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Four PA Colleges to Receive Federal Grants Under Pilot Program to Provide Inmate Access to Higher Education Degree Programs

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Harrisburg, PA – Governor Tom Wolf today announced that four Pennsylvania institutions of higher learning were among those selected to participate in a national pilot program to allow inmates to access post-secondary education with the goal of helping them get jobs and support families when they are released.

“More than 90 percent of the 48,000 individuals behind bars in Pennsylvania will leave prison one day,” said Governor Wolf. “It’s no secret that achieving basic literacy and completing high school are positive indicators of future success and reduced recidivism. Having a college degree or certificate in hand will give those individuals an even greater chance for successful reintegration and to become productive members of society. I thank the incredible institutions of higher learning who’ve partnered with us in this effort.”

Four Pennsylvania schools – Bloomsburg University, Lehigh Carbon Community College, Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Villanova University – were among 67 colleges and universities awarded federal grants under the U.S. Department of Education’s Second Chance Pell pilot program.

The awards will provide funding for 115 inmates at six correctional institutions to access college degree or certificate programs at the participating schools.

The $30 million Pell pilot program is designed to test whether participation in high quality education programs increases after expanding access to financial aid for incarcerated individuals.

“With 20,000 individuals leaving our institutions every year the DOC has placed a heavy focus on reentry and removing barriers to reentry,” said Corrections Secretary John Wetzel. “For the last 22 years, college education was out of reach for most inmates who had to cover the costs themselves. Through this partnership with participating colleges and universities we can expand access to high quality education programs that will give individuals the skills they need to become tax payers rather than tax burdens.”

A 1994 Congressional change to the federal Higher Education Act eliminated Pell Grant eligibility for incarcerated individuals in federal and state prisons. But the act gives the U.S. Department of Education secretary the authority to waive existing financial aid rules for experimental programs.

“This historic decision will have a lasting, positive impact on both the individuals in our correctional facilities and the commonwealth as a whole,” said Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera. “This opportunity will provide individuals with the tools they need to have a fresh start upon re-entry to society, and I congratulate the Pennsylvania colleges and universities for their partnership and progressiveness on this issue.”

A 2013 study from the RAND Corporation, funded by the Department of Justice, found that incarcerated individuals who participated in correctional education were 43 percent less likely to return to prison within three years than prisoners who did not participate in any correctional education programs. RAND also estimated that for every dollar invested in correctional education programs, four to five dollars are saved on three-year re-incarceration costs.

Department Launches New Video to Prevent Elder Financial Abuse

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Harrisburg, PA – During a World Elder Abuse Awareness Day gathering today at the Governor’s Residence, the Department of Aging recognized adult protective services investigators from counties throughout the commonwealth for their service in protecting older Pennsylvanian’s from abuse, neglect and exploitation. The event also included the Department of Banking and Securities announcing the availability of an updated video to help health care and legal professionals identify, report, and prevent elder financial abuse.

“Older persons are often the targets of scams, and they face increasing complexity in an ever-evolving world of financial products, services, and providers,” Secretary of Banking and Securities Robin L. Wiessmann said. “Our hope is that this video will enable professionals who work closely with older clients to identify signs of elder financial abuse and take appropriate action to protect their clients.”

The video aims to educate professionals about how to identify the signs of elder financial abuse. The video features the compelling stories of victims of elder financial abuse and their families, as well as testimony from medical experts and professionals working to protect senior citizens.

“Our intention in publicly recognizing the protective services investigators who every day respond to elder abuse reports, is embedded in the Wolf Administration’s commitment to protect our most vulnerable residents from all types of abuse and neglect,” said Secretary of Aging Teresa Osborne. “Working collaboratively with Banking and Securities affords us with additional opportunities to strengthen our efforts to ensure older adults are supported as they cope with the harm that has been done to them while seeking restitution and justice.”

The video stresses four signs for professionals and family members to watch: social isolation; poor investment decisions; sudden changes of their will; and a reduced ability to make decisions. The video is available on the Department of Aging’s YouTube channel: www.youtube.com/user/PaDepartmentOfAging and the Department of Banking and Securities Facebook: www.facebook.com/PABankingandSecurities.

The video was produced through a partnership of the Department of Banking and Securities, the Department of Aging, the Investor Protection Trust, the Investor Protection Institute, and the North American Securities Administrators Association.

Members of the public can contact the Department of Aging’s hotline to report all forms of elder abuse, including elder financial abuse, at 1-800-490-8505. Consumers can also call the Banking and Securities consumer hotline (1-800-PA-BANKS) to file a complaint or ask questions about financial products, transactions, or companies.

