Mar. 27, 2020 / Weekly Roundup

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Coronavirus Update

If you’ve been following my website, the local news media and daily briefings from the Wolf administration, you know the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread. For the latest case statistics,
visit the Department of Health website here. 

As state and federal health officials continue to remind us, it is important to stay calm and stay home if possible. It is also important to stay informed, so I’d like to provide a quick rundown of all the latest news you can use about mitigation orders, relief efforts, delays and cancellations, and more.
 
 
 
Important Information for Businesses

Businesses deemed to be “non-life-sustaining” by the Wolf administration are to remain closed until further notice. To review the administration’s guidelines about which businesses may continue to operate and which must close, click here.

If you feel that your work is essential to the common good of the state at this time, you can appeal to the state by filling out this waiver form online.

Please send any documentation of your completed waiver form to
me at KBoback@pahousegop.com so my office can further assist you.

  •   The COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program provides loans of up to $100,000 for working capital with a 0% interest rate. Funds are limited and will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis to qualified businesses employing 100 or fewer full-time employees. This includes businesses in the agricultural, service and hospitality sectors. The program is being administered through the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority (PIDA). All PIDA loan applications must be submitted through a Certified Economic Development Organization (CEDO). For more information, click here.

  •   The U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Economic Injury Disaster Loans offer up to $2 million in assistance and can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing. These loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other bills that can’t be paid because of the disaster’s impact. The interest rate is 3.75% for small businesses without credit available elsewhere; businesses with credit available elsewhere are not eligible. The interest rate for nonprofits is 2.75%. Businesses may obtain information and loan applications by calling the SBA’s Customer Service Center at 1-800-659-2955 (1-800-877-8339 for the hearing impaired), or by emailing disastercustomerservice@sba.gov. Loan applications can also be downloaded at https://www.sba.gov/funding-programs/disaster-assistance. 
 

Recently, the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provided for the expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This is a federal program that requires certain employers to provide their employees with expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. The United States Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division administers and enforces the new law’s paid leave requirements. These provisions will apply from April 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020. Please read the below fact sheets to determine if you are eligible.

  •   Fact Sheet for Employees
  •   Fact Sheet for Employers 
  •   Questions and Answers

 
Unemployment Compensation Information

With so many businesses closing due to COVID-19 mitigation efforts, many people find themselves unemployed and in need of help. This short tutorial offers some guidance on how to go about filing for unemployment.
 
 
PPL Waives Late Fees, Will Not Cut Service During Emergency

PPL Electric Utilities has announced it will waive all late payment fees and will not cut service to any customers for unpaid bills until further notice.


Additionally, PPL has several programs available to help customers who are having a hard time paying their bills:
  •   OnTrack offers a lower, fixed monthly bill and debt forgiveness for customers who make 150 percent of the poverty level or less.
  •   Operation HELP can assist customers who make 200 percent of the federal poverty level or less through grants to help pay customer heating bills, including oil or gas heat. To apply for either Operation HELP or OnTrack visit www.pplelectric.com/billhelp  or call 1-800-342-5775.
  •   CARES  can help customers who are experiencing a temporary hardship. Learn more or apply by calling 1-800-358-6623.
   
 
 
Session Update: Primary Election Moved; School Changes Approved

The House met in session this week to consider legislation necessary to address some of the impacts of the spread of coronavirus in the Commonwealth. As a result of a change made to the House rules last week, more than half of the members opted to participate virtually from their homes or district offices.

We voted to delay the primary election until Tuesday, June 2. This would give counties more time to prepare contingency plans for election day. One of the major challenges has been an inability to train poll workers, as well as concerns voiced by those poll workers, many of whom are senior citizens who tend to be more vulnerable to coronavirus. All of these changes are due to the coronavirus emergency and apply ONLY to the upcoming primary.

