More than $5.5M to clean up PA environment, spur economy announced by Casey, Fetterman

Seeking to clean up orphan oil and gas wells and create well-paid union jobs, U.S. Democratic Senators Bob Casey and John Fetterman announced more than $5.5 million for the Orphaned Wells Program from the U.S. Department of the Interior. 

Funding for the program will be used to plug 48 old wells in the Allegheny National Forest. Pennsylvania has more than 8,000 documented abandoned wells, and millions of Americans live within a mile of an old or orphaned well. 

The $5,527,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) is bolstered by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The Act is designed to create good-paying, union jobs through economic growth while also protecting national resources. 

Casey said that methane emissions from orphan wells have for too long polluted Pennsylvania’s air and water and endangered the Allegheny National Forest. 

“Thanks to the infrastructure law, Pennsylvania can not only clean up these environmental hazards but stimulate the region’s economy by creating good-paying jobs,” Casey said in a statement. 

Fetterman said funding for the program will help Pennsylvania residents have clean air and clean water. 

“The Allegheny National Forest is a Pennsylvania treasure, and I am proud that this investment, in large part from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, will help keep it that way,” said Fetterman. 

Created by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the Orphaned Wells Program addresses pollution caused by methane emissions and water contamination. The program is part of a strategy to make certain that future generations have clean air and water, while also addressing employment challenges in energy communities.

Sen. Casey announces funding for Cedarbrook

Cedarbrook Nursing Home in South Whitehall Township  PHOTO/FILE

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, was scheduled to be in the Lehigh Valley Friday to present to announce $525,000 in funding for Cedarbrook Senior Care & Rehab. 

The community project funding will support the construction of a new wing, that will help reduce room occupancy and improve the Lehigh County nursing home’s capacity for care and rehabilitation. 

The residents of Cedarbrook are primarily older people insured through Medicaid. 

Cedarbrook is located at 350 South Cedarbrook Road in Allentown. 

Sen. Casey visits Muhlenberg to support inmate education program

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. –

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, was in Allentown Monday to promote a program at Muhlenberg College aimed at helping former prison inmates get back into the workforce. 

The school is receiving funding for its Inside/Out Prison Exchange Program which is a partnership between Muhlenberg College and the Lehigh County Department of Corrections that seeks to improve access to postsecondary education for incarcerated individuals. The program enrolls Muhlenberg College students alongside incarcerated adults in a semester-long academic course.   

“For the first time in a decade, Congress is sending federal dollars directly to community projects across the Nation. I was proud to secure $231,000 for the Muhlenberg College and Lehigh County Department of Corrections Inside/Out Prison Exchange Program, which gives incarcerated individuals a pathway to secondary education—a pathway that would improve their chances to fully participate in the workforce, pursue further higher education and find safe and affordable housing after their incarceration. The United States is a Nation of second chances, and that is exemplified in Inside/Out’s core mission: to help people get their lives back on track and strengthen communities.” 

This program is expected to allow incarcerated students to gain college credits and create a pathway to postsecondary education. The funding will help support Inside/Out’s goals of reducing rates of recidivism and increasing the likelihood that incarcerated participants will be able to find and keep employment after incarceration. 

GAO report cites deceptive short-term health insurance plans in Pa.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey blamed the Trump administration for promoting “junk” health insurance plans after a federal report found that some sales representatives of short-term insurance plans were using deceptive sales practices.

This week, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released the results of a series of covert tests involving 31 sales representatives in Alabama, Florida, Kansas, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.

The tests targeted companies offering plans exempt from a Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) provision requiring providers to face a tax penalty if they fail to offer minimum essential coverage to customers.

The tests were conducted from October 2019 to August 2020 and involved a series of covert phone calls. During the calls, the office would interact with a sales representative and try to purchase a plan while telling the representative that they had a pre-existing condition.

PPACA-exempt plans such as short-term, limited-duration insurance, which are generally used to fill gaps in coverage, can be sold directly to consumers and are not penalized for excluding coverage or charging higher premiums for pre-existing conditions.

