|Budget Hearings Look into Potential Mergers
Members of the House Appropriations Committee had a first chance to ask department officials about the governor’s two proposed mergers within his budget proposal – combining the departments of Health, Human Services, Aging, and Drug and Alcohol Programs into a Department of Health and Human Services; and the Department of Corrections and Board of Probation and Parole into a Department of Criminal Justice – during budget hearings this week.
Questions focused on cost savings, current programs and services, and the potential loss of attention to seniors and the opioid epidemic. Gov. Tom Wolf estimated the proposed mergers would save tax dollars by eliminating redundant programs and streamlining services. A specific plan, including placement of personnel, has not yet been given to lawmakers, but estimates reveal a savings of about $90 million.
Also appearing before the committee this week were the departments of Environmental Protection, Conservation and Natural Resources, Agriculture, General Services, Military and Veterans Affairs, and Community and Economic Development; along with the judiciary; Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency; Liquor Control Board; Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology; and the Public Utility Commission.
The final round of hearings is set for next week. To view the upcoming schedule or watch past hearings, click here.
Committee Questions Status of Unemployment Comp System
Members of the House Labor and Industry Committee questioned Secretary of Labor and Industry Kathy Manderino about the impact of furloughs in the Unemployment Compensation (UC) bureau and expected computer system upgrades that were supposed to have been completed years ago.
Since the furloughs and three UC center closures two months ago, residents seeking to submit claims or obtain information from the bureau have experienced lengthy delays or lack of response.
The Wolf administration furloughed staff when an extension of state funding was not approved by the Senate last year, and is now operating solely on federal funding. Subsequent reports revealed that errors made at the department caused the state to lose millions in federal funding. The administration is trying to recoup those funds.
The committee was seeking information from the secretary to explore what short- and/or long-term plans may be necessary in order to meet the needs of those currently waiting for service, as well as to ensure greater accountability and more efficient services within the UC system going forward.
To watch a recording of the hearing, click here.
Act 89 Invests More in Local Roads
PennDOT announced this week that municipalities will receive nearly $466.2 million from liquid fuels revenue to invest in local roads, marking a 5 percent increase, or $20.9 million, over last year.
This funding will allow municipalities to help pay for expenses such as snow removal and road repaving. More than 60 percent of public roads in Pennsylvania are maintained by local governments. The formula for payments is based on a municipality’s population and miles of locally owned roads.
The additional funding is made possible by Act 89 and was distributed to certified municipalities on March 1. Before Act 89 was enacted, municipalities received $320.8 million in liquid fuels payments.
For the complete list of local payments, visit the “Municipal Liquid Fuels Program” page at penndot.gov under the “Doing Business” Local Government page.
Tour of Fayette County Community Action Agency
This week, Jim Stark treated me to a tour of the facilities at Fayette County Community Action Agency. The agency provides access to opportunities people need to improve their lives, to help themselves and each other. Learn more about the resources and programs available online here.
Program Offers Assistance with Septic Systems
The Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST), together with the Department of Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency, offers a program with low-interest loans to homeowners to cover the costs associated with repairing or replacing on-lot septic systems.
Assistance is available to eligible homeowners who need to repair or replace their individual on-lot septic system or to connect for the first time to a public sewer system.
More information can be found here.
My Audio Podcast
I am recording audio Legislative Report podcasts on a periodic basis. You can listen to them by clicking on the Audio Podcast link above the headline in this email, and all future ones.
All podcasts are on my website as well at RepDowling.com. Just click on the audio section in the left column.