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April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

Each April, we recognize National Child Abuse Prevention Month in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is a time when child advocacy groups, government leaders and nonprofits join forces to raise awareness about the warning signs and offer assistance to those living under the specter of child abuse.

However, as we all know, this is no ordinary year. In the midst of our statewide stay-at-home order, it is more important than ever to advocate for child welfare. The disruptions to everyday life mean our circumstances have changed in a way that nobody could have predicted.

The COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent mitigation efforts have resulted in school closings, job losses and extreme uncertainty for millions of Pennsylvania families. We in the legislature have taken action to provide relief to families in the wake of this disaster, but the fact remains that our nation’s children are at an increased risk of experiencing child abuse and neglect in times of extreme stress such as these.

I invite you to read my full Op-Ed on Child Abuse Prevention Month and the steps that you can take to protect our state’s vulnerable youth here. 
Find Answers to Your Unemployment Questions

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry has assembled a frequently asked questions (FAQ) page on its website where you can find answers regarding unemployment eligibility, the filing process and more. This webpage is constantly updated, so be sure to check back regularly for the latest information.

If you are unable to find answers to your questions about unemployment online, you are encouraged to contact the department by email at uchelp@pa.gov to avoid a long wait on the phone. I suggest you keep a copy of the email as a record of your contact.
Tips for Filing an Unemployment Claim

My office has received the following guidance from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry for individuals filing for unemployment compensation.

File only once: Whether on a new claim or a reopened claim, be sure to only file once. Filing the initial claim application more than once holds up your claim as well as other people’s claims.

Personal information: Ensure the identification information you provide is exactly as it appears on your Social Security card. If there is a mismatch, your claim will be held up until it is manually reviewed. PINs are not mailed until identity issues are resolved.

Reason for Separation: If your employer does not have work available, it is a “lack or work” or “laid off.” DO NOT select “Plant Closed,” “Other,” or “Still Employed” – these choices will delay claim processing for further investigation. If it was a situation where you quit or were fired, select the appropriate reason.

Return to work date: It is best to leave this blank since COVID-19 plans are always changing.

Workers Compensation: This is not the same as unemployment compensation. This only pertains to a person being injured at work and receiving Workers’ Compensation payments because of that injury. The answer will usually be “NO.”

Work as a Federal Civilian: The federal government does not report wages to PA. If you are a federal employee, you must answer “Yes” to this question. The highest volume of federal civilians in PA worked for the Post Office or IRS.

Answer the call: To ensure you don’t miss a call from the unemployment office, you are encouraged to enter the Unemployment Compensation Service Center number into your phone contacts: 1-888-313-7284

E-mail etiquette: Please email the Department only once. Department staff are working hard to answer all emails in the order they come in, so sending duplicate emails does not help. Please do not reply “Thank you” to Department emails, as it adds one more message to be processed.
State Offers Relief to Taxpayers Affected by COVID-19

In light of the ongoing emergency declaration, Pennsylvania is suspending/reducing wage garnishments, pausing payment plans on request, and more. You can read more about it here. 
Emergency SNAP Benefits, Local Feeding Programs Available

The Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) will begin an emergency Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit issuance in line with the federal government’s interpretation of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Payments include a supplemental increase for both March and April and will continue to be issued for current SNAP households through April 29. DHS is also informing Pennsylvanians in need of food assistance of local supports that can help meet essential needs during the public health crisis.

On Thursday, the Department activated the Feeding Task Force, which brings together state agencies, charitable food networks, and other local partners to determine where food needs are, how many meals are needed, how food is getting to people, and how supplies and donations can be allocated to meet feeding needs across Pennsylvania.

Individuals and families in need of assistance should contact their local food bank through Feeding PA or Hunger-Free PA to find a food pantry or other distribution site in their community.

The United Way of Pennsylvania and the 211 program can also connect people and families to local resources that can help during this public health crisis.

Additionally, the Commission on Economic Opportunity has a helpful tool for finding a food pantry near you.  
Federal Grants Available to College Students

Federal coronavirus relief funds will provide emergency cash grants to certain college students whose academic careers were disrupted by the pandemic.

More than $19 million in funding is available for students at more than a dozen area colleges, universities, and career and technical schools. The schools will determine how to distribute the money, which comes from the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, to students.

