Potential federal bill includes retirement provisions for young workers 

As saving for retirement becomes more challenging or less of a priority for many workers across the country, a provision in the SECURE Act 2.0 will help make effective retirement contributions a reality for many younger workers. 

Aside from the SECURE Act 2.0’s broadest implications with a shift in the age of Required Minimum Distribution, the piece of legislation will make saving for retirement even easier — especially for workers beginning their careers, according to Lancaster-based financial advising firm Conrad Siegal.  

“If you look at many of the statistics, it says that savings toward retirement are incredibly low,” Brooke Petersen, investment consultant at Conrad Siegel, said.  

Many of Conrad Siegel’s clients are working toward that savings, but Petersen said the national trend is that many Americans are behind on retirement contributions.  

“Many people think that they can make up for it later, but from an investment standpoint, the earlier people begin to save, the more that investment will compound,” Petersen said. “We tell our clients that anything they can do to save earlier in their career, the better, and the SECURE Act 2.0 will certainly help with that.” 

The piece of legislation, which stands for Securing a Strong Retirement, is broad and has many components, but there are two provisions that will work together to benefit these younger workers in a direct way. 

For many fresh out of college workers, student loans are the largest financial obligation and priority. “These people are actively repaying their loans, but they may not have enough income to make a meaningful retirement contribution,” Petersen said.  

In both the House and the Senate versions of the SECURE Act 2.0, workers who are making those loan payments responsibly, but who aren’t contributing to a 401k, will be eligible to receive a matching contribution from their employer based on the continuation of on-time payments. “There is certainly a savings mismatch for young workers,” Petersen said. “And this will help fill that gap tremendously.” 

The second provision that works in unison with the 401k match to student loans is an automatic enrollment in a 401k plan.  

Although employees are given the option to opt out of the plans they are enrolled in, Petersen said the ease of being automatically contributing may be just enough incentive for those young workers to keep saving. 

“Yes, you can opt out, but we would predict they are very unlikely to opt out of plans they are automatically placed into,” Petersen said. “This will get a whole lot more people to start contributing early.” 

The demand of initial paychecks for those new to the workforce can be overwhelming, but one thing Conrad Siegel stresses is saving early. “Even if it’s a small amount when you’re young, it’s all about compounding growth over time,” Petersen said. “And these two aspects of the new SECURE Act will work in favor of that.” 

The first SECURE Act was passed at the end of the legislative year in December of 2019.  

Although many of the provisions in the first iteration of the bill were on the financial community’s radar for a long time, Petersen said it was a surprise that it passed with such ease and so quickly. 

“A lot of us in the financial industry were scrambling to find out what specifically was in the bill and to find out what the implications were,” Petersen said. 

Being a follow-up to the first bill, the SECURE Act 2.0 has been expected and anticipated, as a bill that fills in the gaps that the first left opened. 

The House passed their version of the bill in March of 2022 with little resistance and the Senate is expected to do the same. Although their respective bills look slightly different, their provisions appear equally impactful on savings accounts. 

“This bill has bipartisan support,” Petersen said. “It is pretty likely to get over the finish line and all seem to be impacted favorably by this legislation.” 

Petersen said the sequel to the SECURE Act should follow the same time frame as its predecessor as a late-season bill attached to a larger spending bill. 

Senate approves cannabis banking bill 

State-legal cannabis businesses could have better access to banking and insurance services if a bill passed by the state Senate on Wednesday receives approval from the House. 

The Senate approved Senate Bill 1167, authorizing financial institutions and insurers to provide services to state-legal cannabis businesses. 

The legislation was authored by Senators John DiSanto, R-Dauphin and Perry counties and Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia, and would protect against state penalties for banks and insurers that service the medical cannabis industry. 

The approval by the Senate comes after the Pennsylvania Senate Banking and Insurance Committee bipartisan approved the legislation in late March. 

Financial institutions and insurers received guidance in 2014 from the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crime Enforcement Network regarding how they could service cannabis-related businesses. However, federal law does not currently protect financial institutions for servicing cannabis-related businesses. 

The legislation would codify that existing climate of regulatory non-enforcement, according to a release from DiSanto.   

It would also allow the state-legal cannabis industry to operate on credit. Currently companies are forced to operate strictly with cash, making them a target for armed robberies and putting patients and employees in jeopardy, said the release. 

