Senator Ward, J E-Newsletter

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In this Update:

  • 2023 Accomplishments: Public Safety
  • Healthy Rainy Day Fund Cushions Against Hard Times
  • Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program Now Serves More People
  • Free FAFSA Workshops Across PA
  • Prioritizing Mental Health at All Ages
  • Out and About

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. 

Out and About

A group of about 40 people, including several employees of the Career Link and Tuscarora Intermediate Unit (TIU), attended a ribbon cutting to launch the grand re-opening of the Career Link located in Mifflin County.  While at the event, I was able to talk with Representative David Rowe and Mifflin County Industrial Development Executive Director Nick Felice.  Lewistown Borough Mayor Deb Bargo and I took a tour of the newly renovated Career Link facility with TIU Director of Community Education and Workforce Services Advisor Karin Knode. Also attending but not pictured was Rep. Benninghoff.

Mifflin County Veterans Association was kind enough to host me for an informal roundtable discussion with nearly 50 veterans and their spouses.  We spoke about various pieces of legislation that were important to them as well as my own family’s veteran lineage.  For those interested, the upcoming Mifflin County Veterans and Surviving Spouses Military Share Food Give Away will be held at the Lewistown Armory on the First Thursday of Each month from 2-4 p.m.  Please contact Darla Ricket at 717-769-9671 with any questions. It was such a pleasant surprise to run into an old classmate of mine, Steve Burke.  Steve retired from the Department of Corrections and currently volunteers at a veterans outreach group as part of his local church, Saint John’s Lutheran Church in Lewistown.

I was invited to tour Celebration Villa of Altoona this week, where I was able to talk with the center’s administration and PA Assisted Living Association representatives about some issues and concerns, but also about the positive things that are happening. It is a beautiful facility, and I was excited to see a dear friend and resident, Patsy.  

The PA Rural Electric Association and Valley Rural Electric Cooperative met with local legislators to share important information related to net metering and solar power. By keeping elected officials informed, we are better able to help constituents who contact our offices with questions and concerns about changes that may impact their electric bills. I am thankful for their efforts to always keep us informed of important issues they are facing.

The newly formed Blair County Alliance for Business & Economic Growth, a merger of the Altoona Blair County Development (ABCD) Corporation and the Blair County Chamber of Commerce, held its 2024 Annual Meeting at the Blair County Convention Center.  The large crowd of elected officials and business and community leaders heard reports on the past year’s accomplishments and gained insights into the changing economic development landscape from Winona Dimeo-Ediger from

I enjoyed attending the annual Friendship Fire Company’s recognition banquet.  Along with member recognition, community member Rick Boston was recognized for his excellent coverage and support of the volunteer fire service during his time as a writer with the Morrisons Cove Herald. Pictured is Fire Chief James Musselman and Rick Boston. MDJ Andy Blattenberger swore in new members and board members.

This week featured the first meeting of the PA Rural Health Roundtable.  This group of healthcare leaders, elected officials, and subject matter experts gathered to discuss the state of rural healthcare in PA and how we can make it more efficient, effective, and accessible.  Pictured is Secretary of Aging Jason Kavulich. 


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