In this Update:
Celebrating $100 Million PA ABLE Milestone at Serendipity Therapeutic Riding Center
This week, Pennsylvania State Treasurer Stacy Garrity and I visited the Serendipity Therapeutic Riding Center in Hunlock Creek, Luzerne County to celebrate the PA ABLE Savings Program surpassing $100 million in assets. PA ABLE (Achieving a Better Life Experience) accounts are a tax-free way for Pennsylvanians with disabilities, and their families, to save without affecting eligibility for important benefits.
Sarah Matusick, Serendipity’s founder and executive director, led the tour of the riding center, which provides vocational skills for those with disabilities through building relationships with resident horses. Lisa Urbanski, founder and president of Brighter Journeys, a local nonprofit that helps families with individuals that have special needs and is inclusive of all disabilities, also joined us.
States were authorized to create ABLE programs with the passage of federal ABLE legislation in 2014. PA ABLE was enacted in 2016, and the first PA ABLE account was opened the following year. Since then, the program has grown to more than 8,400 accounts with more than $110 million saved. In 2023 alone, PA ABLE account owners contributed $32.5 million, while $11.9 million was withdrawn – and 1,817 Pennsylvanians opened new PA ABLE accounts.
Crossing the $100 million investment threshold is testament to the importance the ABLE program has for so many Pennsylvania families. This is a very positive example of the good that can result when officials from both parties come together to develop practical and sensible solutions to the real problems and challenges residents face in our communities every day.
2023 Accomplishments: Public Safety
The men and women of law enforcement and emergency response work hard to keep us safe. As their jobs become even more difficult, they need our support.
Last year, we passed legislation to combat different forms of theft. We have new laws that target looting and organized retail theft by increasing penalties and crack down on “porch pirating” by setting penalties for theft of mail, which includes a package, bag or letter.
We also passed measures to prevent the exploitation of older Pennsylvanians and update 911 funding to meet the expanding cost of services so help is available when Pennsylvanians face emergencies. We also provided an additional $20 million for county mental health programs. Ensuring safe communities is among the Senate Republican priorities to protect jobs, empower families and defend freedoms.
Healthy Rainy Day Fund Cushions Against Hard Times
As of the beginning of January, the state’s Rainy Day Fund sits at a record high of $6.1 billion thanks to prudent decisions the Senate made in the past three years. Most recently, we deposited $900 million as part of the current state budget. While others wanted to spend the money on all sorts of things, we prioritized smart saving so we would have a cushion in the event of hard times.
To build on the benefits of smart budgeting, Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity announced a new investment pool specifically for the Rainy Day Fund. It’s designed to earn even better returns while continuing to ensure that money will be available when needed.
A strong Rainy Day Fund offers more than just a financial buffer. Because of the state’s healthy nest egg, Pennsylvania received rating improvements from three rating agencies: Moody’s, S&P and Fitch. The better ratings help Pennsylvania taxpayers by reducing the cost of borrowing for the state.
Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program Now Serves More People
Financial relief is available to more people than ever through the Pennsylvania Property Tax/Rent Rebate (PTRR) Program, which supports homeowners and renters across the commonwealth using gaming and Pennsylvania Lottery proceeds.
New this year, the income cap increased to $45,000 for both homeowners and renters. Only half of an applicant’s Social Security income is included in the calculations for eligibility. Starting this year, income caps are tied to the annual cost-of-living increases. Additionally, the maximum standard rebate on property taxes or rent paid increased to $1,000. The program is open to state residents 65 and older, widows and widowers 50 or older, or anyone age 18 and over who is 100% disabled.
My office can provide free PTRR application assistance to residents. If interested, please call my office and bring all proof of income, your ID and a voided check if you wish to have the rebate direct deposited. In addition, property owners must have paid property taxes stamped or signed by the tax collector. Renters must have a rent certificate filled out and signed by their landlord.
Free FAFSA Workshops Across PA
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) underwent changes resulting from the FAFSA Simplification Act, a federal law intended to streamline the financial aid application process.
Filing the FAFSA online is the first step for students and families to determine if they qualify for a Federal Pell Grant, Pennsylvania State Grant, scholarships, institutional awards and federal student loans.
Because of the changes, free FAFSA workshops are being held across the state. Find one near you.
Prioritizing Mental Health at All Ages
January is Mental Wellness Awareness Month, which is a great reminder of how important it is to focus on our mental health, particularly as mental health challenges increased for so many people in the past few years because of the pandemic and the many impacts it had on all of us.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in 20 adults in the United States experience serious mental illness each year. With 50% of all lifetime mental illness beginning by age 14, it’s important to support young people.
As part of this fiscal year’s budget, Senate Republicans dedicated $100 million for school mental health, helping to address a major need as mental health needs for young people continue to rise.
Please do not reply to this email. If you would like to contact Senator Baker, submit a web contact form here: https://www.senatorbaker.com/contact-me-2/