In addition to moving the date of the election, Senate Bill 422 would allow counties to consolidate polling places, as long as they provide notice of the changes (which won’t require court approval) at least 20 days before the election; provide public notification of all polling locations at least 15 days prior to the election; and locate polling places in buildings where malt or brewed beverages and liquors are served, as long as voting does not occur in a room where those beverages are dispensed nor requires voters to go through those rooms. These changes would allow counties to adjust if regular polling locations are not available on the new date.

To help expedite results, the bill would allow counties to begin processing absentee and mail-in ballots at 7 a.m. on election day, with counting starting at the close of the polls.

This will be the first election in which Pennsylvania voters have the opportunity to vote by mail-in ballot without an excuse (absentee ballots were permitted only for people who were unable to make it to their polling place on election day for very specific reasons). Voters interested in voting by mail for the June 2 primary should click here to learn more.            

We approved several changes to address ongoing school closures. The governor announced earlier this week schools would remain closed through AT LEAST April 6, with students tentatively scheduled to return to classes April 9.

First and foremost, the Senate Bill 751 would ensure school districts are making a “good faith effort” to develop a plan to offer continuing education during the closure of schools, with the plans to be developed locally by each district with guidance from the state Department of Education and technical assistance from the districts’ intermediate units. The plans would need to be submitted to the department and published on the school districts’ websites.

Regarding special education, the legislation would ask that notice be given to the parents of all special education students for a plan to ensure the students are receiving “free and appropriate public education.”

The bill would eliminate the 180-day instruction requirement on all public and non-public schools. It would allow the secretary of Education to increase the number of allowable flexible instruction days and waive the timeline regarding those days. Additionally, the bill would ensure there will be no loss of school subsidies, including for charter schools, and no staff member of any public school would see any less or more compensation than would have been received without the school closures. It also seeks to address school bus contractors to ensure that once the current crisis has ended, school buses would be ready to provide service.

We voted to ensure workers have access to the unemployment compensation (UC) they need. House Bill 68 would enact several emergency measures, which would expire Jan. 1, 2021. Most notably, the bill would waive the waiting week requirement and job search/registration requirements for all UC claimants for the duration of the disaster emergency.

For employers, the bill would provide relief from charges for contributory employers who pay UC taxes and reimbursable employers (nonprofits and public employers) who elected to pay a solvency fee to the UC Trust Fund.

The measure also would offer more lenient repayment terms for reimbursable employers who did not pay the solvency fee by increasing the timeline for repayment from the current 30 days to 120 days. It would be up to the Department of Labor and Industry to make additional adjustments based on hardship requests from employers. No interest on late payments would accrue or be charged until Jan. 1, 2021.

Finally, the bill would authorize the department to enact any emergency regulations necessary to comply with requirements for any federal assistance for administrative costs, extended benefits, disaster unemployment, or any other unemployment assistance. Emergency regulations will expire 120 days after the federal emergency provisions expire.

We also authorized the transfer of up to $50 million to purchase medical equipment and supplies for hospitals, nursing facilities, and emergency medical services to meet patient and staff needs to respond to COVID-19. House Bill 1232 would also provide temporary authorization to the Department of Revenue to extend the local filing for tax liabilities through July 15, 2020, and to the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) to extend the filing and payment deadlines for local Earned Income Tax to coincide with the extension granted for federal and state income taxes.

All of these measures were signed into law today.
 
 
 
Authorities Ramp Up Anti-Scam Efforts Amid Pandemic
NOTE: This article first appeared in the Citizen’s Voice

As the novel coronavirus quarantine stretches on, state and federal authorities are gearing up efforts to combat a torrent of charlatans and scammers seeking to profit from the pandemic.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, criminals have been setting up websites to sell bogus products and are using fake emails, texts and social media designed to steal people’s money and personal information. Scams linked to the COVID-19 andemic include treatment, investment and charity scams, according to the Justice Department.

Federal prosecutors have been directed to prioritize the investigation and prosecution of COVID-19 fraud schemes, and are now urging people to report fraud to the National Center for Disaster Fraud at 1-866-720-5721 or disaster@leo.gov.

