In This Update:
Update on 2020 Election Issues
Over the past several days, I have received many calls, emails, and letters raising concerns about the 2020 election. I believe we need to make sure that our elections are fair and guarantee every legal vote is counted so all citizens can have faith in the results. This means investigating all areas of concern and ensuring all reasonable steps are taken to ensure the sanctity of our electoral process.
It is important to note that the counting of votes is only the first step. The count must be completed before candidates can raise objections regarding any questionable circumstances in the handling of the election. This process takes time; accurate results are far preferable to rapid results.
When the General Assembly returns to session in January 2021, we have a duty to review all of the concerns that have been raised about this election and take decisive action to ensure that our elections are free from any shadow of doubt that has been cast over our democratic process. We need to advance policies that will ensure that what happened in 2020 is not repeated in future elections.
To that end, legislative leaders have made calls for a full, independent audit of the 2020 election to root out any potential instances of fraud or abuse. In addition, Senate leaders announced this week that the Senate State Government Committee would immediately launch a review the election process and procedures. These audits will help to ensure the accuracy of the results – regardless of who wins the election – and will go a long way toward restoring faith in the fairness of our elections.
I also support calls for the resignation of Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar for her blatantly partisan role in creating confusion and inconsistency in the 2020 elections. In many cases, she ignored the courts as well as the plain language of the Election Code, and her last-second guidance created an extraordinary amount of chaos that led voters in some counties to be treated unfairly. We need qualified, nonpartisan leadership from the office responsible for overseeing our elections, and we certainly did not see that in this election cycle.
Finally, I have also signed on as a co-sponsor of legislation sponsored by Senator Judy Ward that would amend the Election Code as it relates to canvassing of official absentee ballots and mail-in ballots. As we near the end of the 2019-2020 legislative session, this bill will not have sufficient time to be debated and passed before the session concludes. However, it is my understanding that Senator Ward will reintroduce this bill in the next legislative session to ensure that these concerns are addressed.
A great deal of work remains to finalize this year’s election results, and the situation continues to change at a rapid pace. I will do my best to share updates on election issues on my social media accounts and encourage you to check back for additional information in the days and weeks ahead.
Aument Reelected to Senate Republican Caucus Leadership
Yesterday, Senator Ryan Aument (R-36) received the approval of his colleagues in the Senate Republican Caucus to serve them as their Caucus Secretary for the 2021-2022 legislative session. Regarding his reelection, Aument said:
“During my time in the General Assembly, my goal has been to effectively represent the residents of northern Lancaster County and work on their behalf towards building a stronger Pennsylvania where all our residents have the opportunity to achieve earned success and upward economic mobility.
“As such, I have continually sought to serve in positions where I can have the greatest impact on behalf of those who elected me to represent them in Harrisburg. I continue to see this leadership position as a unique opportunity to work with my colleagues in the Senate Republican Caucus to achieve our shared goals.
“I’m humbled by the outpouring of support and level of confidence my colleagues have placed in me, and I consider it a distinct privilege to continue serving them in this capacity.
“I agree with the majority of Pennsylvanians that now is the time for decisive action, bold policies, and dynamic leadership. I look forward to working within this new leadership team to pursue a legislative agenda that will give all of our people an opportunity to live in a stronger Pennsylvania.”
You can read the full press release on all Senate Republican Caucus leadership election results here.
Window to File Unemployment Compensation Claims Extended
Many Pennsylvanians have experienced severe challenges in filing for and receiving Unemployment Compensation claims throughout the pandemic. In order to help more state residents who were unable to receive the money they were owed, the Department of Labor and Industry has temporarily extended its ability to backdate payments.
The temporary extension will allow individuals to file backdated claims for up to 52 weeks. Claimants seeking to file a backdated claim should email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Back Date Request.” The email should include the exact date they were separated from their employer and any relevant information about the separation for the additional weeks the claimant wishes to claim.
Temporary Assistance Available for Veterans
This week, the nation paused on Veterans Day in reverence for the brave men and women who have served our great nation. Financial assistance is available to veterans and their families who are struggling to afford the necessities of life, including food, shelter, fuel and clothing.
The Veterans Temporary Assistance Program offers aid when a veteran is unable to afford basic necessities due to temporary loss of income, sickness, disability, unemployment and other emergencies and circumstances beyond their control. The program also helps families of military personnel who died while in service or were killed in action.
In addition, the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs launched a new statewide outreach initiative this week to better serve Pennsylvania’s veterans. The new PA VETConnect system is designed to improve referral capabilities and connect veterans to the services they need.
Low-Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP) Open Now
Pennsylvanians who have a heating emergency or are struggling to pay utility bills can apply now for assistance through the state’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The program is open to households earning less than 150 percent of the federal poverty rate.
LIHEAP provides grants to help low-income families pay heating bills during the coldest months of the year. Crisis grants are also available for heating emergencies such as a broken furnace, utility termination or fuel shortage. Eligibility and grant amounts are based on income and the number of people living in a household.
Applications for LIHEAP can be completed online on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Access to Social Services (COMPASS) website at www.compass.state.pa.us.
Open Enrollment in PA Health Exchange is Available Through January 15
The open enrollment period for Pennsylvania’s new state-based health insurance exchange is open now through January 15. The state exchange – also known as Pennie – was created by lawmakers last year to transition Pennsylvania away from the federal exchange, HealthCare.gov, and allow the state to take local control of operations and customer service to reduce costs to consumers.
The Pennie system is designed to help Pennsylvanians shop for quality health insurance and access financial assistance that may be available to them. State residents can learn more and enroll at Pennie.com.
According to the Pennsylvania Insurance Department, insurers offering coverage through the Affordable Care Act insurance exchange will provide plans in 2021 with a statewide average decrease of 3.3 percent for individual market plans.
New Laws Support First Responders, Veterans, and More
Several critical measures approved by the Senate recently were signed into law in the last month, including bills to support Pennsylvania’s first responders, veterans and military families, and much more.
The new laws include:
Free Counseling Available for Medicare Beneficiaries
Many older Pennsylvanians struggle to deal with the variety of different choices available for Medicare, supplemental insurance, prescription assistance programs, long-term care insurance and other health care options. Medicare beneficiaries are eligible to receive free counseling services through the state’s APPRISE program.
Medicare recipients can call the APPRISE Helpline at 1-800-783-7067 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday. Your local Area Agency on Aging is also available to arrange counseling.