Department of Education, USDA Announce Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) 2016 Sites

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Harrisburg, PA – The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has released the meal service locations for the 2016 Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).

The SFSP is a federally-funded program operated nationally by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and administered in commonwealth by PDE. It provides nutritious meals to all children in qualifying areas during summer months, free of charge.

Many students who receive free or reduced cost meals during the school year through the School Breakfast and National School Lunch programs, lack access to healthy and nutritious food during the summer months and are at risk of hunger. Limited access to nutritious food during the summer can have an impact on learning all year long, and can make students more susceptible to illness and other health issues. The SFSP aims to close the gap on nutritious food access.

In Pennsylvania, over 7 million meals were served throughout the summer at approximately 2,900 meal service sites in 2015.

There are several ways to locate a participating meal site:

· “211” is the phone number for the National call center.

· “1.866.3Hungry” or “1.877.8Hambre” are numbers to call to find the place and time of free meals.

· www.fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks is the website that locates the place and time where free meals are served.

· Text “FOOD” to 877877 to find out the nearest SFSP site to your location.

· www.RangeApp.org is a mobile app that locates the place and time where free meals are served.

For more information on the Summer Food Service Program, please visit PDE’s website at www.education.pa.gov or call 800-331-0129.

In accordance with Federal civil rights law and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) civil rights regulations and policies, the USDA, its Agencies, offices, and employees, and institutions participating in or administering USDA programs are prohibited from discriminating based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability, age, or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity in any program or activity conducted or funded by USDA.

Persons with disabilities who require alternative means of communication for program information (e.g. Braille, large print, audiotape, American Sign Language, etc.), should contact the Agency (State or local) where they applied for benefits. Individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing or have speech disabilities may contact USDA through the Federal Relay Service at (800) 877-8339. Additionally, program information may be made available in languages other than English.

To file a program complaint of discrimination, complete the USDA Program Discrimination Complaint Form, (AD-3027) found online at:http://www.ascr.usda.gov/complaint_filing_cust.html, and at any USDA office, or write a letter addressed to USDA and provide in the letter all of the information requested in the form. To request a copy of the complaint form, call (866) 632-9992. Submit your completed form or letter to USDA by:

(1) Mail: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights

1400 Independence Avenue, SW

Washington, D.C. 20250-9410;

(2) Fax: (202) 690-7442; or

(3) E-mail: program.intake@usda.gov.

This institution is an equal opportunity provider.

Pennsylvania Market Remains Competitive As Review Process Begins For Health Plans In 2017

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Harrisburg, PA – Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller today announced that Pennsylvania’s individual and small group health care market remains competitive, as her department begins its review of 20 health plans that have filed to provide coverage for small groups and 18 health plans that have filed to provide coverage for individuals under the Affordable Care Act for 2017.

“As we did last year, my department is thoroughly reviewing the premiums requested by insurers for each of these health plans, to ensure that each is offering the comprehensive coverage required by the Affordable Care Act, to benefit Pennsylvania health care consumers,” Commissioner Miller said.

Currently, 509,000 Pennsylvanians are covered through individual health plans and 375,000 are covered through small group plans under the ACA.

Insurers’ proposed premium increases average 7.9 percent for small group plans and 23.6 percent for individual plans. The rate requests and summaries of these requests by health plan are posted on the Insurance Department website, www.insurance.pa.gov, on the home page, under “Top Pages.”

Commissioner Miller noted that these insurers’ rate requests vary widely depending on the health plan.

“While proposed rate increases this year are a concern, there are several factors that are driving these rate proposals that may not be there in future years. These factors include provisions of the Affordable Care Act that end in 2016, such as those which help to cover bills for rare patients who require extremely expensive medical care, and those that help to recover some costs for insurers who made incorrect estimates on how sick their overall pool of customers, including new, previously uninsured customers, would be,” Said Commissioner Miller. “In addition, some insurers in the ACA’s first few years priced their plans to attract new customers, and now are correcting these rates to better reflect the anticipated costs of covering the people who bought coverage. It’s important to note that these factors may have less impact on rates in future years.”

Commissioner Miller reminded consumers that these are only proposed rates by insurers. The Insurance Department will conduct a thorough review of the requested rates. Last October, Commissioner Miller reduced proposed rates by nearly $81 million before approving final rates for 2016.

“During our review process, I maintain as my top priority the impact that rates may have on consumers,” Commissioner Miller said.  “At the same time, I will continue to work to ensure that Pennsylvania’s health insurance market remains competitive and sustainable.”

A national study by GoBankingRate.com found Pennsylvania’s total 2016 costs for silver plans, the most popular plans under the ACA, including premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance, were found to be the fifth lowest in the country.

