United Way of Pennsylvania
UWP Update - September 29, 2017
United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley celebrates 100th anniversary 
Another week of budget negotiation ends with limited optimism for a new funding plan to be voted next week

The Governor and legislative leaders met this week, and while the House held three days of voting session, the chamber did not take any formal action related to the unfinished budget. The Senate voted September 20 to non-concur on HB 453, which carries the revenue plan previously passed by the House that heavily relies on borrowing and one-time fund transfers. The Senate objected on a bi-partisan vote, saying as a whole, the House plan does not do enough to address long-term fiscal challenges facing the state. The revenue plan previously passed by the Senate, House Bill 542, is also in the House. This plan is supported by both Senate caucuses, the Governor, and House Democrats. The plan would include a mix of new revenue and borrowing.

At one point, all sides were speaking optimistically about reaching a conclusion by October 1. This date was identified by the Governor as the next deadline after which the administration would need to take additional steps to enable the commonwealth to pay its bills. About two weeks ago, Wolf delayed Medicaid insurer payments and pension payments to school districts. State Treasurer Joe Torsella affirmed this week he would not approve any more short-term loans to tide the General Fund over until a complete budget agreement is reached. Meanwhile, Standard and Poor's downgraded PA's credit rating on September 21.  This places Pennsylvania in the bottom five of credit ratings among all states states, and it will cost the state more to borrow money.

As of yesterday, there is hope once again to have an actionable resolution.  It is being reported there is a semi-agreed to budget framework in place.  While not many details were being shared, the following points have been identified as potentially being apart of the plan: 
  • Some form of borrowing against the tobacco settlement fund
  • $200 - $300 million in special fund transfers
  • Video Gaming Terminal expansion and licensing for satellite casinos in smaller communities
  • Some type of tax on people entering and leaving Pennsylvania via the PA Turnpike 
  • Remove sales tax exemption for storage facilities and warehouses, and gather more sales tax from online transactions
Both chambers are expected to be in session next week, starting on October 2. UWP will continue to provide updates to our members in between newsletters via email. 
Trump tax plan weakens charitable giving incentives and leaves unanswered questions about working family tax credits

The President unveiled elements of his tax plan this week, with a stated goal of simplifying the U.S. Tax Code. Although many details are still missing, one of the key elements of the plan would be to double the standard annual deduction for individuals and married filers. While the proposal does not eliminate the current charitable tax deduction for those who itemize, it would reduce the number of itemizers from a current 1 in 3, to 1 in 20 under the new plan. This would remove the incentive for an estimated $95 billion of giving. It is projected that this would result in a loss of about $13 billion in charitable giving, according to a study commissioned by Independent Sector.

United Way and many other nonprofits have joined together to call for the charitable tax deduction to be moved "above the line" so that it is available to everyone, not just those who itemize their deductions. This is something that we will continue to advocate as Congress takes up a tax reform package.

The President's outline supports increasing the Child Tax Credit, and also enhances it by increasing the income levels at which the tax credit phases out, although no details were provided. The first $1000 of the credit would be refundable, as under current law. The proposal framework also offers a non-refundable dependent tax credit of $500 for non-child dependents.
Finally, although the framework says it "retains tax benefits that encourage work, higher education and retirement security", no details were provided as to how this would be achieved. So we do not know how the President's plan envisions the Earned Income Tax Credit.

United Way of Pennsylvania is an active participant in advocacy for the charitable tax deduction, as well as protecting and enhancing the EITC and child tax credit. Local United Ways help bring millions back to PA communities through free VITA tax preparation. UWP has gathered stories and prepared materials that all of our members can use to help their communities understand why these tax credits are so important to working families.  

Please watch for communications from UWP staff about how to engage in advocacy over the coming weeks and months.
Status of national advocacy priorities 

Congress has been active this year, and most recently regarding healthcare reform and tax reform.  The Senate was floating an ACA repeal/reform measure, deemed the Graham-Cassidy proposal. United Way, along with many others, had serious concerns with the proposal and we engaged our networks to fight for the health of every person in every community.  The Senate did not have enough votes to bring the proposal up and announced Tuesday they would let the legislation die and would not revisit the issue. However, we anticipate another push at some point for some type of healthcare reform. There is a House committee working on bipartisan hearings to further understand the complexities and issues of the ACA and changes to the existing law may be beneficial in stabilizing the marketplace. And some leaders maintain a belief that this inability to secure votes was a failure of procedure, not policy. UWP will continue to monitor the healthcare reform process and update membership as needed. 

In other healthcare related news, federal funding for the CHIP program is set to expire this Saturday, September 30th.  Should this reauthorization not take place, many children will be in danger of losing their healthcare.  While most states have federal funds to continue providing to the CHIP program for a couple months, it is important this reauthorization take place as soon as possible.  UWW has put together a CHIP call-to-action, which will be taking place Monday, October 2nd- Friday, October 6th.  UWP encourages all our members and their boards help us bring awareness to the benefits of CHIP and the impact it has in our communities.  Materials for the call-to-action can be found here.  