Because they are not mandated to comply with the act, these plans are generally less expensive than other health plans, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s report.

“These plans are not a long term alternative to comprehensive coverage,” said Insurance Commissioner Jessica Altman of the Pennsylvania Insurance Department. “Consumers may see upfront savings but those will likely prove false.”

Of the 31 covert tests, the accountability office found eight examples of sales representatives who engaged in potentially deceptive marketing practices.

“While conducting the covert tests, we were provided with applications containing terms and disclosures about the purchase that we were required to sign electronically,” the report states. “However, the oral descriptions provided by the sales representatives did not always align with these terms and disclosures.”

In one example cited in the report, a sales representative told one of the covert callers that their recently diagnosed diabetes would be covered under a plan. When the office later obtained the application she had filled out for the caller, it said that he had not been treated or diagnosed for diabetes, which would allow the insurance to be purchased but would not allow the caller to receive coverage for their condition.

Casey, who is currently working on a bill that he said would hold companies and brokers accountable for such practices, said that use of these short-term plans as long-term coverage has proliferated through the Trump administration’s promotion of them.

“Substandard insurance plans were allowed to flourish because of the actions of this administration,” he said. “We call them junk plans because as the report indicated, they lure customers in with the promise of cheap health insurance, but they don’t cover comprehensive health care.”

In 2018, the Trump administration issued new rules to expand the plans from a duration of three to 12 months, with the option of renewing them for 36 months. The administration’s expansion was upheld in federal appeals court in July.

Despite the plan’s inability to cover preexisting conditions, President Donald Trump has said that the plans offer “much less expensive health care at a much lower price.”

US Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., proposes a new New Deal to fix infrastructure, spur job growth

With the financial toll of COVID-19 still growing and an estimated 17 million Americans unemployed, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey on Wednesday called for Congress to approve a New Deal-style spending package to jumpstart the economy and improve the nation’s infrastructure.

“We’ve got a jobs crisis throughout the country and certainly in Pennsylvania,” said Casey, D-Scranton.

There are nearly 900,000 Pennsylvanians out of work, Casey said, and many southwestern Pennsylvania counties have not seen comparable unemployment numbers since the collapse of the steel industry in the 1980s.

“We need federal help. No state government in any state, no local government, no county government, no private sector can do this on their own,” said Casey. “We need a substantial jobs plan.”

A spending program reminiscent of the Depression-era Works Progress Administration would help rebuild the country’s crumbling infrastructure, Casey said, from bridges and highways to the locks and dams on Pittsburgh area rivers that are vital to commercial shipping.

Asked if he envisioned the program fully funding repairs to the aging locks and dams dotting the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers in western Pennsylvania, Casey said he wants the bill “to be as broad and as wide-ranging as possible” and that the locks and dams “would be part of that.”

Jobs created by the program should be unionized and offer a minimum wage of $15 per hour, Casey said.

Pittsburgh resident Marvin Williams, a member of Heavy Construction Carpenters Local 441, said he has found a career, not just a job, that he wants to use to help his family and others in his community, but the economy threatens those plans.

“We need the funding,” Williams said. “We need the jobs.”

Rich Barcaskey, the executive director of the Constructors Association of Western Pennsylvania, which represents more than 200 companies in 33 counties, said the pandemic has had a “dramatic effect on transportation funding” with PennDOT anticipating $800 million in cuts to projects.

In PennDOT’s District 11, which covers Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties, there is expected to be $200 million less for projects from 2021 to 2024, Barcaskey said.

Ultimately, Barcaskey said, the shortfall will force PennDOT and other state transportation departments “to choose, quite frankly, between which roadways will be improved.”

Casey urged the Republican-controlled Senate to return to session to address U.S. Postal Service funding, jobs and infrastructure.

