Shapiro announced $44B budget that gives, and takes away

Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro introduced his first budget plan to the state’s legislature Tuesday, promoting a spending plan he called conservative, that would save taxpayers money. 

The $44 billion 2023-2024 budget would increase spending by about 4 percent. 

But he focused first on a big reduction. 

He started by proposing the elimination of the state’s cell phone tax. 

“In today’s world, practically everyone has a cell phone – and being connected to the rest of the world is critical to economic stability, safety, family and success,” Shapiro said. “By eliminating the cell phone tax, we will save Pennsylvanians $124 million every year.” 

He called for an expansion of the Property Tax Rent Rebate Program for seniors and those with disabilities. 

He noted that the rebate program has not been updated in 17 years. 

“I want to raise the maximum rebate for seniors from 650 dollars to 1,000 dollars. And I want to increase the income cap for renters and homeowners to 45,000 dollars a year,” he said. 

Under his plan, nearly 175,000 more people would quality for the rebate. 

He also addressed the needs of business, calling on the legislature to speed up the reduction of the state’s Net Income Tax. 

“The budget also makes a significant down payment on innovation and economic development. Like a 50-percent increase in the Manufacturing Innovation Program, which connects our universities 19 with our businesses to find new solutions and spur innovation,” he said. 

Shapiro pointed to Allentown, which he described as a city with a thriving Hispanic population, and said the budget would address funding to support women- and minority-owned businesses. 

“For the first time ever, the commonwealth is going to put sustainable state funding into what’s known as the Historically Disadvantaged Business Program. We’ll provide long-overdue funding for women and minority-owned businesses across this commonwealth, to support their growth and open new doors of opportunity,” he said. 

Nothing that agriculture brings in $132 billion a year in revenue in Pennsylvania, he said the budget addresses farmers that have been dealing with an avian flu outbreak, which has contributed to skyrocketing poultry prices. 

“Under the leadership of Acting Secretary Redding, the Department of Agriculture is working to improve biosecurity efforts on our farms and make farmers who lose birds whole. Pennsylvania is the only state with a fund of $25 million to help fill the gap in covering losses from this terrible disease – and I want to put another $25 million into that fund this year,” he said. 

The budget also calls for a new Organic Center of Excellence to help the state’s 52,000 farms stay on top of the latest farming techniques. 

Shapiro also said the state’s $7.25 an hour minimum wage needs to be increased to $15 per hour. 

“It’s lower than that of 30 other states – including every single one of our neighbors,” he said, noting that the minimum wage hasn’t been increased in 14 years. 

He also vowed to continue to make improvements to the unemployment compensation system, which has been riddled with problems and delays. 

He said that a year ago, workers’ compensation had a backlog that was over 100,000. It’s currently down to 33,000, a number he said he’d still like to see improved. 

Childcare was another area he said needed a boost. 

He said the state economy loses nearly $3.5 billion a year because of a lack of childcare options. 

Pennsylvania has nearly 4,000 unfilled child care jobs and 38,300 children on waitlists. 

To address the issue the budget calls for a $66.7 million investment in Child Care Works to give more parents access to stable child care for their kids. 

Addressing education, he proposed nearly $1 billion in new money for public schools, including a free school breakfast program and pledged a half a billion dollars over the next five years for environmental repairs and upgrades in schools. 

The budget will need to be approved by the state house and senate and would go into effect July 1. 

Jobs, health care, internet, etc.: PA reps discuss issues critical to Central Region

Eight members of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives participated recently in the annual Legislator’s Forum, hosted by the Harrisburg Regional Chamber and CREDC at the Hilton Harrisburg. 

Serving Cumberland, Dauphin, and Perry Counties, the representatives discussed their legislative priorities and offered thoughts on a variety of topics in a Q&A session. The discussion was moderated by Ryan Unger, president and CEO of the Harrisburg Chamber and CREDC. 

Representatives included Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland), Justin Fleming (D-Dauphin), Barb Gleim (R-Cumberland), Joe Kerwin (R-Dauphin), Patty Kim (D-Cumberland/Dauphin), Thomas Kutz (R-Cumberland), Dave Madsen (D-Dauphin), and Tom Mehaffie (R-Dauphin). 