In additional news, the tax reform framework was released this week. This framework provides us with the priorities for the tax reform, but does not go into detail with legislative text on how those priorities will be accomplished.  PLease read the article in this update outlining what we know currently and United Way's advocacy plans. 

Pre-K for PA releases Principals' Report highlighting the need for pre-k  

In a newly released  report, the Pennsylvania Principals Association, in partnership with the Pre-K for PA Campaign, conducted a statewide survey to gauge how principals in elementary schools across Pennsylvania feel about high-quality pre-k and its importance in building the necessary foundation for children entering kindergarten with the tools to succeed.

With overwhelming results, more than 97% of elementary school principals agree high-quality pre-k is vital for the success of kindergarten students as they move throughout grades.  The responses from the statewide survey were from a wide-mix of school districts, including rural, urban, and suburban.

Research has proven the impacts access to high-quality pre-k has on our children.  Some of the impacts principals reported noticing from those students who participate in a high-quality pre-k program include age appropriate behavior, reading readiness, a demonstration of early numeracy concepts, a reduced need for remediation, and a reduction in IEP services.  Additional research has shown access to pre-k is especially beneficial for low-income students.

Approximately 64 percent, or 2 in 3, eligible preschoolers do not have the opportunity to attend a publicly funded, high -quality pre-k program.  Nearly 420 of Pennsylvania's 500 school districts enroll a kindergarten class where 40 percent or more children who are eligible for high-quality pre-k do not have the opportunity.  According to the report, there are only 32 commonwealth school districts where 80 percent or more kindergarten children who are eligible for publicly funded, high-quality pre-k had the opportunity to attend.

UWP and the Pre-K for PA campaign will continue to fight for our children to have the access they need to enter kindergarten ready to learn.  We encourage you to read the  report and stay informed on efforts to give every Pennsylvania child the opportunity to attend a high-quality pre-k program. You can sign-up for the Pre-K for PA campaign  here.

United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley and United Way of Bradford County celebrate huge milestones! 

Recently, a few of our United Way members celebrated milestones! 
United Way of Greater Lehigh Valley just celebrated their 100th year! This is a huge anniversary, which called for a big celebration fit for the occasion! Take a look at the gallery from their Gala here.  
Another big milestone was celebrated by Bradford County United Way, who observed their 40-year anniversary! Be sure to take a look at the news article to see how they celebrated! 
Congratulations to our members and the entire United Way Network! 

US Census Bureau releases new poverty data 

On September 12, the US Census Bureau released new national survey data about income and poverty, as well as national and state data about health insurance coverage. Then on September 14, the 2016 American Community Survey data was released, which allows local communities to see the data for their area. Summary files are available here

The data shows a significant racial and gender gaps in poverty in the US.  Twenty-two percent of African Americans (down from 24.1 percent in 2015) and 19.4 percent of Hispanic/Latinos (down from 21.4 percent in 2015) are poor, compared to 8.8 percent of non-Hispanic whites (whose poverty rate was 9.1 percent in 2015). African American and Latino children make up about 43 percent of all children but two-thirds of all poor children. The poverty rate for women of ages 18 to 64 was 13.4 percent, while the poverty rate for men of ages 18 to 64 was 9.7 percent. The poverty rate for women of age 65 and older was 10.6 percent, while the poverty rate for men of age 65 and older was 7.6 percent.  

Median household income grew 3.2% to $59,039 in 2016, and this is attributed more directly to Americans finding new jobs or moving from part-time work to full-time work.

New Keystone STARS legislation

A bipartisan bill, House Bill 1742, was introduced this week in the state house, by Representatives Thomas Mehaffie (R-Dauphin) and Jared Solomon (D-Philadelphia), which would require all state licensed childcare centers to post their Keystone STARS rating on their website and in a prominent location outside of their building. 

As many of you are aware, the Keystone STARS program is operated by the PA Office of Child Development and Early Learning and sets quality requirements for early childhood educators based on a four-star rating system.  Mahaffie and Solomon are hopeful this legislation would encourage more child care facilities to strive for the requirements needed to become a part of the Keystone STARS system.   UWP will continue to monitor the movement of this legislation and keep membership apprised of any action.  

Housing Alliance of PA offers webinar on family and youth homelessness

Opening Doors, the federal plan for ending homelessness, has established a goal of ending family and youth homelessness by 2020. The webinar will provide an overview of criteria and benchmarks for achieving this goal. The webinar is available on Friday, October 6, 2017 from 12 PM to 1 PM. It is free for members of the Housing Alliance of PA, and all others pay a small fee of $25 for the training.

You can register here
PA Unemployment rate goes down in August

PA's unemployment rate went down in August one-tenth of a percentage point from July, to 4.9 percent.  While PA's rate went down, it still remained above the national average of 4.4 percent. 

PA's civilian labor force was down 30,000 jobs in August.  Additionally, nonfarm jobs were down 8,000 from July.  In seven of the eleven supersectors, jobs were down.  The largest drop was in education and health services, where jobs were down 5,300.  The largest increase in jobs was in leisure and hospitality, up 2,100.  Total nonfarm jobs were up 1 percent from August 2016.