up an application in my district offices or download one yourself from the DHS LIHEAP website. Completed paper applications should be returned to the Allegheny County Assistance Office, located at 5947 Penn Avenue, 4th Floor, Pittsburgh, PA, 15206.

Funding for LIHEAP is provided by the federal government and eligibility is based on the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines.  The income limits for this season are as follows:

Household Size Income Limit
1 $18,735
2 $25,365
3 $31,995
4 $38,625
5 $45,255
6 $51,885
7 $58,515
8 $65,145
9 $71,775
10 $78,405

After your application is received you will receive a written notice explaining your eligibility and the amount of assistance you will receive.  Payments are generally sent directly to a utility company or fuel provider and will be credited to your heating account.  Crisis grants may also be available if you have an emergency situation and are in jeopardy of losing your heat.  For more information, please contact the LIHEAP hotline at 1-866-857-7095.

Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program

HomeThe Pennsylvania Department of Revenue is now accepting applications for the 2019 Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program.  If you filed a paper rebate last year, you should receive an application in the mail. Applications are available at my district offices, online at www.revenue.pa.gov or by calling 1-888-222-9190. As always, my staff would be happy to assist you in preparing your application.

The Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program benefits eligible Pennsylvanians age 65 and older; widows and widowers age 50 and older; and people with disabilities age 18 and older. The income limit is $35,000 for homeowners and $15,000 for renters. Please keep in mind, half of Social Security income is excluded.

Applications are due to the Department of Revenue by June 30 and rebates will be distributed beginning July 1. The program is funded by the Pennsylvania Lottery and revenue from slots gaming.

Gaming Revenue Increases in January

CasinoThe Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board announced last week that total revenue from gaming, including table games, slot machines, fantasy contests and sports betting in Pennsylvania during the month of January increased 17 percent compared with January 2019. Total gaming revenue in January came in at more than $302.8 million compared with $258.9 million in January 2019.  Total tax revenue generated from all forms of gaming and fantasy contests was more than $124.1 million in January.

For a complete breakdown of revenues generated from all forms of gaming in Pennsylvania, please visit www.gamingcontrolboard.pa.gov. The state’s gaming industry employs over 16,000 people and generates approximately $1.4 billion annually in tax revenue from both slot machines and table games.

PWSA Increases Limit for Income-Qualified Free Lead Line Replacements

Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority (PWSA) The Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority (PWSA) announced recently that it has gained approval from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to increase the income limit for its income-qualified free lead line replacement program to 300 percent of the Federal Poverty Level. The limit was previously 250 percent. This change will allow more customers to benefit from this service, which replaces private lead service lines at no charge to the customer.

This $1.8 million program aims to replace private lead service lines for customers who cannot afford it. Crews inspect the water service line coming into the property. If lead is found, it will be replaced with a non-lead material. If some small plumbing upgrades are needed, those will also be made for the customer free of charge. The Authority has partnered with Dollar Energy to approve customers for the program, as well as the Authority’s other customer assistance programs like the winter moratorium on water shutoffs and the bill discount program.

To date, only approximately $800,000 of the $1.8 million has been spent. PWSA encourages anyone who thinks they may qualify to call Dollar Energy at 866-762-2348 to begin the process.

Below are the new income limits to participate in the program:

People in Household Annual Income Eligibility
1 $38,280
2 $51,720
3 $65,160
4 $78,600
5 $92,040
6 $105,480
7 $118,920
8 $132,360

Seton Center Offering Music Classes & Upcoming Events

The Elizabeth Seton Center is offering music classes this spring for children and adults. Music classes available include guitar, violin, piano and cello.  Classes take place at Seton Center, located at 1900 Pioneer Avenue in Brookline. To learn more about music lessons, please contact Mr. John Ott at 412-561-8400, ext. 209 or ott.johng@gmail.com.  You can also visit https://setoncenter.com/.

Seton Center also has upcoming events for seniors. This Thursday, Feb. 27 is the senior center movie and lunch beginning at 11 a.m. Lunch and snacks will be provided for the showing of “Peanut Butter Falcon.” Monday, March 23 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. is the Spring Fling Party & Bingo. On Wednesday, March 25 is the Casino Trip to Jack’s Casino and Saturday, March 28 is the Senior Center Game Night from 6 – 9 p.m.

For more information on these events and to register, please call Cheryl at 412-344-4777.

Fontana Fact

This Saturday is Feb. 29, also known as Leap Day. One solar year is 365 and a quarter day long (around 365.242 days). Every four years, an extra day is added to the calendar to compensate for those missing quarters of a day which gives us 29 days in the month of February this year.

Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana

Brookline District
1039 Brookline Boulevard
Suite 2
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Phone: 412-344-2551
Weekdays – 9 am – 5 pm
Harrisburg
543 Main Capitol | Box 203042
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Phone: 717-787-5300
Fax: 717-772-5484
Weekdays – 8:30 am – 5 pm
Kennedy Township
Kenmawr Plaza
524 Pine Hollow Road
Kennedy Twp, PA 15136
Phone: 412-331-1208
Weekdays – 10 am – 4 pm
Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216
By appointment