Keller, VA officials discuss ways to improve the services of veterans
WILKES-BARRE – In response to growing concerns about lack of access to critical military service records and services, U.S. MP Fred Keller hosted a round table discussion with local Veterans Affairs (VA) officials this week to highlight his legislative efforts and Ways to continue working together to improve the quality and accessibility of services to local veterans.
Keller, R-Middleburg, spoke at an event in Williamsport attended by Wilkes-Barre VA officials and veteran service officers (VSOs) from seven of the 15 counties in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District.
During their discussion, Keller highlighted the backlog of more than 500,000 requests for vital records that are not being processed by the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC). These are documents needed to receive VA benefits, assess disability claims, and apply for a commendation, award, or insignia.
Last year, due to COVID-19 precautions, the NPRC was forced to reduce its on-site operations and is currently only staffed with 25 percent. As a result, area veterans and their families have had to wait up to a year to receive medical care or military service.
Keller highlighted the RECORDS Act, a law he introduced in June that would force the NPRC to fully resume personal operations and submit a report to Congress on its plans to expedite veterans’ file inquiries. The bill has attracted 44 co-sponsors and was recently approved by the Lycoming Office of Veterans Affairs.
Also discussed were concerns about IDs, VA claims facilitation, and strategies for local, state, and federal partners to work together to improve veteran services across the board.
Following the event, Congressman Keller said:
“The brave men and women who have served our country in uniform deserve a government that is responsive to their needs and works diligently for them. Our discussion today confirmed the need for the RECORDS Act and working towards long-term solutions to address the delays in the NPRC. I am grateful for the partnership our office has with local officials as we continue to pressurize the NPRC to deliver on the promise America makes to our service members who have sacrificed so much to protect our freedoms and our ways Life.”
Churches warned against use
COVID fund for annuity payments
Auditor General Timothy L. DeFoor said this week that audits showed communities in 11 counties did not make the required employer contributions to their employee pension plans, prompting him to re-warn local governments that they are not using federal COVID relief funds can use to make up for missed payments.
DeFoor said Bristol Borough in Bucks County tops the list of recent audits with such results. The district owes more than $ 757,836 in required contributions, including interest, to its police and employee retirement plans for 2019 and 2020.
“My audit team is seeing a worrying increase in the number of communities that are not fully funding their retirement plans as required by state law,” DeFoor said. “I am warning communities again that they cannot use the federal COVID relief funds provided under the American Rescue Plan to catch up on past pension debts.”
According to the AG’s report, the Luzerne County audit found the City of Pittston Police’s retirement plan owed $ 218,102.
On June 14, AG DeFoor released tests showing the Delaware County city of Chester owes more than $ 34 million in employer repayments to its three employee retirement plans. He shared these reviews with the court-appointed insolvency administrator who oversees the city’s financial reorganization.
DeFoor added that municipalities that fail to make the statutory employer contributions run the risk of future state pension benefits being withheld.
The Auditor General’s department reviews community pension plans that receive state grants to ensure that the plans are being managed in accordance with state laws.
In 2020, the Auditor General’s division distributed a total of $ 324.74 million in state pension benefits to 1,483 municipalities and regional departments to support retirement plans for police officers, paid firefighters, and non-uniformed workers.
Garrity record growth for PA 529
College and Career Savings Program
Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity announced this week that the PA 529 College and Career Savings Program (PA 529) had its best year ever in fiscal 2020-21, adding 25,004 new accounts and totaling more than $ 732 million Brought in dollars.
These numbers are the highest in PA 529’s nearly 30-year history.
“This extraordinary growth shows that families in Pennsylvania continue to prioritize the future of their children,” said Garrity. “PA 529 accounts have been helping families save for education for nearly three decades, and it is incredibly encouraging to see so many people using this valuable savings tool. The program is constantly evolving and offers families the opportunity to achieve their savings goals – regardless of whether their child wants to acquire a technical certification, attend a business school or a university degree. “
There are currently more than 265,000 PA 529 open accounts with balances that have grown through contributions and investments to a total of $ 6.8 billion. The first PA 529 account was opened in 1993 when it was known as the Student Account Program.
The PA 529 College and Career Savings Program offers two different ways to save – the PA 529 Investment Plan (IP) and the PA 529 Guaranteed Savings Plan (GSP). Both offer important tax benefits, including a Pennsylvania state income tax deduction on contributions and no taxes on withdrawals for skilled education expenses. Savings on PA 529 accounts will not affect the eligibility of government grants. Accounts can be opened for as little as 10 US dollars.
The PA 529 IP – one of only 14 such plans that have received a Silver or Gold rating from Morningstar – allows families to choose from a variety of investment options, including portfolios with target filing dates. These portfolios gradually and automatically shift investments as the child nears their schooling date. The returns depend on the development of the financial markets.
The PA 529 GSP is a lower risk option that allows families to save on today’s tuition fees to meet future expenses. Account holders can save enough for a college semester today, and no matter how much tuition increases, the savings will cover that semester going forward.
PA 529 accounts can be used to pay tuition and qualifying fees at four-year colleges, community colleges, technical and professional training programs, and qualified apprenticeship programs in Pennsylvania and across the country. The savings can also be used to pay for books, supplies, room and board, and more.
$ 13 million in tax credits to improve
Water quality, sustainability of the farm
Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding announced this week that tax credits of $ 13 million will be made available to farmers in Pennsylvania for measures to improve soil and water quality.
Tax credits are available through Pennsylvania’s innovative, nationally recognized conservation funding program – Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP).
“Farmers have pioneered us in ensuring we have clean water and productive soils to feed us in the future,” said Redding. “Renewing soils and protecting water require significant investments on your part. REAP tax credits are just one element of our strategy to uphold the responsibility of farmers and build viable, sustainable agriculture in Pennsylvania to feed our future. “
REAP tax credits are available to farm producers who employ best management practices or purchase equipment that reduces nutrient and sediment runoff, improves soil, and improves the quality of Pennsylvania’s waterways.
This is the 15th year Pennsylvania farmers are eligible for REAP tax credits. Farmers can receive up to $ 250,000 over a seven year period, and spouses moving in together can take advantage of REAP tax credits.
Examples of projects funded include no-till and precision farming equipment, waste storage facilities, conservation plans, and nutrient management plans. Measures to limit runoff from areas with high animal traffic such as barns and catch crops and bank buffers that prevent erosion and keep nutrients out of streams are also common REAP-enabled practices.
Farmers can receive REAP tax credits of 50 to 75 percent of the project’s eligible expenses. Farmers operating in a watershed with an EPA-mandated Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) may receive REAP tax credits equal to 90 percent of their own costs for some projects.
Tax credits can be used in conjunction with other funding sources such as the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), the Chesapeake Bay Program, or Conservation Excellence Grants to support the installation of BMPs. REAP applications are checked according to the first-come-first-served principle.