His revamped New Deal proposal would offer flexibility for regions to respond to local needs, Casey said, adding that a program done to its full extent could employ up to 40 percent of those Americans not working.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt was challenged with steering the country through economic calamity, he did not “sit around” and do nothing, said Casey. “He acted, and I think that’s what we’re going to need in the coming months,” Casey said.

Sen. Bob Casey to propose G.I Bill for health care workers

U.S. Senator Bob Casey says he will introduce the legislation he says would act as a modern G.I. Bill for the country’s health care workers.

The Pandemic Responders Service Award Act would award millions of U.S. health care workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic access to money to pay for student loans, additional education or for savings for the future.

“This is a piece of legislation that should thank appropriately health care workers who have answered the call of their country during this terrible pandemic,” said Casey, D-Pa., during a press conference. “I think most would agree that if there is a front line, these are the workers that are there.”

Casey’s bill would give eligible workers the equivalent of four years of in-state tuition at a public university, which is currently $39,880, over a four year period.

The awards would not include additional costs such as room and board.

Those eligible for the award would include people employed by emergency medical services; workers involved in health care and patient care in hospitals including janitorial, transport, laundry and food services; home health care workers; residential care workers; and behavioral health workers.

Recipients of the award could use the funds to pay off existing student loans and seek further education such as apprenticeship training, certification programs or associate, bachelor’s or graduate programs. The funds could also be used as savings for the future for workers to fund their own businesses, purchase a home or save for their children’s future, Casey said.

Casey and his team modeled the bill off of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, known as the G.I. Bill. The bill was originally signed into law by President Roosevelt to reward the country’s World War II veterans and help them enroll into universities.

“These front line health care workers are soldiers on a battlefield, it’s just a different kind of battlefield,” Casey said.

The Senator estimates that if the bill were to pass, it could benefit “tens of millions” of health care workers across the country. Casey and his team have yet to announce an estimated cost for the bill, but plan to provide a ballpark estimation when the bill is introduced this week.

“When you are fighting a war and finding the impact of that war, we can’t be penny pinchers,” he said. “We are going to work to make this part of the next piece of major legislation or get it passed in some other legislation. As we introduce it, we will be looking for both sides of the aisle in senate.”

Treasury Department asks Congress for $250B more for paycheck protection funds

Treasury Department officials confirmed Tuesday they are asking congressional leaders for an additional $250 billion for companies to retain workers as the initial $350 billion allocated by the CARES Act is threatening to dry up after going live four days ago.

In a statement Tuesday, U.S. Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, said members of Congress are working to draft a bill purposing “emergency liquidity” for businesses that are struggling to retain workers amid the economic fallout caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Even as the CARES Act continues to come online, one such need is already clear: The small-business Paycheck Protection Program needs more funding,” McConnell said in a statement Tuesday.

McConnell said Congress needs to quickly provide more funding or “this crucial program will run dry.”

“That cannot happen,” McConnell said. “Congress needs to act with speed and total focus to provide more money for this uncontroversial bipartisan program. I will work with [Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer] and hope to approve further funding for the Paycheck Protection Program by unanimous consent or voice vote during the next scheduled Senate session on Thursday.”

The announcement came hours after Senate Democrats unveiled a proposal for a “Heroes Fund.” Democratic members of Congress told reporters on Tuesday the Heroes Fund would amount to a $13 per hour wage increase from the start of the public health emergency until Dec. 31, 2020.

The raise would cap total maximum premium pay at $25,000 for each essential frontline worker earning less than $200,000 per year, and $5,000 for each essential worker earning $200,000 or more per year.

The Heroes Fund would also include a $15,000 premium for companies to recruit and retain essential workers. The Heroes Fund would apply to health care professionals, first responders, personal care and home health workers and grocery store workers.

“We are in a war against COVID-19, and we owe our gratitude to all of the workers who are putting their own health and safety at risk by fighting on the front lines of this pandemic,” Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. Bob Casey said. “The Heroes Fund would provide essential workers with increased compensation and incentivize others to join the fight against COVID-19.”