“The GoBankingRate.com study found competition in states was a factor in keeping total costs down, so I am pleased Pennsylvania residents will continue to have a competitive health care market and a choice of health plans,” Commissioner Miller said.

Shopping among health plans is an important way for consumers to find lower premiums.  A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found consumers who switched from the lowest cost silver plan in 2015, to the lowest cost silver plan in 2016, saved an average of $322 in annual premiums, as opposed to staying with the same plan they had in 2015. The Insurance Department encourages consumers to shop among these plans, to find the one which best meets their needs, at the best price.  Every Pennsylvanian will have at least eight plans from which to choose in 2017.

The Insurance Department today released a third video to help consumers make the best use of their health insurance plans. This video explains the health insurance rate review process and what factors the department considers when evaluating whether or not to approve a requested rate. The video is on the department website,www.insurance.pa.gov, under the Consumers tab, by clicking on “Health”, and then on the video, “How Are Health Insurance Rates Decided”, under “Resources.”

Most Pennsylvanians who get health insurance through the ACA receive subsidies to help pay their monthly premiums. The federal Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the ACA, reported that approximately 75 percent of Pennsylvanians who chose health coverage through individual plans purchased under the ACA on the federal government’s exchange site receive subsidies which help pay part of their premiums.  Therefore while many health plans are offering coverage throughhealthcare.gov and directly through a company, consumer subsidies are available only for plans bought through healthcare.gov.

Subsidies are available depending on the individual’s income. However, Commissioner Miller urged all consumers to look into whether they may qualify for subsidies, as the income guidelines are higher than some consumers may think:

  • In 2016, individuals with incomes up to $47,520 a year qualify for subsidies.
  • The income limit for a family of four to receive subsidies is $97,200.
  • On average, Pennsylvanians who chose individual plans on healthcare.gov qualified for subsidies that reduced their monthly premium by nearly two-thirds. These subsidies are pegged to the price of plans available on healthcare.gov, so if rates increase, the amount of subsidy available usually also increases.

Monthly premiums are only one part of a health plan’s cost, and Commissioner Miller encouraged consumers to look at their entire out-of-pocket cost when choosing coverage.  Other consumer costs include:

  • Deductibles, or how much a consumer pays annually for care before insurance kicks in;
  • Co-pays, or the fixed amount a consumer pays at the time of each specific service, after insurance kicks in;
  • Co-insurance, or the percentage a consumer pays of the total payment to a provider for certain services, after insurance kicks in.

The full rate filing information for each health plan will be posted on the Insurance Department website in mid-June.  Final rates will be approved in October.

Insurance Commissioner Touts Wolf Administration Work to Help Homeowners Save Money on Flood Insurance

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Hershey, PA – Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller today updated borough leaders from across Pennsylvania on the Wolf Administration’s support for private market flood insurance and encouraged borough officials to take this information to their constituents to help homeowners save money and preserve property values.

“I encourage borough officials to join us in making information on flood coverage available to their constituents, to help homeowners find the coverage that best suits their needs at the lowest cost,” Commissioner Miller said. “This is an important issue for borough leaders, as lowering property values can impact the amount of revenue available to provide important community services, such as police and fire protection, snow removal, and street maintenance.”

In a speech to the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs at their annual conference in Hershey, Commissioner Miller briefed borough leaders on her department’s recent creation of a one-stop webpage for flood insurance. This webpage includes contact information for both insurers licensed in Pennsylvania who are now selling private residential flood coverage, and companies licensed elsewhere selling this coverage through what is known as surplus lines insurance.

Prior to 2013, residential flood insurance was sold almost exclusively through the federal government run National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). Under this program, higher risk properties received subsidies to keep their premiums lower. However, due in part to overwhelming claims from Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy, the NFIP has fallen approximately $24 billion in debt. This led Congress to pass a law phasing out subsidies, leading to rising premiums for many homeowners.

Commissioner Miller noted that at the same time subsidies are being phased out, the Federal Emergency Management Agency re-mapped the country, using 100-year flood projections, placing many properties in flood zones that were not there previously.  Homes in federally-designated flood zones with mortgages backed by the federal government are required to have flood insurance, meaning many homeowners now must purchase flood coverage who never needed it before.

“The combination of rising premiums for NFIP insurance, and many homeowners being mapped into flood zones who have rarely or never experienced flooding, is bringing private insurers into the residential flood insurance market for the first time,” Commissioner Miller said.  “We are finding, in many cases, comparable private coverage is available for significantly lower cost than NFIP insurance.”