Several colleges and universities in our region qualify for these emergency relief funds. They include:

  •   Career and Technology Center of Luzerne County: $174,002
  •   CDE Career Institute: $110,238
  •   Clarks Summit University: $596,633
  •   Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine: $160,035
  •   Hazleton Area Career Center: $33,666
  •   Johnson College: $559,569
  •   Jolie Hair and Beauty Academy: $150,088
  •   Keystone College: $1,425,853
  •   King’s College: $1,968,517
  •   Lackawanna College: $1,885,348
  •   Luzerne County Community College: $3,206,325
  •   Marywood University: $2,020,450
  •   Misericordia University: $1,536,398
  •   University of Scranton: $2,938,777
  •   Wilkes-Barre Area Career and Technical Center: $335,061
  •   Wilkes University: $2,403,446
  •   Yeshivath Beth Moshe: $44,687

This is the first round of funding for post-secondary education institutions, which must use at least 50% of the total money they receive to provide cash grants to students.
IRS Launches New CARES Act Tools

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is offering two new tools to help people ensure they receive their economic impact payments authorized under the federal CARES Act.

One tool is for people who don’t normally file a tax return (please note it is not necessary for people who receive Social Security retirement, disability or survivor benefits, or Railroad Retirement and survivor benefits to complete this form, unless you have qualifying children to claim). The tool for non-filers is available here.  

The second tool is for people who file but need to update direct deposit or mailing address information, or to check your payment status and confirm payment type. That form is available here. Learn more about economic impact payments here.  
Understanding Pandemic Unemployment Assistance

You may be eligible for pandemic unemployment assistance (PUA) if you are self-employed, do not have sufficient work history to qualify for regular UC, or have exhausted your rights to regular UC benefits or extended benefits.

PUA provides up to 39 weeks of benefits to covered individuals who are not eligible for regular UC and who are otherwise able and available to work except that they are unemployed, partially employed, or because of any one of the following COVID-19-related reasons:

  •   You have been diagnosed with or are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and are seeking a medical diagnosis;
  •   A member of your household has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
  •   You are providing care for a family member or a member of your household who has been diagnosed with COVID-19;
  •   Your child or other person in the household for whom you are the primary caregiver is unable to attend school or another facility that is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that school or facility care is required for you to work;
  •   You are unable to reach your place of employment because of a quarantine or stay-at-home order due to the COVID-19 pandemic;
  •   You are unable to reach your place of employment because you have been advised by a health care provider to self-isolate or quarantine because you are positive for or may have had exposure to someone who has or is suspected of having COVID-19;
  •   You were scheduled to start a new job and do not have an existing job or are unable to reach the job as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic;
  •   You have become the breadwinner/major supporter for a household because the head of your household has died as a direct result of COVID-19;
  •   You had to quit your job due to being diagnosed with COVID-19 and being unable to perform your work duties;
  •   Your place of employment is closed as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here is a link to the FAQs for the PUA program.  
Mask Up, PA

Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine signed an order this week to provide personal protective equipment to workers that must maintain in-person operations.  

As a reminder, members of the public are encouraged to wear homemade cloth or fabric masks. Save surgical masks and N95 respirators for our health care workers and first responders.

The Department of Health has published a guide on how to make a homemade mask out of fabric or cloth. It is available on the Department’s website. 
DHS Announces CHIP Extensions

The Department of Human Services (DHS) is making temporary changes to Pennsylvania’s Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to keep families enrolled in CHIP for the duration of the public health emergency and to ease access to medical services for children being screened or receiving treatment for COVID-19. Read more here. 
State Offers Guidance for Real Estate Transactions

The Pennsylvania departments of State and Banking and Securities has issued some limited guidance about allowable activities related to residential real estate transactions that were initiated prior to the state’s coronavirus emergency declaration. Read the guidance memo here.
Department of Revenue Waives Sales Tax Prepayments

Businesses that collect Pennsylvania sales tax will not have to make Accelerated Sales Tax (AST) prepayments over the next three months. That means businesses that normally have a monthly prepayment requirement will not be charged penalties for missing the prepayment deadline during this three-month period. Read more here. 
Resources for Manufacturers, Supply Chain Operators

There are several resources available to manufacturers, distributors and other suppliers to improve supply chain operations during this pandemic.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Critical Medical Supplies Procurement Portal is available for manufacturers, distributors and
other suppliers to inform us of supplies available for purchase and will allow us to more quickly and efficiently procure these supplies for hospitals and medical facilities across Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Manufacturing Call to Action Portal is available to help facilitate business connections for expansion of supply chain capacity and manufacturing innovation.

For resources on COVID-19 and the Commonwealth’s response to the virus, click 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 between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.

REMINDER: For unemployment inquiries, please utilize the links and resources above.

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.
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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