Topics included reduction in the Corporate Net Income Tax Rate; regulatory changes; job skills/knowledge; teaching/nursing shortages; reliable/affordable health care; workforce development; and downtown businesses. 

As Pennsylvania’s Corporate Net Income Tax is being phased down from 9.99% to 4.99%, Kutz said there are talks to be “more aggressive” in the cut and reduce it faster. 

“It’s a good start,” said Kutz, “but I would like to see more advantages for small businesses and to make them more competitive.” 

Fleming noted that every time revenue is reduced it must be budgeted or replaced. 

“I’m hoping businesses are using those savings to re-invest in their businesses, hire more workers,” said Fleming. “I think that’s an excellent use of a giveback like that.” 

Regarding regulatory changes, Kerwin said permit delays are holding up businesses in the state and preventing other businesses from coming to Pennsylvania. 

“I’d like to see hard and fast timelines for these permits to be approved,” said Kerwin. “It’s ridiculous waiting months, years, for the permit process to open a business, to bring economic opportunity to Pennsylvania.” 

Gleim called permitting one of the biggest issues in Pennsylvania. 

“We have businesses leaving our state because they can’t get a timely permit and they’re leaving in droves,” she said. “Regulations are killing our businesses here.” 

Providing students with skills and knowledge to better prepare them for the workforce was also discussed. These skills and knowledge include being financially responsibility regarding credit card spending. 

“We’ve really got to engage early in the development of youth for financial literacy, right around middle school age,” Madsen said. “If it’s not happening in the home or school, where is it happening?” 

Mehaffie stressed the importance of schools and employers to help their students and workers understand the need for establishing good credit. 

“Help them do what they need to do to get good credit,” Mehaffie said, adding it will help employees purchase a house or car. “Without housing, without transportation, they’re not going to be good employees.” 

Shortages in teachers and nurses are major concerns. 

“We are in a teacher crisis,” stated Kim, who citing a lack of support and burnout rate, said there is a need for “incentive programs, college (debt) forgiveness, and support mentor programs.” 

Mehaffie added that there are three shortages – teachers, nurses and police officers. 

“If we don’t have our health care right, our kids educated, good security and law and order in our communities, we have problems,” he said. 

Just as job burnout is an issue for teachers, so it is for nurses, said Mehaffie. 

“This is a problem,” he said. “We have to talk with the colleges, the businesses to come up with a reason for people wanting to be nurses.” 

Reliable and affordable health care remains a concern. Delozier spoke to the importance of good child care for the workforce. 

“People are not going to work if they believe their children are not in a safe location,” she said. “Folks need child care they can count on.” 

Addressing workforce development, Fleming said school districts should be preparing students for jobs in their region. 

Infrastructure is a key concern, and it has expanded beyond bridges and roads to include the internet. The pandemic that forced remote learning for students and remote work for businesses made it clear that connectivity is essential for everyone. 

“We have to make sure the entire state can be connected,” Kutz said. 

Representing a rural area, Kerwin said broadband is “a major issue.” He spoke to the importance of obtaining insight from schools and businesses in providing connectivity to people in rural locations. 

Of traditional infrastructure, Kutz said that one of the core purposes of government “is making sure you have infrastructure to accommodate the growth you have. You can’t just stop when you have a system in place… The answer is going to be continued investment through public and private partnerships.” 

Delozier likewise called infrastructure a priority. 

“It affects commerce and communities,” she said. “It’s a priority for constituents and businesses.” 

Downtown business was the final topic discussed by the panel. Madsen remarked that as his entire community is a commuting community, there is a great need to examine key questions, one of them being if vacant offices are going to be converted into housing. 

Each rep offered closing comments. Gleim said the future of the business community in Central Pennsylvania is “so important because it is so fast growing.” Focus needs to be on expanding the workforce, she added. 

Kerwin said since economic issues affect everyone, “interacting with business leaders and fellow legislators is the more important thing we can do.” 

Mehaffie emphasized the importance of trades – carpenters, electricians, plumbers – and the skills required to do those jobs. Madsen spoke of the necessity to “figure out ways to grow and expand business and create workforce development.” 

