American Rescue Plan saves pensions of PA steelworkers and auto workers

The pensions of an estimated 6,700 Pennsylvania workers and retirees are being protected by the American Rescue Plan, according to a release Thursday from the office of U.S. Senator Bob Casey, D-PA

The release from Casey’s office stated that the American Rescue Plan thus far has saved the pensions of at least 31,700 workers and retirees in Pennsylvania-based plans. The workers and retirees impacted United Steelworkers (USW) and United Auto Workers (UAW). 

Casey applauded the announcement. 

“The promise of a pension is a promise we’re supposed to keep,” Casey said in a statement. “With today’s announcement, thousands of Pennsylvania steelworkers and auto workers can rest east knowing the benefits they’re owed will be waiting for them when they retire.” 

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) announced $860 million in relief to the National Integrated Group Pension Plan (NIGPP). This is expected to benefit approximately 48,000 workers nationally, including 6,700 workers and retirees in Pennsylvania. 

The funding comes from the PBGC’s Special Financial Assistance program, which was created by the American Rescue Plan. The Senate passed the plan by a vote of 50-49 and it was passed by the House of Representatives by a vote of 220-211.

Casey announces millions to expand high-speed internet to Pa. businesses, homes

Joining local, state, and Biden Administration officials, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) on Monday announced $200 million for high-speed internet expansion for thousands of Pennsylvania homes and businesses. 

The Capital Projects Fund, established under the American Rescue Plan, will provide funding to expand high-speed internet access for more than 44,000 homes and businesses throughout the state, particularly in rural communities. 

Pennsylvania is expected to receive at least $1 billion more to expand affordable high-speed internet across the state from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. 

“Too often, families, particularly those in our rural communities, are left at a disadvantage when it comes to high-speed internet access,” Casey said in a statement. “This $200 million award from the American Rescue Plan will help level the playing field.” 

Casey added that he will continue working to expand high-speed internet in Pennsylvania so that families stay connected and small businesses remain competitive in a digital world. 

Of the $10 billion provided by the American Rescue Plan to the U.S. Department of Treasury, $279 million goes to Pennsylvania for capital projects to provide high-quality modern infrastructure, including reliable, affordable broadband infrastructure. 

These programs, together with the funding in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,help deploy high-speed internet to those without access, lower costs for those who cannot afford it, and seek to make certain businesses stay competitive by supporting economic recovery.

New jobs, higher pay, career advancement are aims of new PASSHE registry

Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) is creating the state’s first credential registry to help prepare students of all ages for in-demand careers and strengthen the workforce. 

The project is funded by Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor & Industry and American Rescue Plan funds appropriated by PASSHE. 

Initially, the State System’s credential registry will include in-demand programs such as business, computer science, education, engineering, nursing, and social services. The first phase of the credential registry is anticipated to be ready in 2024.  

A press release from PASSHE stated the on-line tool is user-friendly and will aid students and workers in navigating education and professional credentials. Users will be enabled to make informed decisions regarding their opportunities. 

The credential registry can be used by the public to learn which credentials exist, where to obtain them and in what order, and which skills employers seek for jobs in high demand. The registry will explain which credentials are sequenced, possibly leading to a bachelor’s degree and beyond. 

PASSHE Chancellor Dan Greenstein said the State System is redesigning itself to meet the needs of learners and provide a pipeline of talented individuals that employers are seeking. He added that the credential registry is a key part of the process. 

“Credentials add value to your resume by demonstrating to employers that you have the education and latest skills to do the job,” said Greenstein in a statement. “Students and job seekers will be able to use the credential registry to understand the pathways to earn credentials that open doors to new and higher-paying jobs.” 

The State System is partnering with the non-profit Credential Engine in creating the online credential registry.

“Pennsylvania’s design for this work is exemplary,” said Scott Cheney, CEO of Credential Engine. “Focusing on quality, stackability and pathways will help students and workers be better able to navigate their way through all types and levels of credentials to the skills needed by employers. Having all that information in an open credential registry is an important first step.”

A credential registry will be an important tool to address the labor shortage. Currently, 60% of Pennsylvania jobs require higher education, yet only 51% of workers have education after high school. Helping the state’s workforce earn credentials can close the talent gap, and credentials such as badges, certificates, licenses, apprenticeships and industry certifications can be earned as two- or four-year State System academic programs.  

