Open Seat 48th E-Newsletter

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August 5, 2019 

Military Family Relief Assistance Program

The PA Military Family Relief Assistance Program (MFRAP) provides financial assistance grants to eligible PA service members and family members.  Eligible members must have a direct and immediate financial need as a result of circumstances beyond their control.  The amount of a grant is based on documented financial need up to a maximum of $3,500.  Examples of such financial need include:

  • A sudden or unexpected loss of income, real or personal property, assets or support, directly related to military service, or exigent circumstances affecting the service member;
  • Emergency need for child care for which the applicant lacks financial resources;
  • Natural or man-made disasters resulting in a need for food, shelter or other necessities;
  • The death or critical illness of a parent, spouse, sibling or child resulting in immediate need for travel, lodging or subsistence for which the applicant lacks financial resources.

Visit the MFRAP website to find more information, including eligibility requirements and application information. 

DEP Grants for Small Businesses and Farmers

The PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced the availability of $1 million in grant funding for PA small businesses and farmers for energy efficiency, pollution prevention, and natural resource protection projects through the Small Business Advantage grant program.

Eligible projects include adopting or acquiring equipment or processes that reduce energy use or pollution.  Examples of eligible projects are HVAC and boiler upgrades, high-efficiency LED lighting, solar hot water systems, solvent recovery and waste recycling systems, and auxiliary power units deployed as anti-idling technology for trucks.  Natural resource protection projects may include planting riparian buffers, installation of streambank fencing, and investing in agricultural stormwater management projects, with the goal of reducing sediment and nutrient loads in our waterways.

PA-based small businesses with 100 or fewer full-time equivalent employees are eligible.  Projects must save the business a minimum of $500 and 25% annually in energy consumption, or pollution-related expenses.  Businesses can apply for 50% matching funds of up to $7,000 to adopt or acquire energy-efficient or pollution prevention equipment or processes.  Only costs incurred between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020 are eligible.

Applications will be considered on a first come, first served basis, and will be accepted until fiscal year 2019-2020 funds are exhausted or April 12, 2020, whichever occurs first.  All applications must be submitted through the Single Application for Assistance website.  Printed, faxed and mailed applications are not accepted.  The complete grant application package, which includes step-by-step instructions is available at the DEP Small Business Ombudsman’s Office website.

Column:  2019 State Budget

Snap your fingers.  Snap them again, again, and again.  Now, imagine having a fistful of $1,000 bills in your other hand.  Under the 2019–2020 General Fund budget, Pennsylvania will spend over $1,000 ($1,078.05 to be exact) each second.  Imagine spending those $1,000 bills you’re holding each and every second for the next year.

Total General Fund spending beginning July 1 is $33,997,395,000, or $93,143,547.95 a day, $3,880,981.16 an hour, $64,683.02 each minute, and $1,078.05 every second.

However, General Fund expenditures are just one piece of overall state spending.  When you add federal and specially designated funding, total spending tops $80 Billion.  These additional outlays are covered by a host of special funds, including:  Motor License Fund, Lottery, Horse Racing Fund, Capital Budget, debt service funds, and various other stewardship and singular-purpose funds.

Education remains the largest element of the General Fund budget:  $13,127,581,000, or 38.6% of the total state budget.  This is in addition to federal and local tax moneys (mostly school property taxes – another big issue for another time).  Under the state’s current basic education funding formula (yet another big issue for another time), appropriations to school districts total $6,255,078,997, or an average of $12,510,158 per each of the 500 school districts.

While some say the Commonwealth shortchanges schools, I continue to believe taxpayers have been very generous to education.  When I was first elected, the state education budget was $9,937,864,000.  Today, it’s $13,127,581,000, an increase of 32.1% or an average growth of $265,809,750 each year during my time in office.

I’ve never voted for a state budget that didn’t include an increase for education.  However, I remain a strong advocate of educational choice because a student enrolled in Kindergarten when I was first elected would have now graduated.  My twelve years in office often seems short.  However, for that Kindergartener who’s now graduating, it’s the foundation of his or her basic education over that same twelve years.  It will be a big factor in each students’ future.  No matter how much money we spend, no student should be forced to stay in a school that’s failing or otherwise doesn’t meet his or her educational needs.

After education, human services is the next largest part of the state budget at $12,704,313,000, or 37.37% of the total.  Formerly called “public welfare,” these expenditures cover a myriad of programs and services, including:  medical assistance, children’s health insurance, long-term living, and mental health services.

Whenever we begin the budget process, we invariably hear:  “We can afford it.”  Sometimes, the calls for “investments” (aka “spending”) result in the need for “resources” (aka “taxes”).  From the New Deal to the Great Society to universal health care, advocates have said the richest nation in the world is capable of paying for various programs.

Under the new state spending plan, little attention was paid to the “we can afford it” arguments.  When we go down those roads, it becomes an ongoing challenge to continue to pay for new programs and services in future years.

Such debates too often become rancorous as those who pay oppose higher taxes and those who receive the benefits don’t want less.  Meanwhile, those who favor higher taxes often say “it’s just a few cents more.”  But, they never talk about the hundreds and thousands of dollars already paid in federal, state, and local taxes.

With the passage of the 2019–2020 state budget, it won’t be long until we start to hear again:  “we can afford it” as deliberations for next year’s state budget begin.

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