Kutz said there is a need to reform policies and regulations to make the state more friendly to business “so that Pennsylvania can truly be a competitive business hub and a model for America.” 

PA working families to benefit from new child care tax credit

To help ease child care costs for working families, the Wolf Administration and General Assembly is investing $25 million in the new child care tax credit program. 

The program is designed to benefit working families with children in child care who qualify for the federal child and dependent tax credit. In Pennsylvania, more than 220,000 received the federal credit, and it is expected that the same amount of families will qualify for the new state tax credit. 

The credit can be claimed beginning in 2023 when filing state taxes. It is refundable, meaning state taxes will not be owed by qualified families on the amount received. 

The average tax credit is estimated to be $171, but the amount received will be income-based. Pennsylvanians paying for child care services could be eligible for the following credits: 

  • $180 (one child) or $360 (two or more children) for households earning above $43,000 or 
  • $315 (one child) or $630 (two or more children) for households earning less than $43,000. 

“As a parent, I know first-hand that high-quality, affordable child care is invaluable to parents, kids, and families,” said Department of Human Services Acting Secretary Meg Snead, who recently visited the Carlisle Early Education Center (CEEC) to meet with child care center staff and providers. 

“I want to thank child care providers like Carlisle Early Education Center because the care and learning opportunities they provide are essential to helping children across Pennsylvania grow and thrive.” 

Children can be kept out of early learning programs and parents out of the workforce due to the rising cost of child care. The average annual cost of infant care in Pennsylvania is nearly $12,000, according to the Economic Policy Institute. To combat costs, new Child and Dependent Care Enhancement Program is included in the Wolf Administration’s 2022-23 state budget. The program is modeled after the federal child and dependent tax credit. 

Children who learn in high-quality child care and Pre-K programs perform better in school and are more likely to graduate, according to studies. Studies also show that high-quality early learning programs help students develop the emotional and social skills needed to succeed in school and life. 

Individuals interested in locating licensed child care programs in Pennsylvania can visit www.findchildcare.pa.gov. Families who are having difficulty finding a provider or who  are lower income and need assistance paying for child care can contact their local Early Learning Resource Center at www.raiseyourstar.org. 

York County program gets $300,000 grant to attract, retain child care teachers

To address the challenge of attracting and retaining quality child care staff, the York County Community Foundation received a $300,000 grant from The Heinz Endowments to support the York County Early Childhood Educator Awards Program.

The awards put money in the pockets of teachers, providing financial incentives for them to stay in their jobs and advance their education.

In the first year, the program was paid for through a mix of public and private funding; the plan is to expand funding sources going forward. Child Care Consultants administers the application process and awards distribution. York County Community Foundation hosts an oversight committee to monitor results.

The average child care teacher earns $10 per hour, and the average salary for a lead teacher in Pennsylvania is $22,500, according to a release. Child care centers have difficulty raising salaries because they realize there’s a limit to how much families can pay.

The Early Childhood Educator Awards distributed $459,000 to 63 home-based family providers, groups and child care centers reaching 311 educators throughout 22 York County ZIP codes in the program’s initial year, Christy S. Renjilian, executive director of Child Care Consultants, said in the release.

“This will serve as baseline data so that we can track changes in retention and attraction rates at the participating centers to demonstrate that the program is achieving its goals.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Child care shortage hurts hospitality industry, survey says

Lack of access to child care threatens parents’ ability to work in the hospitality industry, according to survey data released Wednesday by the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association and Start Strong PA.

The survey questionnaire was distributed to hospitality industry employers and employees between March and May.

Among the data highlights:

· Nearly three-quarters of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that there is a shortage of affordable child care options for their employees.

· Over 80% of respondents said inadequate child care options impacts their ability to recruit qualified employees.

· Nearly 95% of employees said that child care-related concerns are contributing to the national workforce shortage.

“The hospitality industry is still struggling to fully rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic,” John Longstreet, Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association president and CEO, said in a release. “Staffing continues to be the No. 1 concern of operators across all sectors of our industry. Affordable, accessible child care would mean more team members could enter, stay and grow in our industry, boosting the economy along the way.”