Credentials can be earned at the learner’s pace. In short-term programs, learners can enter higher education, earn a credential while working and go on to the next credential or leave higher education for the workforce. They can return to the program to earn advanced credentials to build skills to advance their career or earn a higher income. 

The State System is expanding credentialing within academic courses so students can earn credentials on route to their degree. The online registry’s largest benefit may go to working adults, especially those with some college and no credential, or those in entry-level positions who need to improve their skills to keep up with automation and technology. 

In a press release issued by PASSHE, a Pennsylvania-specific registry enables employers to identify the credentials most relevant to their hiring needs.

Pa. Awarded $268M in federal funds for small business

Governor Tom Wolf announced Monday that Pennsylvania has been awarded nearly $268 million in American Rescue Plan funding, through the State Small Business Credit Initiative (SSBCI), to spur small business success and job creation opportunities across the state. 

“Supporting our small businesses and boosting Pennsylvania’s world-class business environment continues to be one of my top priorities and I thank President Biden for sharing that commitment,” said Gov. Wolf. “This funding from the Biden Administration is a significant investment in Pennsylvania’s future that will be used to empower our small businesses and generate new jobs.” 

The American Rescue Plan reauthorized and expanded the SSBCI, which was originally established by Congress in 2010 to provide loans and investments to underserved small businesses. As part of this reauthorization, $10 billion in funding is being allocated by SSBCI to states, including $267.8 million to Pennsylvania. 

“This is an historic investment in entrepreneurship, small business growth, and innovation through the American Rescue Plan that will help reduce barriers to capital access for traditionally underserved communities,” said Secretary of the Treasury Janet L. Yellen. “I’m excited to see how SSBCI funds will promote equitable economic growth across the country.” 

The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) will distribute the new funds to eligible economic development partners who will then administer the funding to qualifying businesses in the form of equity investments and loans. 

Pennsylvania will operate three different programs. The first two programs – equity capital investments and venture capital investments – have been allocated a combined total of $142 million.  

Direct equity investments will be made in seed and early-stage technology companies in Pennsylvania through longstanding partners Ben Franklin Technology Partners and Life Sciences Greenhouses, as well as venture capital investments in new funds under the management of underserved venture capital firms. 

The third program is a loan participation program that has been allocated more than $125 million. It will extend loans of no more than 50% of total financing to small business borrowers through certified economic development organizations (CEDOs) and community development financial institutions (CDFIs). 

“I’m very pleased to see these ARPA funds allocated to Pennsylvania,” said DCED Acting Secretary Neil Weaver. “Our partners will use this funding to help small businesses, socially and economically disadvantaged businesses, and businesses in the innovation and technology sector.” 

Detailed guidelines will be available soon and eligible partners should visit the Pennsylvania SSBCI website for additional information as it becomes available. DCED expects to begin distributing the SSBCI funds to economic development partners this fall. 


Wolf administration launches $350 million Pa. Homeowner assistance fund 

Pennsylvania homeowners that are at or below 150% of their region’s median income will soon be able to apply for financial assistance through the new Pennsylvania Homeowner Assistance Fund (PAHAF). 

The Wolf administration announced this week that the new fund, administered by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA), has been approved by the U.S. Department of the Treasury. 

The fund consists of $350 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds through the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Homeowner Assistance Fund and will be given to Pennsylvania homeowners grappling with unforeseen financial hardships as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“As we continue to advance our COVID-19 recovery efforts, we must address the rising number of homeowners facing possible loss of their homes and foreclosure – this program will do just that,” said Gov. Tom Wolf. “The Homeowner Assistance Fund will prioritize individuals and families with the greatest need, as well as those who are socially disadvantaged. I am grateful that the U.S. Treasury has approved Pennsylvania’s plan, and we can start the new year by distributing this critical funding to homeowners.”   

PAHAF will use the funds to provide eligible Pennsylvania homeowners with much-needed assistance to prevent and/or ease mortgage delinquencies, defaults, foreclosures, displacement and utility disconnection. 

