By Bill O’Boyle - [email protected]

Capitol roundup: Rep. Lou Barletta seeks to control costs of federal disaster responses

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WILKES-BARRE — During a recent hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Sub-committee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta presented and heard evidence that costs have risen dramatically over time for federal disaster responses and steps must be taken to prevent higher amounts in the future.

Barletta, R-Hazleton, said the hearing examined the rising costs of federal responses to disasters and looked for solutions to the long-term trend.

Barletta said FEMA alone has spent more than $178 billion dollars since 1989 for approximately 1,300 presidential disaster declarations. In addition, he said, the number of federal disasters is going up.

Barletta recalled the difficulties his own Congressional district faced in the wake of Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in 2011.

“After those storms, people had lost everything,” Barletta said. “I will never forget that preparing for natural disasters is about more than the loss of possessions. It’s our friends and neighbors, and the lives that could be at stake if we do not plan in advance.”

Barletta, along with Subcommittee Ranking Member André Carson, D-Indiana, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pennsylvania, and Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, introduced the FEMA Disaster Assistance Reform Act in 2015. The House unanimously approved the legislation in February, and Barletta has urged the Senate to act on it.

Blake applauds announcement

of $1.5 million in local rail grants

State Sen. John Blake, D-Archbald, said he is pleased to see the awarding of more than $1.5 million in grant funding for three rail projects in Lackawanna County.

The local funding is part of a $36 million investment in 15 projects through the Rail Transportation Assistance Program (RTAP) and 16 projects through the Rail Freight Assistance Program (RFAP). The state funds were approved at a meeting of the State Transportation Commission.

The largest grant locally was a $690,900 RFAP grant awarded to the Delaware-Lackawanna Railroad Company Inc. to repair the Delaware-Lackawanna railroad bridge over the west branch of the Lehigh River. The construction will include wingwall and backwall restoration, bridge-seat cleaning, resurfacing and re-establishment of original bridge elevation.

Kane Warehousing Inc. received a $227,500 RFAP grant to construct a 1,000-foot track spur and one turnout. RFAP is a program underwritten through the new Multimodal Fund created by Act 89.

An RTAP grant awarded $630,000 to the Pennsylvania Northeast Regional Railroad Authority to install 9,000 new ties on the Carbondale mainline track. RTAP is a capital budget program funded with state bond proceeds.

Cartwright re-introduces legislation

to promote college tuition savings

U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, has re-introduced the bipartisan Children’s Savings Accounts Offer Parents Plenty of Reasons to Understand and Invest in Tuition Yearly Act, H.R. 5214, with the support of eight House colleagues.

One well-known type of Children’s Savings Account is the 529 plan. Created in 1996, 529 plans allow parents to save money for college while offering both federal and state tax benefits. Unfortunately, money set aside in a 529 plan counts against the asset limitations set forth in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Supplemental Security Income and the Low Income High Energy Assistance Program.

This, in turn, forces families to choose between putting aside money for college and keeping essential benefits.

The CSA OPPORTUNITY Act would exempt 529 plans from TANF, SSI and LIHEAP asset limitations. The bill would also exempt non-529 CSAs from TANF, SSI, LIHEAP and Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program asset limitations.

According to information provided by Cartwright’s office, more than 1.3 million American children born each year are born into families with negligible savings to invest in their futures. Research and practice have shown even a small amount of savings increases the likelihood a child will attend college.

One study showed children from low- or moderate-income families who saved between $1 and $500 were three times more likely to attend college and four times more likely to graduate than those without savings.

Toomey, Costello empower

states to help veterans find jobs

U.S. Senator Pat Toomey, R-Zionsville, and U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, R-West Chester, want to give states, not the Department of Labor in Washington, more flexibility to help veterans find employment.

A bipartisan bill, introduced by Toomey in the Senate and Costello in the House, would cost the taxpayer nothing, but would give governors more flexibility in using federal funds from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Veterans Employment and Training Services Program to better help connect veterans with good jobs.

Under the Toomey-Costello proposal, entitled the State Outreach for Local Veterans Employment Act, governors would have the ability to change which agency within its state administers the federal funds. For example, a state could move funds from its labor department to its veterans agency to improve coordination and more efficiently use resources to help veterans find jobs.

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.

By Bill O’Boyle

[email protected]

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Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.