For example, Commissioner Miller found that in one instance, a homeowner in Dauphin County who had owned his home for 17 years and never experienced significant flooding, was notified by his bank that he had been mapped into a flood zone, and now needed flood insurance. NFIP insurance would have cost this homeowner $2,700 a year, but he was able to find private coverage for just $718 annually.

In another case, a homeowner in Carbon County told her local newspaper much of her community had been re-mapped into a flood zone, and a neighboring property, appraised five years ago at $110,000, sold for just $45,000, due to the high cost of flood insurance.

Homeowners can appeal a flood zone designation to FEMA.  The homeowner must show that the lowest adjacent grade to their home – or the lowest ground that actually touches the structure — is above the base elevation to which water is projected to rise in the 100-year flood projection used to create the flood zone map.  The property owner must file the appeal, and likely would need to hire a professional geologist or surveyor to determine whether the designation is accurate.  However, a municipality can assist a homeowner or group of homeowners with preparing the appeal.

The Insurance Department also released a new flier on flood insurance at the conference.  The flier is available on the department’s website, www.insurance.pa.gov, by clicking on the “Flood” icon under “Top Pages.”

It is important to note that private insurance may not be available for higher risk properties. Also, a homeowner who now has NFIP coverage with a subsidy and moves to private insurance, will likely not be eligible for a subsidy should the coverage switch back to NFIP.  Federal grants for flood mitigation work, such as raising a home on stilts, are currently only available for properties covered by NFIP plans.

Insurance Commissioner Offers Tips to Homeowners on Severe Weather Preparation

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Insurance Commissioner Offers Tips to Homeowners on Severe Weather Preparation

Harrisburg, PA – Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller today offered advice to help consumers stay prepared as temperatures rise and severe destructive storms become more frequent.

“Strong and damaging storms can appear at random during the summer months,” said Commissioner Miller. “While you can’t always control a storm’s impact on your property, you can take steps to protect yourself and be prepared to act quickly if damage occurs.”

Commissioner Miller recently issued a consumer alert outlining the steps a consumer can take to get ahead of potential storm damage and ease the recovery process, should it be necessary. Consumers are strongly encouraged to follow these steps and take time to plan ahead before the summer’s severe weather becomes more frequent.

Homeowners should review their insurance policies so they know what is or isn’t covered if damage occurs during a storm. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) advises homeowners to insure their property at replacement value rather than actual cash value, which may not be enough to cover extensive repairs or a full replacement.

Consumers should maintain an inventory of personal property, especially valuables, so information is ready if they need to be involved in a claim. Make note of brand name, price paid, date of purchase, make and model, and serial numbers whenever possible. Photos of items before damage can also help the insurance company access your claim, and always be aware of limits in your policy that could impact claims on expensive items. If necessary, additional coverage can be purchased for those items.

Commissioner Miller also reminded consumers that flood damage is not covered by a typical homeowners insurance policy. Flood insurance may be obtained through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or through a private broker. More information on flood insurance can be found on the Insurance Department’s website.

If you rent your house or apartment, you should contact an insurance agent about renters insurance. As a tenant, your landlord’s homeowners insurance will not cover your personal belongings, so it is important that you purchase a policy to protect your personal belongings from any damage that may occur. Make sure to maintain an inventory of what is covered by the renters insurance policy.

If damage does occur, contact your insurance company immediately to report your loss and begin the claims process. Make sure to document damage or loss with photographs or video before beginning to clean up. If your car is damaged by hail or debris from the storm, make sure to report this to your auto insurance company. Damage by nature is typically covered under a comprehensive coverage policy.

“Documenting any storm damage to your home or property is extremely important,” said Commissioner Miller. “This can help you provide the most detailed and accurate representation of the storm’s impact to your insurance company and will assist in the claims process.”

Claims should be filed with your insurance company as soon as possible as your insurance company may have a time limit for when you need to file a claim. Be sure to take steps to prevent further damage to your home and property by making any necessary temporary repairs if the home is still safe to inhabit. Your insurance company typically reimburses these costs as part of your claim.

Commissioner Miller also reminded consumers to be cautious when selecting a contractor to complete repairs. Request licensing information and references, and you should get important information like estimates in writing before allowing work to begin. Do not sign with a contractor before the insurance company’s claims adjuster has examined the property.

For more information on homeowners insurance and severe weather preparation, visit www.insurance.pa.gov or call 1-877-881-6388.

Insurance Commissioner Conveys Importance of Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Coverage

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Harrisburg, PA – Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller today reiterated to consumers that enforcement of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act is a priority for her department and encouraged consumers to understand what benefits they are entitled to under the law and to file complaints with the Insurance Department if they believe they are not getting proper insurance coverage.