State bill allows PA mortgage lenders to continue remote work 

Mortgage lenders can now permanently conduct business remotely following the passing of a bill this week that updated a temporary waiver granted to the industry early in the pandemic. 

Gov. Tom Wolf announced on Thursday that he had signed House Bill 1588 into law following its passage in the House and Senate.  

The new legislation gives mortgage lenders the flexibility to originate mortgage loans from traditional brick and mortar locations. They can also conduct business from remote locations if they comply with specific consumer protection requirements. 

Mortgage Lenders were previously required to work out of a licensed location prior to the pandemic. Under Wolf’s emergency orders in early 2020, that requirement was waved. 

In the memorandum introducing the bill last year, the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Robert Mercuri, R-Allegheny, wrote that the bill would make that temporary waiver permanent. 

“Pennsylvania’s mortgage brokers have been working remotely and originating mortgages in places other than their licensed place of business,” Mercuri wrote. “[The legislation would] allow for remote mortgage origination to continue and allow PA’s mortgage brokers to continue working as they are now, whether remotely or in a licensed location.” 

Wolf approves new Broadband Development Authority, signs a series of bills into law 

Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill Tuesday approving the creation of a state authority tasked with investing federal dollars in programs to expand broadband internet access across the state. 

The PA Broadband Development Authority, established by House Bill 2071, will oversee and support broadband development, managing at least $100 million in federal aid given to the state to support the construction of new towers, lines and broadband equipment.  

In other business, Wolf vetoed House Bill 1332, which required public school districts to publish the curriculum that will be taught for each grade and for each subject area. Wolf called the legislation a “thinly veiled attempt to restrict truthful instruction.” 

“Under the guise of transparency, this legislation politicizes what is being taught in our public schools,” said Wolf. “The onerous requirements of this bill fall on educators who should be focused on critical issues such as addressing learning loss, managing the impact of the pandemic on students and working through staffing shortages.” 

Other bills signed by Wolf include: 

  • House Bills 291 and 1260, which amend the State Lottery Law to ensure that older adults in the state continue to have access to savings through PACENET, Pennsylvania’s prescription assistance program for older adults. 
  • House Bill 1255, providing a five-year statute of limitations to recover damages against real estate appraisers when there is no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation. 
  • House Bill 1837, amending the Workers’ Compensation Act to streamline the compromise and release agreement process. 
  • Senate Bill 208, which amends the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, in subdivision and land development, further providing for completion of improvements or guaranteeing prerequisite to final plat approval. 
  • Senate Bill 772, amending the Insurance Company Law related to model laws on annuities. 
  • Senate Bill 729, authorizing virtual instruction for certain components of nurse aid training programs. 
  • Senate Bill 829, authorizing licensing boards and licensing commissions to conduct virtual public meetings. 

House signs bill extending hundreds of COVID-19 waived and suspended regulations  

A bill extending nearly 500 waived and suspended regulations into next year is awaiting a signature from Governor Tom Wolf after receiving passage in both the House and Senate. It is expected to allow Pennsylvania’s hospitals the flexibility they need to continue fighting COVID-19.

The waived and suspended regulations were last extended in June and were set to expire on Thursday. Pending Wolf’s signature of House Bill 1861, those regulations will continue through March 2022.

“Back in June, when these regulatory waivers and suspensions were continued, it was done so we could have additional time to review the impact of the waivers and suspensions, whether the regulations were still needed, and what—if any—needed to be modified. This bill reflects the first major effort at tackling this massive change,” said Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R- Centre and Mifflin counties.

The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Andrew Lewis, R- Dauphin County.

When the waivers were initially introduced, they allowed health care providers to expand telehealth services, increase vaccine access, quickly alter their facilities for influxes of patients and more.

The flexibilities given to health care providers through the legislation will help providers avoid any disruptions in care, said Andy Carter, president and CEO of the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania.

“The innovations that hospitals and health systems have implemented to manage this pandemic will continue to transform health care into the future,” said Carter. “We plan to continue our work with the General Assembly and Governor to make permanent some of these flexibilities—such as expanded telehealth—that improve access to care for all Pennsylvanians.”

