In This Update:
Senate Passes COVID-19 Emergency Measures for Local Governments
Local governments have faced significant challenges during the COVID-19 public health emergency. As Chair of the Local Government Committee and after having many discussions and meetings with local government leaders, associations and other stakeholders, I sponsored a bill that was approved by the Senate this week to help local governments respond to the coronavirus crisis.
The bill gives local taxing bodies more flexibility to help local taxpayers who are struggling financially due to the COVID-19 crisis by extending deadlines for property tax discount rates to any date up until August 31. The legislation would also allow local governments to waive any fee or penalty for late payments of property taxes if paid in full by the end of the year.
Also, the legislation would allow members of local governments to participate in meetings and conduct other business remotely during the governor’s disaster declaration. Additional requirements are included to ensure transparency of remote meetings, including provisions for public notice and posting minutes.
In addition to supporting local government operations during the disaster emergency, my legislation would also reauthorize the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4) to support more affordable and accessible health care for all state residents. The panel would also be responsible for preparing a report on the effect of the COVID-19 disaster emergency on healthcare facilities, including expenses and lost revenue during the crisis to determine additional financial assistance.
The bill would also give notaries emergency authorization to notarize documents remotely through the use of communications technology and provide additional time for businesses to contribute to educational scholarship programs in order to earn tax credits.
More details about the bill are available here.
State Warns of COVID-19 Stimulus Check Scams
The state Departments of Revenue and Banking and Securities are warning Pennsylvanians about phishing scams targeting people who are expecting a stimulus payment from the federal government.
The Internal Revenue Service has reported seeing a surge of scam artists perpetrating phishing schemes in which they pose as government officials to trick people into turning over their banking information.
Pennsylvanians should never give direct deposit or other banking information to anyone who contacts them on the phone, through email or text messages, or on social media. More details about this scam are available here.
More Support Coming for Long-Term Care Homes
ECRI, an independent non-profit health services company, will offer individualized infection control and prevention assistance to long-term care facilities throughout the state to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Department of Health will coordinate with ECRI to evaluate how facilities are currently working to maximize resources and to provide support for facilities. More information is available here.
Guidance Issued on Building Safety and Maintenance During COVID-19 Pandemic
The Department of Health recently offered guidance for life-sustaining businesses to clean and maintain their facilities during the current public health emergency. Some of the directions include cleaning and disinfecting high-touch areas, maintaining existing cleaning protocols, and ensuring each facility has sufficient employees to maintain safety and control building access.
The full order from the Department of Health is available here.
Volunteer Fire Departments Eligible for Federal Loan Programs UPDATED
UPDATE: IRC 501(c)(4) status fire companies and other IRC 501(c)(4) organizations are NOT eligible for Paycheck Protection Program loans, but they do qualify for Emergency Injury Disaster Loans.
Under the federal CARES Act, volunteer fire departments are eligible for two types of federal loans: Emergency Injury Disaster Loans and Paycheck Protection Program loans.
For volunteer fire departments with IRC 501(c)(3) or IRC 501(c)(4) status, Emergency Injury Disaster Loans may be used to pay fixed debts, payroll, accounts payable and other costs. If approved, EIDLs provide up to $2 million for working capital, have a 2.75% interest rate for non-profits, and can be repaid over 30 years.
Volunteer departments organized as a private non-profit [IRC 501(c)(3) and IRC 501(c)(19)] that pay firefighters are also eligible for the Paycheck Protection Program. This loan is designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses and non-profits to keep their workers on the payroll. Loans are forgiven if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest, or utilities.
Trout Fishing Season Opens Early
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission announced that trout fishing season is officially open for the 2020 season. The early opening is intended to discourage large groups of anglers from concentrating on the traditional opening day, which could have made social distancing difficult.
Anglers are encouraged to maintain at least six feet of separation from others, wear a mask or face-covering, avoid sharing fishing gear with others and only fish with members of their own household. Due to the early opening, Mentored Youth Trout Day will be cancelled, but all youth fishing licenses purchased in 2020 will be honored in 2021.
More information about the early opening day of trout season is available here.
Volunteer Fire Company Grant Program Now Open
Volunteer fire companies serving rural areas and communities with fewer than 10,000 residents can apply now for grants of up to $10,000 for training and equipment purchases directly related to fighting brush and forest fires. Grant applications are due May 21 by 4 p.m.
More details about the Volunteer Fire Assistance Grant Program are available at https://www.grants.dcnr.state.pa.us/Dashboard/VFAGrants.
Background Check Requirements Temporarily Eased for Employees Serving Older Pennsylvanians
COVID-19 mitigation has severely impacted the ability of many employees serving older Pennsylvanians to receive the necessary background checks that are legally required in order for an individual to start working in that environment. The Department of Aging recently announced that applicants who need an FBI background check can be provisionally employed for up to 90 days after applying for a criminal history report.
More information about these criminal background checks is available here.