“Ensuring that Pennsylvanians have access to the mental health and substance use disorder treatments they need is critical,” said Commissioner Miller. “The Pennsylvania Insurance Department takes this law very seriously, and we will us our statutory authority to enforce parity requirements on plans over which we have jurisdiction.”

The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA) requires health insurance plans to contain the same level of coverage for mental health and substance use disorders as for medical or surgical care. This coverage includes quantitative limitations (copays, deductibles, and limits on inpatient or outpatient visits that are covered) and non-quantitative limitations (pre-authorizations, providers available through a plan’s network, and what a plan deems “medically necessary”).

The law was incorporated into Pennsylvania law in 2010 through Act 14. Currently, the law requires parity for individuals with the following health plans:

  • Individual and small group health plans, as required by the Affordable Care Act;
  • Large group health insurance plans (self-insured and fully-insured plans for more than 50 employees. However, these plans are not required to cover mental health and substance use disorders, but if they offer coverage there must be parity with medical and surgical benefits);
  • Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and some Medicaid plans.

The Pennsylvania Insurance Department currently reviews all individual and small group plans to ensure plans contain all state and federal policy requirements, including mental health parity. This review will also be extended to large group plans for the 2018 policy year. The department is not required to review large group plans but is choosing to do so in order to take a comprehensive approach to parity enforcement across Pennsylvania.

At Commissioner Miller’s direction, the Insurance Department is also in the process of conducting market conduct examinations to ensure that insurance companies are in compliance with state and federal law. These examinations, which will continue over the next 18 months, emphasize mental health and substance use disorder parity as a key point.

“Mental health parity in individual and small and large group plans is a key factor of the Affordable Care Act,” said Commissioner Miller. “My department will be vigilant in ensuring that Pennsylvanians are receiving the benefits that they are entitled to under state and federal law.”

Since Commissioner Miller took office in January 2015, the Insurance Department has worked to educate consumers on the MHPAEA so they are aware of how the law relates to their health insurance plans. Detailed FAQs on MHPAEA are available on the department’s website.

Commissioner Miller also urged consumers to contact the department’s Bureau of Consumer Services if they think their plan does not meet parity requirements for mental health and substance use disorder coverage or have questions about the benefits to which they are entitled.

“My department is here to be a resource for consumers and works hard to help all Pennsylvanians understand what benefits they are entitled to have access to through their health insurance plans,” said Commissioner Miller. “Bringing issues to our attention may help us identify areas where parity isn’t being implemented correctly. Even if a plan isn’t under our jurisdiction, we can help consumers contact the state’s Department of Human Services or the federal Department of Labor so that issues can be properly addressed.”

For more information on the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act or to file a complaint or ask a question, visit www.insurance.pa.gov or call 1-877-881-6388.

Fort Indiantown Gap announces free guided 2016 tours of rare regal fritillary butterfly habitat

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Fort Indiantown Gap, PA – This July, visitors are invited to see the only population of rare regal fritillary butterflies in Pennsylvania at Fort Indiantown Gap, near Annville, Lebanon County.

The free guided 2016 tours will depart promptly at 10 a.m. on July 1, 2, 8 and 9. Those wishing to attend should arrive no later than 9:30 a.m. to fill out necessary paperwork, attend a mandatory safety/orientation briefing and receive driving instructions. Tours will last approximately three hours, but attendees can leave earlier if needed. Attendees should be prepared to provide vehicle make, model, year and color, along with license plate state/number and insurance carrier information.

Participants must gather at the Fort Indiantown Gap Recreation Center in Building 13-190, located at the intersection of Asher Miner Road, Clement Avenue and Route 443 (GPS coordinates in decimal degrees: North 40.431, West 76.591). Upon arrival to the installation, “wildlife event” signs will help to direct attendees to the parking area adjacent to the recreation center in the picnic grove where parking attendants will provide additional instructions.

The tours, which have been offered for more than 10 years, allow the public to see this rare butterfly and its associated rare grassland habitat on military training ranges, as well as many other natural wonders on the 17,000-acre military post, which serves as the Pennsylvania National Guard’s headquarters.

Visitors of all ages and abilities are encouraged to bring cameras and binoculars and should wear appropriate clothing and footwear for a nature walk on gravel trails or mowed paths. They should also consider bringing insect repellent, sun screen and other personal comfort items. Drinking water will be provided. No reservations are required and no rain dates will be scheduled.

The tours also will include information related to current efforts to restore native grassland habitat across Pennsylvania and current efforts to raise regal fritillary caterpillars from eggs in a lab with support from the PA Wild Resource Conservation Program and in partnership with ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park and Temple University. The ultimate goal is to return the regal fritillary to areas where they were located historically.