Hospitality employees with children reported that child-care access was a barrier to work even before to the pandemic, citing cost and irregular hours. Now that barrier has only increased.

Nearly all employers and employees surveyed said that expanding access to affordable child care should be a high priority for their communities.

“There are currently more than 7,000 vacant child care positions across Pennsylvania … and more than 32,400 Pennsylvanian children on waitlists,” added Steve Doster, a principal partner in Start Strong PA, which supports affordable access to high-quality child care for Pennsylvania families.

“The economy depends on working families and working families depend on child care. Pennsylvania lawmakers are in a position to stabilize and strengthen the child care sector by investing in its employees.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance write

Gov. Wolf announces $98 million in grants for child care industry

As the staffing crisis continues in the child care industry, Governor Tom Wolf has announced a $98 million grant opportunity for certified child care providers to support workforce recruitment and retention. 

The money comes from American Rescue Plan Act funding received by the state specifically for child care providers and their workforce,   

“Child care professionals spend their lives working in service to others, and the benefits of their work are seen not just by families but by all sectors of society that are able to function because our children are safe and learning,” said Wolf. “We must recognize and reward their investment so we may all continue to realize the intergenerational benefits of their contributions to children, communities, and our commonwealth’s economy.” 

 This isn’t the first effort to assist the child care industry in the state. 

In the fall, DHS announced its plan to distribute $655 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to stabilize Pennsylvania’s child care industry. 

 Licensed child care providers are invited to submit applications for one-time grant funding that represents an unprecedented investment in the child care industry and its dedicated workforce. This grant funding can be used to cover expenses, support staff, and provide support to this critical industry that continues to be challenged by the pandemic.  

Also, $352 million in Child Care Development Fund funding from the American Rescue Plan Act is being invested in Pennsylvania’s Child Care Works (CCW) subsidized child care program, targeting decreased costs to families, greater support for child care providers participating in the program, and setting incentives for providers who expand care availability beyond traditional hours. 

Applications for these grants will be accepted from May 16 until June 17. Funds will be disbursed to approved providers beginning July 1 until Sept. 30. More information about how to apply for this funding is available at www.pakey.org. 


Federal grant funding to support Pennsylvania’s child care subsidies

Child Care Works (CCW), Pennsylvania’s subsidized child care program, is set to receive $352 million in funding to decrease costs to families who qualify for subsidized care and add incentives for child care providers. 

The Wolf Administration announced on Monday that it will apply $352 million in Child Care Development Fund Federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to support the state’s CCW funding, starting Jan. 1, 2022. 

The funding comes after Pennsylvania received more than $1 billion from the ARPA to support the state’s child care industry, child care providers and the children and families relying on the system, the administration wrote in a press release. 

“We cannot miss an opportunity to invest resources where they will make a positive and lasting impact on our children. By targeting investments to our subsidized child care system, we are investing in equitable quality child care for all Pennsylvanians, no matter where they live or their income,” said Gov. Tom Wolf.  

The new funding for CCW will include $121.9 million to lower maximum copayments for eligible families. Current copayments through CCW range from 3% to 11%. The additional funding would lower that to 3% to 7%, in line with federal recommendations. 

The funding will also give CCW $213.7 million to increase base rates for providers participating in CCW and $16.8 million for add-on incentives for child care providers offering non-traditional hours. 

“Beyond its necessity for a thriving economy today, investments in quality early learning and child care programs carry into PreK-12 education and throughout adulthood,” said Meg Snead, acting secretary for the state Department of Human Services. This funding will give our youngest Pennsylvanians a strong start they deserve and supports the dedicated educators and professionals that make this possible.” 

Milton Hershey School outlines plans for first childhood resource center

An artist rendering of one of Milton Hershey School’s proposed Early Childhood Resource Centers. PHOTO PROVIDED.

Milton Hershey School expects to finish its first of six early childhood resource centers in the spring of 2023.

Last month, the Hershey-based private boarding school announced that it would be naming the new centers, funded through a $350 million investment with the Hershey Trust Co., after Milton Hershey’s wife, Catherine Hershey.

Milton Hershey School (MHS) has been well at work preparing for its first Catherine Hershey School (CHS), to be located on the Milton Hershey School campus and plans to open the first center in two years.

