In this Update:
Legislative Review: Supporting Veterans
Pennsylvania is home to nearly 800,000 veterans in addition to active members of the military. Supporting these men and women, and their families, is a top priority. The Senate passed several bills this year to assist Pennsylvanians who served our nation.
Act 31 of 2021 extends employment protections to Pennsylvania citizens who are members of another state’s National Guard.
Act 55 of 2021 increases the maximum donation amounts to the Veterans’ Trust Fund from $3 to $5 when applying for or renewing a driver’s license, ID card or vehicle registration and from $6 to $10 when applying for a two-year vehicle registration.
Act 63 of 2021 adds a member of the State Veterans Commission to the Pennsylvania Long-Term Care Council.
Senate Bill 248 designates March 6 as Persian Gulf War Veterans Day and October 7 as Global War on Terrorism Veterans Day.
Senate Bill 486 provides members of the Pennsylvania National Guard and reserve components of the U.S. Armed Forces who serve on active duty, as well as their spouses, preference for placement into job training programs for one year after discharge.
You can find a full list of bills of note passed by the Senate in 2021 here.
Public Hearing on Child Protective Services Law Revisions
Proposed changes to a state law aimed at protecting children from abuse was the topic of a Senate hearing this week.
The Senate Aging and Youth Committee took testimony on revisions to Pennsylvania’s child protective services law proposed by the state Department of Human Services. Among the changes would be the removal of time frames for the expungement of state records on child abuse cases.
Currently, state law requires that unfounded child protective services reports and invalid general protective services reports be expunged from the state database after one year and that validated general protective services reports be expunged after 10 years or until the youngest child in the report turns 23. The change is aimed at aiding efforts to identify children at risk of future abuse.
You can watch the hearing and read testimony here.
Education Financial Assistance Available to Eligible Children of Veterans
The Educational Gratuity Program provides financial assistance for those attending post-high school education or training at an approved institution in the Commonwealth.
The program supports children of honorably discharged veterans who have 100% service-connected disabilities and served during a period of war or armed conflict, or children of veterans who die or died in service during a period of war or armed conflict. All applicants must have a financial need.
Payments will not exceed $500 per term or semester per qualified child to each approved educational institution over a total of eight terms or semesters. More information on the program and how to apply can be found here.
Game Commission Offering Learn to Hunt Webinars
The series kicks off Aug. 19 with a “Squirrel Hunting 101” webinar at 7 p.m. Additional live webinars will be on Sept. 9 and Sept. 21, also beginning at 7 p.m. The series continues into October with a “Pheasant Hunting 101” webinar at 7 p.m. on Oct. 7 and again on Oct. 26.
The webinars will be about an hour long and hosted by Game Commission staff. Each webinar will include a live Q&A session at the end. Advanced registration to view the webinars live is required at the Learn to Hunt page.
Op-Ed: ABLE Accounts Give People with Disabilities the Chance to Save
by Treasurer Stacy Garrity and Senator Lisa Baker
People living with disabilities often face tremendous challenges. One is striking the right balance between paying for day-to-day needs and saving for larger expenses while not saving so much that they become ineligible for critical benefits.
The federal Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act of 2014 and the Pennsylvania ABLE Act of 2016 make it much easier for people with disabilities, and their families, to save for the future.
Opening a PA ABLE account, managed by the Pennsylvania Treasury Department, can provide big tax benefits and allows people to save without impacting eligibility for federal benefits with some asset limits for those who receive Supplemental Security Income Benefits. ABLE accounts can be used for small expenses or large – many people have used their ABLE savings to pay for assistive technology, accessible vehicles, and accessibility improvements in their homes.
PA ABLE launched in early 2017. Since then, Pennsylvanians with disabilities and their families have saved about $60 million.
August is ABLE to Save Month, and we’re encouraging those who may be eligible – anyone with a qualifying disability that occurred before their 26th birthday – to open a PA ABLE account and start saving while enjoying tax benefits.
PA ABLE account owners can choose from a variety of savings options, including an interest-bearing checking account with a debit card. Account owners can also benefit from generous tax treatment. For example, there’s no federal or state income tax on the growth of your savings, and there are no taxes owed when you take money out for qualified expenses.
Pennsylvania residents using a PA ABLE account also benefit from a state income tax deduction on contributions up to $15,000 annually – and account assets are exempt from the state inheritance tax.
This year, we’ve celebrated a number of huge milestones. In February, Treasury cut fees for PA ABLE. In April, we announced that PA ABLE account owners had saved more than $50 million across nearly 5,000 accounts. And now we’re approaching the $60 million threshold.
Many people are pleased with the flexibility and security that PA ABLE provides today. But the program could be even better.
A bipartisan bill is pending in the U.S. Senate to increase the age limit for the onset of a disability from 26 to 46. Senator Bob Casey Jr. introduced the legislation, which is cosponsored by Senator Pat Toomey and a group of bipartisan senators from across the nation.
Increasing the ABLE age limit would help millions of Americans – including an estimated 1 million veterans, heroes injured while defending our country and protecting our liberties — heroes who deserve access to the ability to save with ABLE accounts.
If you have friends or family with disabilities, please be sure they know about PA ABLE. And if you support allowing more people with disabilities to become eligible, including the men and women serving in our military, please reach out to your senators and representatives in Washington, D.C., to let them know you want the ABLE Age Adjustment Act to become law.
With more voices supporting PA ABLE and the ABLE Age Adjustment Act, we will continue to have a positive impact on our family members, friends and neighbors with disabilities.
To learn more about PA ABLE, visit paable.gov or call 855-529-ABLE (2253).
Stacy Garrity, businesswoman and retired U.S. Army Reserve Colonel, is the Pennsylvania State Treasurer. Lisa Baker, author of the Pennsylvania ABLE Act of 2016 and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, represents Pennsylvania’s 20th District including substantial parts of Luzerne and Susquehanna counties and all of Pike, Wayne, and Wyoming counties.
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