“Our annual tours allow the public to witness up close some of the natural marvels that can be found on Fort Indiantown Gap’s ranges and observe the direct connection between 80 plus years of military training and the rare grassland habitat that the regal requires,” said Col. Robert Hepner, garrison commander. “Last year we were the busiest National Guard training site in the nation and trained four times more soldiers on a per acre basis than sites exceeding 50,000 acres. It is no surprise to me that we have increased the amount of training and number of butterflies over the past 15 years.”

The regal fritillary is just one of the many rare species that can be found here and is the official symbol for the PA Natural Heritage Program. Fort Indiantown Gap also provides a wide variety of habitats for 40 species of mammals, 143 breeding species of birds, 36 species of reptiles and amphibians, 27 species of fish, more than 800 species of plants and many notable species of invertebrates to include 86 species of butterflies and 386 species of moths. Fort Indiantown Gap also provides habitat for more than 100 species of conservation concern in Pennsylvania.

The majority of species of conservation concern in Pennsylvania require early-successional habitat like grasslands, thickets, shrub lands and young forests. This type of habitat is found at Fort Indiantown Gap—due to fires and disturbance—from years of military training that created and maintained 1,000 acres of scrub oak and pitch pine barrens and over 4,500 acres of native grassland habitat–the largest in the state.

Fort Indiantown Gap is the only live-fire, maneuver military training facility in Pennsylvania. It balances one of the region’s most ecologically diverse areas with a military mission that annually supports 19,000 Pennsylvania National Guard personnel and more than 130,000 other states’ guard, military, law enforcement, and civilian personnel each year.

For more information about the tours or the regal fritillary butterfly, visit www.ftig.pa.gov and click on “Butterfly Tours” under the “Trending” section. General inquiries about the tour can be directed to RA-DMVA-Wildlife@pa.gov or (717) 861-2449.

PA GAME COMMISSION; VOLUNTEERS SOUGHT FOR BAT COUNT

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HARRISBURG, PA – Pennsylvania Game Commission biologists are seeking assistance from residents this summer in the Appalachian Bat Count, a statewide monitoring effort to collect bat maternity colony data. This monitoring is especially important due to bat mortalities caused by white-nose syndrome (WNS) throughout the eastern United States and Canada.

“WNS primarily kills during the winter, but the true impact of WNS on bat populations cannot be determined using estimates from winter hibernacula alone,” said Nate Zalik, a wildlife biologist for the Game Commission. “Pennsylvanians can help us more fully gauge the impact of WNS by conducting a bat count this summer. We are especially urging people who have previously conducted a bat count for the Game Commission to participate again this year. Sites monitored for many years are valuable in assessing bat population trends. However, we also are interested in receiving reports from new surveyors and sites, as identifying the location and size of colonies of WNS survivors is important.”

Information on how to participate can be found on the Game Commission’s website (www.pgc.pa.gov). Click on “Get Involved” under the “Information & Resources” tab, then click on “Appalachian Bat Count.” Forms on the website guide interested participants through the steps of timing, conducting a survey and submitting their findings to the Game Commission. Scout groups, 4-H clubs, local environmental organizations, and individual homeowners all can participate in this important effort.

“The little brown bat and the big brown bat are the two species that most often use buildings as their summer roosts,” Zalik said. “Abandoned houses, barns, church steeples, roosting structures constructed specifically for bats, and even currently occupied structures can provide a summer home to female bats and their young.”

Zalik noted that the fieldwork isn’t difficult to do, and Pennsylvanians can play a huge role in helping the Game Commission get a better understanding of what is happening to bats this summer.

“We’re looking for some help, and we hope you’ll consider becoming part of the Appalachian Bat Count monitoring team,” Zalik said. “It’s a chance to make a difference for bats and to get involved in assessing the impact of WNS. Please consider lending a hand. Bats need you more than ever.”