The initiative, which would build learning centers for children under the age of five and offer support for their families such as job skills, was approved in October by the Orphans’ Court Division of the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas.

Pete Gurt, president of both Milton and Catherine Hershey Schools, said that locating the first of its early childhood resource centers on the MHS campus will also provide opportunities for MHS students interested in early childhood education.

“It’ll be close to campus to ensure appropriate synergy,” Gurt said. “It will also allow for our students interested in early childhood education to have the opportunity to have authentic work experiences at the center and lay the foundation for them if they want to continue working in early childhood education.”

The main difference between the two schools, other than age, is that the Catherine Hershey Schools will not be residential programs like MHS. Instead, the schools will partner with community organizations in their region to provide resources such as access to health care, job access and more.

Students of CHS will have the opportunity to enroll into MHS, but according to Gurt, not all students may need the support that MHS provides after their time at CHS.

“As we help and support their families of origin, some may not need to come to MHS and we will certainly consider that a success,” he said.

Currently MHS plans to open its second CHS location in Harrisburg sometime in 2024. Gurt said that the school’s board of managers has yet to pinpoint where that school will be and plans to name the locations for the other four schools within the next 12 to 18 months.

Each center is designed to serve 150 children and employ between 60 and 80 staff members.

Gurt said the centers will use similar methods that MHS uses in addressing the whole needs of its students such as their cognitive, social and emotional needs.

“Treating a child as a whole human being and ensuring that their needs on all of those fronts are addressed, is a lesson that we have learned through MHS and expect to carry to Catherine Hershey,” he said

Penn State Health finishes expansion to children’s hospital


Seven years after opening Penn State Children’s Hospital in Hershey, Penn State Health finished a three-floor expansion to the hospital to better meet a growing need across the midstate for pediatric care.

The Hershey-based health system first announced that it would be expanding its children’s hospital by 126,000-square-feet in early 2018 and started work on the project in spring of that year.

The $148 million project is set to open next month and adds a Women and Babies Center, a Labor and Delivery Unit and a 56-bed Level IV neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

The expansion also includes the state’s first Small Baby Unit, according to the system. The unit is designed specifically for the growth and improved brain development in premature babies.

Even with a short pause in construction and added social distancing regulations for the system’s construction team, the project has not experienced any delays and will still open in November as planned, said Deborah Berini, president of Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

“Over the last 50 years, our pioneering leaders and highly skilled teams have continually enhanced the quality of pediatric care,” said Berini. “Today, we celebrate our tremendous growth and look forward to many more years of improving the health of our youngest patients and their families.”

The expansion is a direct response to growing patient volumes at the children’s hospital. Along with the additional beds, the new space allowed the system to hire not only additional staff and physicians, but also pharmacists, environmental health services workers, respiratory therapists and child life specialists, according to Berini.

The new Women and Babies Center will double the number of labor and delivery rooms available and will provide pre-op holding areas and post-op recovery areas for mothers undergoing c-sections or obstetric procedures.

Prior to the new expansion, the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Women and Babies Center and Labor and Delivery Unit were all still located in Hershey Medical Center.

While leadership knew that it would eventually move the facilities into the children’s hospital, the system was not yet ready to move the unit in 2013, said Dr. Sarah Iriana, interim chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the children’s hospital.

With no children’s services left at Hershey Medical Center, parents, nurses and doctors will be able to move between units with much more ease.

Dr. Richard Legro, chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology used the example of a mother being able to move from her room to the NICU unit using a private elevator when she would previously need to go next door to Hershey Medical Center to the seventh floor.

“The Labor and Delivery Unit and NICU are contiguous,” Legro said. “We considered every detail so that our moms and tiniest patients have the most comforting amenities to deliver, recover and grow, and that families can remain together.”

Moving out of the seventh floor of the medical center will allow Penn State Health to convert the floor into an adult Medical Intensive Care Unit, expanding the system’s inpatient capacity.

Milton Hershey School seeks approval to build six early childhood resource centers in Pa.

An artist rendering of one of Milton Hershey School’s proposed Early Childhood Resource Centers. PHOTO PROVIDED.