“As with any crisis, there are criminals who will try to use the situation to their advantage,” David J. Freed, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, said in a statement. “All of law enforcement is united to help our fellow citizens during this difficult time. The NCDF Hotline will allow us to get the jump on fraudsters and shut them down as quickly as possible.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities was urging residents to watch for people pushing opportunities that come with a sense of urgency or who request payment by wire transfer or gift card. Secrecy, guaranteed high returns and unsolicited offers are other red flags to watch out for, according to the department.

“Consumers should be on alert for increased fraud during major events such as the outbreak of COVID-19,” said Richard Vague, acting secretary of the department. “Scams are becoming increasingly more sophisticated and scam artists are taking advantage of people, making every attempt to separate you from your hard-earned money.”

The Federal Trade Commission recommends hanging up on robocalls without speaking or pushing any numbers. Consumers should also fact-check information provided to them and ignore offers for COVID-19 vaccinations, cures or home test kits. None of those items exist, according to health care authorities.

In addition, consumers should avoid clicking links from unknown sources and should only buy products online from reputable sellers, according to the commission.

In addition to fighting scams, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office is also working to combat price gouging during the pandemic. As of Monday night, the office had received more than 2,600 tips and completed 80 verified complaints, resulting in 68 cease-and-desist letters being issued, according to the office.

Anyone concerned about price gouging — defined as a seller charging more than 20% of the average product price prior to the emergency declaration — is urged to report it at pricegouging@attorneygeneral.gov.

“During these uncertain times, taking advantage of consumers in need of cleaning supplies and paper products is not only outrageous, it’s illegal,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement.
 
   
 
How Can I Help?

With hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians losing their jobs due to COVID-19 mitigation efforts, there is an increased demand on social services programs, including food banks.

As noted in a news briefing with the administration earlier this week, the Department of Human Services is continuing to process applications and benefit renewals for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Emergency SNAP applications can be expedited and issued in five days. Pennsylvanians can apply for SNAP online at www.compass.state.pa.us.

The Department of Agriculture has provided resources for Pennsylvanians to access emergency food assistance during COVID-19 mitigation, including locations of food banks and food pantries that are assisting individuals and families during this time. And to ensure that food banks and related organizations remain operable with healthy volunteers, the department provided guidelines for ways to limit contact while providing their essential services.

If you are willing and able to help, contact one of our local food banks to see what donations or volunteer help they may need.
  
 
 
Other Notable News Regarding COVID-19

Construction
The governor’s office has announced residential construction projects that are substantially finished and issued a final occupancy permit may continue to completion during the COVID-19 emergency. For all other residential construction projects, limited activities may continue to the extent necessary to stabilize the site, temporarily prevent weather damage, or make emergency repairs only. No new residential construction projects may be started.

Schools

In light of school closures, the Department of Education has canceled all PSSA testing and Keystone exams for the 2019-20 school year. This includes the Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment (PASA). For more information of interest to schools, students and families, click here. 

Taxes
The state (read more here) and federal (read more here) income tax filing deadlines have been changed to from April 15 to July 15. Taxpayers are still encouraged to file sooner rather than later, especially if they are expecting a refund. Online filings are able to be processed more quickly.

The deadline for seniors and people with disabilities to apply for the 2019 Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program has been extended to Dec. 31. Click here for more information.

Transportation
The federal enforcement deadline for REAL ID has been extended by the Trump administration. This extension means you will continue to be able to board a domestic flight or enter a secure federal building with a standard driver's license beyond Oct. 1. The new deadline is Oct. 1, 2021.

After initially closing all of its rest areas, including for parking, PennDOT has now reopened the majority of its facilities in response to feedback from truckers, lawmakers and others. The facilities reopened with sanitation protocols in place to protect against the spread.  For a list of open locations, click here.  The department will continue to evaluate and will determine whether additional rest areas can be reopened.