Our mission is to help Pennsylvanians achieve housing stability despite the many hardships faced during these uncertain times,” said Robin Wiessmann, executive director and CEO of the PHFA. “PAHAF will provide critical support to eligible Pennsylvania homeowners, allowing families to recover and helping communities overcome the devastating financial and economic impacts of the pandemic.“ 

Applications for the fund open on Feb. 1. Applicants that qualify for the assistance must be a Pennsylvania homeowner that saw a reduction of income or increase in living expenses due to the pandemic after January 21, 2020. 

Wolf expected to sign ‘fiscally responsible’ budget that disappoints business groups

Gov. Tom Wolf is expected to sign a $40.8 billion general fund budget that includes the largest education funding increase in state history and allocates millions of dollars from Pennsylvania’s share of the American Rescue Plan (ARP) for rental assistance, child care, nursing home and long-term care recovery and more, before its Wednesday deadline.

But the budget, praised for its bipartisanship, disappointed business groups who thought it should do more to help employers harmed by the pandemic.

The bipartisan consensus reached to bring together a timely budget was good to see, but the spending plan does not do enough to tackle hurdles for Pennsylvania businesses, such as improving the state’s corporate net income tax rate, said Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.

“While we are pleased with the bipartisan consensus reached in this budget, we believe much more work needs to be done to boost the Commonwealth’s competitiveness,” said Barr. “We encourage the legislature to embrace our Rise to the Challenge initiative to help the private sector chart a new course to a thriving economy that will lead to more jobs and opportunities for all Pennsylvanians.”

The budget does not include any of the tax increases proposed by Wolf in his February proposed budget.

Following its approval last week, Sen. John DiSanto, R-Dauphin/Perry, called the budget fiscally responsible for not including the proposed taxes, which included a 46% Personal Income Tax hike and the imposition of an energy tax.

“This budget makes record investments in our schools, provides for essential government services and forgoes the Governor’s proposed tax hikes on hardworking Pennsylvanians as our economy recovers from the pandemic,” DiSanto said. “Rather than spend all this year’s surplus and federal stimulus funds as the Democrats have been advocating, this budget prudently anticipates tomorrow’s challenges and assures the Commonwealth is in a solid financial position to address next year’s projected budget deficit.”

The budget details how the state will use funds given to it through the American Rescue Plan Act, which includes $728.9 million to help stabilize the child care industry.

“This investment will allow parents to return to work with the comfort of knowing their young children are in safe and nurturing child care. This crucial support will help families and employers,” Wolf said.

The budget allots $450 million in ARP funding for rental assistance, $350 million for homeowner mortgage assistance, $36 million to help pay water bills and $30 million in new state dollars for violence intervention.

Another $282 million in ARP funding is set aside to help nursing homes and long-term care facilities recover from the pandemic, something that nursing home workers rallied for on the steps of the state Capitol earlier this month.

“After an unprecedented 18 months of a pandemic which took the lives of over 27,000 Pennsylvanians and devastated our healthcare workforce, PA legislators have reached a budget agreement that listens to caregivers and begins to address the long work ahead to rebuild and reform our healthcare system,” said Matthew Yarnell, president of SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, the state’s largest union of nurses and healthcare workers.

The budget does not include the PA Heroes Act, which would have set aside $650 million in ARP funds to support grants for community programs to bolster post-pandemic health care.

The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania (HAP), an ardent advocate for the act and a statewide organization made up of 240 state health care providers, called the exclusion a “failure to address newly emerging challenges.”

“We offered a carefully crafted plan to support healthcare workers, to rebuild the infrastructure we need for the next pandemic, and to address the behavioral health crisis exacerbated by COVID-19,” said Andy Carter, president and CEO of HAP. “The plan is also specifically designed to target resources where they are needed and includes strict accountability for implementing real improvements to care. Yet, lawmakers are leaving town with those plans sitting on the drawing board, ignored.”

The budget allocates $416 million to public education funding with $200 million going to increase the state’s Fair Funding Formula for school districts, and $100 million for Level Up, a new initiative providing funding for Pennsylvania’s 100 most underfunded districts.

It also provides a $50 million increase in funding for special education, a $30 million increase for early education and $20 million for Ready to Learn, $11 million for preschool Early Intervention and $5 million for community colleges.

$400 million in ARP funds will be invested to address learning loss, provide summer enrichment and after school programs for Pennsylvania school districts and make college education more affordable and accessible for students entering the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.