Milton Hershey School plans to spend $350 million to construct and operate six early childhood resource centers across the state.

The Hershey-based private boarding school and the Hershey Trust Company filed a petition in the Orphans’ Court Division of the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas on Thursday for authorization to build the centers for economically disadvantaged and at-risk children up to five years old.

If approved, the school and trust company would develop and fund a holistic Early Childhood Education Initiative with the purpose of building and running the six Early Childhood Resource Centers– the first two of which would be located in Central Pennsylvania.

The first center is planned for the Milton Hershey School campus and the second in Harrisburg. The following four have yet to be announced.

In a statement released by the school Thursday, officials said that throughout its 110-year history, both it and the Hershey Trust have looked for new ways to improve upon the vision of founders Milton and Catherine Hershey. The new initiative will target what the school sees as a substantial need for early childhood education.

In Pennsylvania, 80-85% of children under five live at or below 185% of the federal poverty level and don’t have access to quality early childhood education, according to the school.

“MHS is launching (the initiative) because it knows from experience that the earlier children are involved in such a program, the greater the impact on their lives and success later in life,” officials wrote. “For 110 years, MHS has been devoted to serving economically disadvantaged children from at-risk backgrounds through holistic practices involving all aspects of an enrolled child.”

The past school year saw the school’s largest enrollment in its history – 2,100 children. Peter Gurt, president of Milton Hershey School and an alumnus, said that the school’s sustained academic results and a record retention rate makes this the perfect time to reach out to further children.

“We now have an incredibly new opportunity to serve even more children from economically disadvantaged and at-risk backgrounds,” he said.

If approved by the court, the $350 million investment will be provided by a limited portion of the annual income from the Milton Hershey School Trust and through the trust’s accumulated income from prior years. In its most recently available tax filing from July 2018, the school reported a net worth of $13.8 billion.

Throughout the initiative, the school plans to keep its students in Hershey as a top priority, according to Robert Heist, chairman of the Milton Hershey School Board of Managers and an alumnus.

“We are always investing in Milton Hershey School, our programs and our staff to better serve our students,” he said. “The plan provides a financial basis for the ECE Initiative without any negative impact on funding for the school or on our continuing plan for enrollment growth.”

Pa. directs another $53M to support child care providers

Governor Tom Wolf visited the child care center at PSECU headquarters in Harrisburg today to announce $53 million in additional financial support for child care providers that have suffered during COVID-19. PHOTO/SUBMITTED –


Child care providers that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic will be getting additional financial support from the state.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf today announced another $53 million in financial support for child care providers.

“This funding will help child care providers bridge the gap until their clientele returns,” Gov. Wolf said. “It will also help them with any increased costs that have been incurred due to the pandemic – things like cleaning and sanitization, which will help keep the 386,000 children who attend our licensed child care facilities safe, as well as the workers who do so much to care for them.”

Last month the state distributed $51 million in CARES Act Child Care Development Funds to eligible child care providers.

This $53 million is also from CARES Act funding and will be distributed this month.

Another $116 million from Act 24 will be distributed in the coming months, bringing the total sum of financial support to $220 million, Wolf said.

The funding is distributed through the Department of Human Services’ Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL), which licenses child care providers in the state.

According to OCDEL there are 7,017 licensed child care providers in Pennsylvania.

Of those, 65 have permanently closed as of June 24.

Because of currently closed child care providers declining the last round of funding, it said it expect at least 100 additional child care providers to remain closed.

“While we do not know how this pandemic will look in a week, a month, or a year, we know that a healthy, robust child care system will be critical to weather the economic recovery ahead,” DHS Sec. Teresa Miller said.

She said the state is working with Penn State Harrisburg’s Institute of State and Regional Affairs on an impact study to understand challenges for child care providers to determine where further investments will be made to make sure there is adequate child care to meet the workforce needs.

“Stable, affordable, high-quality child care is an important piece of our workforce development,” Gov. Wolf said. “In fact, my Keystone Economic Development and Workforce Command Center identified it as one of the biggest hurdles to getting more Pennsylvanians into the workforce. As we continue to recover economically from this pandemic, we will need child care available so parents can resume working, or so they can attend training programs or job interviews.”