Popular KeystoneHELP Program Re-launches: Millions of Pennsylvania Residents Now Eligible for Low-interest, Fixed-rate Financing for Energy Efficient Home Improvements

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For Immediate Release
 
Popular KeystoneHELP Program Re-launches: Millions of Pennsylvania Residents Now Eligible for Low-interest, Fixed-rate Financing for Energy Efficient Home Improvements
 
Return of award-winning program previously used by more than 14,000 state homeowners to purchase new HVAC systems, insulation, windows, doors and whole-home improvements
 
May 12, 2016 – PITTSBURGH & PHILADELPHIA, PA – The Pennsylvania Treasury, in partnership with leading national clean energy finance company Renew Financialand the Energy Programs Consortium (EPC), a national nonprofit, is pleased to announce the re-launch of the award-winning Keystone Home Energy Loan Program (KeystoneHELP), which provides Pennsylvania homeowners with up to $20,000 of affordable financing for home energy efficiency improvements. KeystoneHELP is additionally supported by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST).
“Thousands of Pennsylvania homeowners have already benefited significantly from home upgrades made possible by the KeystoneHELP program and now many more homeowners will be able to take advantage of this program,” said Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf. “We are excited to see this program made available again so that homeowners can make improvements that are not only better for their families, but better for our communities and our environment.”
Originally launched statewide in 2006, KeystoneHELP is an innovative public/private partnership that allowed approximately 14,000 homeowners to borrow up to $15,000 at very competitive rates for a range of home improvements, including HVAC equipment, water heaters, air conditioning, roofing, insulation, windows, doors, siding, geothermal power systems, and other improvements. Before going dormant in July 2014 due to a lack of funding, the program became a national model for residential energy efficiency financing.
Pennsylvania Treasurer Timothy Reese added, “KeystoneHELP is an innovative partnership between government and the private sector that improves our state’s economy, helps our residents lower their utility bills and save energy, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.”
The re-launch of KeystoneHELP will build on the significant economic and environmental impacts that earlier projects are already having. Those projects are estimated to produce energy efficiencies that — over the life of the loans — will reduce utility bills by more than $140 million, avoid 421,633 metric tons of greenhouse gases and save .53 terawatt hours of electricity. Additionally, these projects will reduce natural gas usage by an estimated 15.7 million therms, cut heating oil consumption by 6 million gallons and lower propane usage by 1.9 million gallons.
“Revitalizing Keystone HELP is a tremendous opportunity for Pennsylvania to continue our leadership in reducing air and water pollution in the commonwealth and in the nation,” said DEP Secretary John Quigley. “The cleanest electron is the one that you don’t have to produce, and through KeystoneHELP, we can cut down on air pollution from electricity generation while keeping more of consumers’ money in their wallets.”
The re-launch is made possible, in part, by a first-of-its kind financing partnership that includes PENNVEST – the state’s water infrastructure development authority. Pennsylvania is the first state in the country to use its revolving water funds to support loans financing residential energy efficiency improvements that protect water quality by reducing airborne emissions.
KeystoneHELP is also supported by a secondary loan market created by the Warehouse for Energy Efficiency Loans (WHEEL), the only national financing facility that offers affordable financing for home energy efficiency projects not only in Pennsylvania but also in many other states in the country. WHEEL was created in 2014 through a collaboration involving Renew Financial, Pennsylvania Treasury, Citigroup, EPC and others.
KeystoneHELP was originally launched in 2006 by energy efficiency lender AFC First Financial Corporation, now a part of Renew Financial, as a pilot program with the West Penn Power Sustainable Energy Fund and expanded statewide with Pennsylvania Treasury shortly after. The program was recognized with a 2013 Stars of Energy Efficiency award from the Alliance to Save Energy and won several other energy efficiency awards. And both Renew Financial and Citi were recognized with an Energy Efficiency award from Environmental Finance in March 2016, which noted the first WHEEL securitization as one of the “Deals of the Year.”
Benefits to Homeowners
KeystoneHELP efficiency loans are fixed-rate loans with longer terms available than typical bank financing. Since there is no penalty for prepayment, homeowners may pay it off at any time.
Philadelphia homeowner Lizzie Rothwell is a KeystoneHELP customer who has realized significant savings on her utility bills thanks to various home efficiency upgrades she completed, including roof coating and insulation, new Energy Star appliances, electric panel replacements, new ductwork and air sealing.
“My husband and I bought a traditional Philadelphia trinity-style townhouse that was built around 1915 and definitely in need of some updates,” said Rothwell. “We quickly realized that our top priority was to upgrade the energy performance. KeystoneHELP made it possible for us to finance a package of home energy improvements with a reassuringly low and fixed interest rate. The drop in our utility bills was immediately apparent, and our house is much more comfortable year-round as a result of the improvements.”
“We are extremely proud to be able to again offer the KeystoneHELP program to Pennsylvania residents, enabling them to make crucial energy efficiency improvements to their homes,” said Renew Financial CEO Cisco DeVries. “Our goal is to help homeowners across the country make these much needed home improvements to reduce their energy use and utility bills, and this is one more step in achieving that goal.”
KeystoneHELP program features include:
●      Low, fixed interest rate
●      Fixed monthly payments
●      Loans up to $20,000, unsecured financing
●      Flexible repayment terms of 5, 7 or 10 years
●      100 percent of the project can be financed
●      Thousands of eligible improvements to save energy,and money
●      Up to 25% of the financed amount can be used for non-qualifying products
●      Work completed by KeystoneHELP Registered Contractors
●      No upfront costs and no hidden fees
●      Fast, simple approval and application process
●      Strong consumer protections
Registered Network of Contractors
Renew Financial is building mutually beneficial relationships with contractors/dealers in the home services industry. All contractors who participate in the KeystoneHELP program are fully licensed and have received training on the program and how to respond to consumer inquiries. Only approved contractors/dealers are allowed to perform work under this financing and more than 250 contractors statewide have already enrolled in the program since enrollments opened last month.
Pennsylvania residents interested in learning more details about KeystoneHELP should go to keystonehelp.com.