RGGI receives IRRC approval and now heads to the state General Assembly 

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cap-and-trade program that would reward power companies that reduce carbon dioxide emissions, was approved by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission of Pennsylvania and will now go the General Assembly for debate.

RGGI is a partnership between 10 Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states. States participating in the program set a regional cap on CO2 emissions from electric power plants.

Each state has its CO2 allowance budget, which plants must purchase from in an equal amount to the CO2 they emit.

The state Department of Environmental Protection published its proposed rulemaking for the initiative in the Pennsylvania Bulletin in November and held a public comment period until Jan. 14. This summer it released its final rulemaking documents on the program, which were then brought to the IRRC.

IRRC’s decision is a win for the Wolf administration, which has pushed for its passage. In a statement, Wolf said RGGI “is one more way for Pennsylvania, which is a major electricity producer, to reduce carbon emissions and achieve our climate goals.”

Opponents, however, oppose the plan saying the initiative would harm business and could ultimately send Pennsylvania’s power plants to other states.

In its own statement on Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry said businesses need to have a seat at the table when addressing climate change.

“While we were afforded the opportunity to provide input into this process, the final regulation did not, in our view, adequately address the potential for Pennsylvania to lose vital power generation capacity to neighboring states,” said Gene Barr, president and CEO of the chamber. “Nor did it adequately protect our industrial manufacturers, and the rule will impose significant cost on ratepayers, families and businesses at a time when Pennsylvania is struggling to recover from the pandemic.”

Wolf signs 2021-2022 state budget that ‘invests in Pennsylvanians’

Pennsylvania’s $40.8 billion general fund budget was signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday following approval by the House and Senate last Friday.

The budget includes the largest education funding increase in state history and allocates millions of dollars from Pennsylvania’s share of the American Rescue Plan.

“This is a budget that invests in Pennsylvanians,” said Gov. Wolf. “It is a budget that will help those hit hardest by the pandemic get the support they need, while at the same time making crucial investments in our future by supporting the students and workers who will drive our economy forward in the years to come.”

The plan has been criticized for not committing enough funds to bolster post-pandemic health care throughout Pennsylvania and failing to address the Commonwealth’s corporate net income tax rate– the second highest in the nation.

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

Legislators prepare to introduce $650M hospital grant program in House, Senate

Incoming legislation in the House and Senate looks to give back to Pennsylvania’s “health care heroes” with $650 million in grant funding.

From closing down elective surgeries to testing and vaccinating for COVID-19 – and integrating telehealth to a historic number of patients – Pennsylvania hospitals have had their hands full with large-scale changes to their operations.

The Health Care Heroes and Public Health Preparedness Act, legislation soon to be introduced in both houses of the legislature, would use funds from the $7.2 billion in federal funds set aside for Pennsylvania through the American Rescue Plan Act to help hospitals and hospital systems strengthen their workforce, maintain public health infrastructure and more.

“This is designed as a grant program,” said Andy Carter, president of the Hospital and Healthsystem association of Pennsylvania (HAP) during a press conference announcing the legislation. “It’s an opportunity for each member hospital to identify their highest priority needs and show the Commonwealth how they will advance health care in their community.”

A report by the Pennsylvania Healthcare Cost Containment Council published earlier this year found that from January to September of 2020, Pennsylvania hospitals reported $4.9 billion in COVID-19 related expenses and revenue loss.

If the state act is signed into law, hospitals and hospital systems could apply for grant funding for programs such as employee counseling and resiliency initiatives, training programs for care delivery models such as telemedicine, and retention initiatives for high-need clinical staff.

“We know what you did in the last year and a half in retooling your hospitals and treating those who needed treatment from COVID and now helping to vaccinate Pennsylvania,” said State Rep. Greg Rothman (R-Cumberland). “We also know that you gave up the more elective surgeries and have suffered just like the rest of our economy has suffered through COVID.”

The act would help address behavioral health capacity issues among both patients and providers, according to Dr. Erika Saunders, chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

“The impact on people with mental illness, addiction and intellectual disabilities has been profound due to the disruption in services and community support and the stress on our workers in frontline industries has created the second epidemic of distress and despair,” said Saunders.