U.S. Senator Bob Casey supports sending checks to taxpayers amid COVID-19 surge


As the economic fallout from the coronavirus escalates with statewide closures of non-essential businesses, federal lawmakers are considering sending thousands of dollars in direct cash payments to American households.

U.S. Senator Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, was joined by 17 fellow senators in writing a letter to Senate leadership this week, urging Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer to forward their legislation that would support Americans in the time of financial and economic uncertainty.

“Over the course of just one week, most of America went from business-as-usual to a virtual shutdown,” members of Congress wrote in the letter. “Workers have seen their hours cut or eliminated entirely, and millions of American families are assessing how they will weather a potentially long-lasting economic paralysis. We must provide direct cash support to the American workers and families who need it most – to help them purchase essentials; pay the rent, mortgage, and bills; and otherwise weather the coming weeks and months.”

Senators propose sending checks in multiple installments with extensions if the public health emergency extends beyond July or the unemployment increases. Eligibility would extend to workers who filed taxes for the 2019 tax year and non-filers who filed form 1040 separately.

The first installment would be $2,000 for every adult, child and non-child dependent. The second installment of $1,500 would be made if federal officials call for public health emergency and economic turmoil designation in July or if the June unemployment rate is 1% higher than the three-month average from December through February.

If the June unemployment rate is only 0.5% above the three-month average, a half payment of $750 would be made for each qualifying person, according to the letter.

Beyond July, lawmakers said quarterly payments of $1,000 would be made for qualifying individuals if federal officials make an economic turmoil designation and March unemployment is up 1% from the December-February average, lawmakers said.

Half payments of $500 would be made if the unemployment rate is 0.5% above the December-February average, and payments would continue every quarter until unemployment falls to within half a percentage point of the three-month average, according to lawmakers.

Higher-income taxpayers would not be included in the payouts, with a phase-out rate of 5% of the aggregate credit amount starting at higher incomes, according to Casey’s office.

Congress shores up pension, health care benefits for coal miners

Inside of the mine shaft with fog, illustration and digital painting PHOTO/GETTY IMAGES

Retired Pennsylvania coal miners will see their retirement and health care benefits preserved thanks to a bipartisan, end-of-year federal government spending deal announced this week.

Congress approved a funding package for tens of thousands of miners across the country, including legislation to shore up retired coal miners’ pensions and health care coverage. The Bipartisan American Miners Act of 2019 will ensure miners, whose health care is at risk due to recent coal company bankruptcies, will not lose their benefits, according to co-sponsor Senator Bob Casey, D-PA.

“Coal miners powered this country for decades and I am proud to say that after years of fighting, we have reached an agreement to keep our promises to the men and women who helped build our nation,” Casey said in a statement this week.

The spending deal secures lifetime health care benefits for 13,000 miners around the country who lost their benefits. Congress approved provisions to shore up the 1974 Pension Plan, headed for insolvency due to recent coal company bankruptcies and the 2008 financial crisis, threatening the pensions of 92,000 miners, according to Senator Joe Manchin, D-WV, who sponsored the bill.

Casey pledged to continue pushing for the Butch Lewis Act, aimed at establishing retirement trust funds for workers with the U.S. Department of the Treasury, to pass through the Senate. The Butch Lewis Act passed through the House of Representatives in July and would “ensure that pensions for our Teamsters, Bakery and Confectionery workers and all other Pennsylvanians remain secure,” Casey said.

In a statement released by Manchin, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, laid the blame at the Obama Administration’s “eight years of regulatory assault” of the coal mining sector for the poor state in which many retired coal miners find themselves, promising less regulation under the Trump Administration.

“Earlier this week, I personally raised with President Trump the importance of protecting these coal miners’ pensions and health retirement benefits, and I am committed to continuing to work with him and my colleagues in congress towards a solution,” McConnell said in the statement released in early November. “The startling number of orphaned miners in drastically underfunded pension plans presents an urgent crisis for entire communities of miners, retirees and their families.”