Political Notebook: State deal nets millions for homeowners, renters

Struggling homeowners and renters could get some financial relief under the newly passed state budget, with over $250 million set for tax rebates and a home repair program.

A later-than-expected state budget — buoyed by pandemic-era federal stimulus money — included spending increases and tax credits for some residents.

The package, agreed after lengthy and tense negotiations among lawmakers and Gov. Tom Wolf, included a $140 million boost to the state’s Property Tax/Rent Rebate program. The program offers rebates for several groups, including those over 65, widows and younger people with disabilities.

The rebates typically top out at $650, although supplemental payments can bring them closer to $1,000 in some cases.

Some estimates have shown rents rising more than 15 percent nationwide in the past year, outpacing consumer inflation. While the rebate money may not offset rising rent and living expenses, the hike would represent a significant expansion in the payments.

It drew bipartisan praise, including from Wolf’s office and from Republican lawmakers.

“With inflation and the cost of goods, services, and living going up at rates we haven’t seen in decades, this funding will help our seniors stay in the homes they love,” Sen. Judy Ward, R-Blair, told the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

Progressive legislators also managed to secure bipartisan backing for an ambitious, $125 million program to cover home repairs for lower-income owners and some small-scale landlords.

The new Whole Home Repair Program, a creation of state Sen. Nikil Saval, D-Philadelphia, is set to offer grants up to $50,000 for homeowners carrying out needed repairs — from roof replacement to total upgrades.

“The reality is more than 280,000 occupied units in Pennsylvania have moderate to severe physical inadequacies: a leaky window or a collapsing roof, blown fuses or dangerous exposed wiring, unreliable or no heating, no working toilet or failing plumbing,” Saval said when he first proposed the project. “Deferred maintenance issues such as these have far-reaching societal ramifications.”

The proposal united Democratic lawmakers whose poorer constituents face gentrification threats with GOP colleagues whose districts host shrinking populations and abandoned homes.

Grants are set to be available to homeowners whose income is up to 80 percent of their area’s median, along with landlords who meet certain criteria and rent limits.

“Housing and security transcend all geographic bounds and political bounds. Urban, suburban and rural counties alike have suffered from decades of disinvestment from their government,” Saval said on the Senate floor. The legislation “begins to change that.”

Abortion orders aim to secure clinic states

With patients traveling across the country and demand surging in the clinics that remain, Democratic leaders in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., are taking executive action on abortion access. But their moves could fall short of supporters’ demands.

Pennsylvania has already become a linchpin in the nationwide network of clinics that offer abortions since the Supreme Court overturned its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. With many states already banning the procedure or moving to do so, clinic workers in the state have reported a crush of calls and emails from faraway patients.

This week, Wolf signed an executive order confirming that out-of-state patients and those who help them won’t face prosecution in Pennsylvania. The order denies extradition to states that would seek to prosecute patients or providers.

“Abortion remains safe and legal here,” Wolf said on Twitter after signing the order.

Several other states’ governors have issued similar orders and statements, stressing that they won’t help officials investigate abortion providers or recipients across state lines.

Cases of interstate travel are already drawing attention. This week, after news broke of a 10-year-old girl who traveled from Ohio to Indiana for an abortion after being raped, Indiana’s attorney general said he would investigate the physician responsible for the procedure.

In Washington, President Joe Biden has responded to demands for action with a handful of orders and statements.

Last week, Biden issued an order that he said will protect nationwide access to medications used for abortions and approved by the Food and Drug Administration. This week, he issued a reminder that pharmacies receiving Medicaid and Medicare payments are banned from turning away pregnant patients over abortion fears.

Biden also said hospitals must provide abortions — even in states where they’re banned — in cases of emergency.

“A patient comes into the emergency room in any state in the union. She’s expressing and experiencing a life-threatening miscarriage, but the doctor is going to be so concerned about being criminalized for treating her, they delay treatment to call the hospital lawyer who is concerned the hospital will be penalized if a doctor provides the lifesaving care,” Biden said. “It’s outrageous. I don’t care what your position is. It’s outrageous, and it’s dangerous.”

The delicate balance of power leaves Democratic executives with limited options, although abortion-rights supporters argue that Biden could still do much more.

In Congress, Democrats face a split Senate and lawmakers who refuse to abandon the filibuster — effectively making legislation impossible.

In Harrisburg, Wolf’s veto remains the only block on GOP legislation. And even then, Republicans are moving to enact new anti-abortion rules by constitutional amendment, which would avoid Wolf’s veto outright.

Ryan Brown covers statewide politics for Ogden Newspapers. He can be reached at rbrown@altoonamirror.com.


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