On the Pennsylvania Turnpike, cash and credit cards are no longer being accepted on the mainline ticket system. All tolls are being assessed electronically via E-ZPass or the PA Turnpike TOLL BY PLATE program as vehicles travel at posted speed limits through tolling points. Service plazas along the turnpike are offering limited services. Click here for details.

All driver license and photo centers are currently closed. You are encouraged to visit the driver and vehicle services website 24 hours a day, seven days a week to process a variety of transactions including driver's license, photo ID and vehicle registration renewals; driver-history services; changes of address; driver license and vehicle registration restoration letters; ability to pay driver license or vehicle insurance restoration fee; and driver license and photo ID duplicates. There are no additional fees for using online services. PLEASE NOTE: Licenses scheduled to expire during the last week of March will now expire April 30. The same deadline extension applies to vehicle inspection deadlines.

Recreation
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission recently released a frequently asked questions (FAQ) sheet outlining recent date changes and best practices for safe fishing during the COVID-19 outbreak.

The PFBC has adjusted its trout season schedule and will host just one statewide mentored youth fishing day on April 11 and a statewide opening day on April 18. Also, to reduce unnecessary travel and social contact amid health concerns, anglers and boaters may display their fishing license, launch permit or boat registration digitally on a phone or other mobile device as proof of possession. This change will allow customers who are either uncomfortable or unable to visit a store to purchase a fishing license, launch permit or boat registration renewal to make the
purchase online through The Outdoor Shop.

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has closed all facilities at state parks and forests through at least April 30. This includes visitor centers; restrooms; campgrounds, cabins and other overnight accommodations; and public programs and events. The public may continue to access trails, lakes, roads and parking for passive and dispersed recreation, such as hiking.

Health
While much attention is being paid to the physical illness that can be caused by coronavirus, the Department of Health is also reminding people to take care of their emotional health. Residents are encouraged 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.

In order to support the ability of nurses, physician assistants and others to treat patients during the current public health emergency, the Department of State has suspended a number of license requirements. Click here for details.

The Pennsylvania Department of Aging has announced that the Pharmaceutical Assistance Contract for the Elderly (PACE) program will offer refill extensions for older adults. PACE will now reimburse refills even if the program participants haven’t used 75% of their supply, which was a prior requirement for refills to be reimbursed under the program. Program participants who would like to receive this exception must have their pharmacy contact PACE at 1-800-835-8040. (This exception excludes opioids and other controlled substances, which will be handled on a case-by-case basis.) To help older adults comply with COVID-19 mitigation efforts, the PACE program is helping enrollees receive free home delivery of their medications from their pharmacies. Read more here.

To ensure access to medications, the Department of State is allowing out-of-state pharmacies 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. Read more here. 
 
 
District Office Reminder

In the interest of protecting public health, my offices in Harrisburg, Dallas and Tunkhannock are temporarily closed to walk-in service. However, we remain ready to assist via phone and email during regular office hours Monday through Friday.

We made this decision based on recommendations offered by the Pennsylvania Department of Health to help prevent the potential spread of coronavirus. We encourage you to reach out for assistance with any state-related issues.

For Harrisburg inquiries, please call 717-787-1117 or email bzablots@pahousegop.com.

For Dallas inquiries, please call 570-675-6000 or email ahoussoc@pahousegop.com; or csweeney@pahousegop.com.

For Tunkhannock inquiries, please call 570-836-4777 or email csweeney@pahousegop.com; lcadden@pahousegop.com ; or jwilliams@pahousegop.com.

To stay informed, I invite you to visit the Coronavirus Information page on my website for links to important resources, including the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is available here. 



 
Our District

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RepBoback.com
Office Locations
105 Lieutenant Michael Cleary Drive, Dallas, PA 18612 | (570) 675-6000, (800) 278-3930
133 West Tioga Street, Suite 4, Tunkhannock, PA 18657 | Phone: (570) 836-4777
41-B East Wing, Main Capitol, PO Box 202117, Harrisburg PA 17120-2117 | Phone: (717) 787-1117
Email: kboback@pahousegop.com
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