LANE RESTRICTIONS SCHEDULED ON U.S. 1 IN CHESTER COUNTY FOR GUIDE RAIL INSTALLATION

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King of Prussia, PA – The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) today announced that lane restrictions are scheduled on U.S. 1 between Ridge Road and Christine Road in West Nottingham, Chester County, on Monday, June 27, through Thursday, June 30, from 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM, for guide rail installation.

Motorists are advised to allow extra time when traveling through the area. The construction schedule is contingent on the weather.
The work is part of a $2.1 million project to install safety measures on state highways across the five-county region. In addition to median barriers and guide rails, PennDOT has been installing rumble strips, raised pavement markers and curve signing on various highways to better guide motorists.
Morgan Rail, Inc. of Reading, Pa., is the general contractor on the project, which is financed with 100 percent state funds.

NIGHT TRAVEL RESTRICTION NEXT WEEK ON U.S. 202 SOUTH AT ROUTE 401 IN CHESTER COUNTY

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King of Prussia, PA – Travel restrictions are scheduled at night next week on U.S. 202 south at the Route 401 Interchange in East Whiteland Township, Chester County, for construction, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) said today.

The work is associated with the $63.3 million project to widen and reconstruct two miles of U.S. 202 from north of Route 401 to U.S. 30, and rebuild and improve the Route 401 Interchange.
On Monday, June 27, through Thursday, June 30, from 8:00 PM to 5:00 AM the following morning, and from 8:00 PM Friday, July 1, to 10:00 AM Saturday, July 2, U.S. 202 south will be reduced from two lanes to one at the Route 401 Interchange for sound wall installation. The southbound right lane will be closed during overnight operations.
The scheduled work is weather dependent.
Construction to expand U.S. 202 to six lanes from north of Route 401 to U.S. 30, including work at the Route 401 Interchange, is being performed by Allan A. Myers, LP of Worcester, Montgomery County. The project is scheduled to finish later this summer.
Motorists are advised to allow additional time for travel and use extra care when driving through the work zones.

Pennsylvania Inmates Rank Higher than National Average on GED Test

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Harrisburg, PA – For the third straight year, inmates in the Pennsylvania state prison system scored higher than the national average on GED high school equivalency tests.

Attaining higher education levels and improved vocational skills can lead to reduced recidivism. This is especially critical for individuals who entered the system lacking basic literacy skills.

“Ninety percent or more of all inmates will complete their sentences and be released one day,” said Corrections Secretary John Wetzel. “It is essential that these individuals have the tools to succeed when they are released and chief among them is a high school degree.”

So far this year 1,016 inmates have taken the test with 828 passing, for an 82 percent pass rate, compared with the national overall rate of 76 percent.

That figure shows an increase over 2015, when the Department of Corrections gave tests to 741 inmates with 555 passing for a 75 percent pass rate. The national rate in 2015 was 67 percent.

With the advent in 2014 of electronic testing, the DOC had to make extensive changes to accommodate the new system.

The DOC responded by working with its Bureau of Information Technology to ramp up systems to support this testing. With updated servers, computers, and the lab setting, all of the DOC institutions are now certified testing centers.

All corrections school principals and counselors are certified examiners for these sites, and all testing is done on-site in each prison’s education department.

At the same time, GED Testing Service also examined the content of the test and changed the subject areas to better conform with what was being offered to high school students.

The test now focuses on four content areas (math, science, social studies, and language/reading arts). There also are new computer-oriented features that require the test takers to create charts and graphs.

The DOC’s Bureau of Correction Education provided training to DOC staff on the content and curriculum used to teach these new concepts and skills to DOC students. This new test now measures prior knowledge and understanding of content rather than simple reading comprehension.

The bureau also streamlined the qualifications to allow a student to be tested. The new test has been written at a higher learning level and is geared toward testing for college readiness.

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