The bill are expected to soon be introduced in their respective chambers with Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Beaver, Greene and Washington) as prime sponsor of the Senate bill and Rothman and State Rep. Stephen Kinsey (D-Philadelphia) as the co-prime sponsors of the House bill.

The legislation is expected to be swept into the state’s larger discussions regarding the state budget, which will close at the end of the state’s fiscal year in June.

Wolf signs bill allowing National Guard to assist in vaccine efforts

The Pennsylvania National Guard (PANG) will be assisting with the state’s vaccination efforts following Governor Tom Wolf’s signing of House Bill 326.

Late last month, the House and Senate signed a bill that would permit the National Guard to work with the Pennsylvania Department of Health to develop plans to establish and operate regional sites for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.

Wolf announced on Wednesday that he signed the bill, which would also allow the National Guard to help distribute pharmaceuticals and medical equipment and supplies.

“This bill will support the National Guard and other state agencies in the planning process for community vaccination clinics once supply of COVID-19 vaccines increases,” Wolf said. “This service will help further expedite getting vaccines to Pennsylvanians across the state.”

Through the bill, the Wolf Administration will be required to report on its plans to incorporate the National Guard into its overall vaccination strategy.

Rep. Timothy O’Neal, R-Washington County, introduced the legislation in January. In his memorandum to house members, O’Neal wrote that the National Guard has already conducted tests, sanitized facilities, provided logistical support and delivered meals and PPE during the pandemic.

“The PANG has both the infrastructure, human capital, and logistics to make sure that the vaccine is distributed to all in a timely fashion and efficiently,” O’Neal wrote. “Several other states and territories have already started to utilize their National Guard.”

$912 million COVID-19 relief bill that would help renters and restaurants heads to Gov. Wolf’s desk

A COVID-19 relief bill that would provide money for rental assistance and the struggling hospitality industry, among others, was approved by the state House and Senate and now awaits Gov. Tom Wolf’s signature.

The $912 million package is made up mostly of funds given to the state through Congress’ COVID Relief Bill passed in December and provides funds to restaurants, schools, employers, tenants and landlords.

Wolf intends to sign the bill, according to Lyndsay Kensinger, press secretary for the office of the governor.

The Senate approved the bill late last month, and a modified version of that bill was approved by the House today. The amended measure was quickly passed this afternoon by the Senate on a 48-0 vote.

The bill allocates $569.8 million for rental and utility assistance, $197 million for education programs and $145 million for the state’s hospitality industry.

Funding for the Rental and Utility Assistance program would be provided by federal Coronavirus stimulus money and would be divided up to counties by population size.

One of the largest changes the bill was an amendment in the House ensuring that forgivable loans given to Pennsylvania businesses through the federal Paycheck Protection Program will not be taxed by the state.

Sen. Patrick Browne, R-Lehigh, thanked the House for the change and expressed hope the bill will be approved by the Governor in its entirety.

“Without the changes in this bill that we are hopeful the governor will accept, there would have been a problem with how our tax code treated grants out of the very important paycheck protection program,” Browne said. “We would be taxing those forgivable loans and including money from those loans in our treasury.”

Gov. Wolf proposes $145 million fund transfer for business aid

Pennsylvania businesses whose operations and revenue were adversely affected by the pandemic could have access to $145 million in grant funding, pending approval from the state legislature.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced on Wednesday that he is looking to transfer $145 million in funds from the Workers’ Compensation Security Fund at the state Insurance Department to be used in grants for businesses.

“Business owners and employees have worked hard to protect their customers and their communities during this pandemic, and I thank all of those who have prioritized health and safety despite the hardship of the past several months,” Wolf said. “Our business owners and workers have been forced to make sacrifices because of COVID-19 and they need and deserve our support.

Before the funds can be distributed to businesses through grants, the fund transfer into the state’s general fund will need legislative authorization, the Wolf Administration wrote in a press release.

Since March, the state has provided over $525 million in relief to businesses and non-profits along with federal support through programs like the Paycheck Protection Plan.

Earlier this month, Wolf announced that the state would be shutting down indoor dining and alcohol sales from Dec. 12 to Jan. 4.

The move was lampooned by businesses, especially restaurant owners, who said that there was not enough warning for the closures and there was no safety net offered to businesses as there was in March thanks to the Paycheck Protection Program and additional unemployment compensation.