State Rep. Frank Burns, D-Cambria, was proud to help Rock Run Recreation secure a $53,800 state grant to help maintain its 140-mile outdoor recreation trail system. Read more
ERIE, Aug. 9 – State Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie, will host his 7 th annual Senior Fair & Older Living Expo from 9 a.m. to noon Monday, Aug. 19 at McDowell Intermediate High School, 3320 Caughey Road. The free event will feature about 80 exhibitors, valuable information on state programs, free health screenings, refreshments, door prizes and more. “The fair is one of the most exciting events I host each year because of all the energy our senior community brings,” Bizzarro said. “Erie’s seniors are an active, engaged group who understand that Pennsylvania offers a wealth of programs and services for older adults. The fair provides a great opportunity for them to learn about new and existing programs; pick up applications and brochures; and talk to staff, who will be on-hand to answer questions. “Once again this year, the fair will feature dozens of community exhibitors offering a look at all the latest resources important to older adults – from health, nutrition and fitness, to housing, home care, transportation and financial services. The best part is that every year, seniors come away with a better understanding of how to make the most of their retirement years.” Additional parking will be available in the parking lot adjacent to the Gus Anderson Field, located off Caughey Road, with shuttle service available to and from the fair. Residents interested in learning more should contact Bizzarro’s office Read more
ERIE, Aug. 6 – A $75,000 state grant will help Gannon University develop cutting-edge residency programs that will provide advanced training to teachers, state Reps. Bob Merski and Pat Harkins, both D-Erie, announced today. The funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Education is one of 11 grants awarded to universities statewide to support teacher and principal residency programs. The goal is to bolster and diversify the state’s educator workforce to better serve high-need areas. “Teacher training is a dynamic area, and like many other professionals, teachers in training benefit greatly from real-world experience,” Merski said. “My own training as a teacher began with the hands-on cadet teacher program, which builds in-classroom experiences from day one alongside teacher education courses.” Harkins added, “Historically, so many of our communities have faced problems attracting and retaining good teachers. The funding announced today will allow Gannon University to develop the best possible clinical residency programs to turn out educators who are well-equipped to serve in our most high-need areas.” Clinical residency programs must be developed in partnership with at least one high-need local education agency that serves high rates of historically underserved students or demonstrates chronic, multiple teacher shortages in key certification areas, including special education and English as a second language. The Read more
ERIE, Aug. 1 – State Reps. Ryan Bizzarro, Pat Harkins and Bob Merski, all D-Erie, announced today that $10.5 million in grants have been awarded under the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program to fund projects around the region. The legislators noted that the grants will provide benefits for generations to come. “I’ve always been a proponent of regional representation and understand the value of community assets that go beyond legislative district boundaries,” Bizzarro said. “I am proud to have worked diligently with my colleagues, House leadership, administrative leadership and community innovators to secure this funding for our community. “These grant benefits will extend far beyond the individual campus, facility or neighborhood project receiving the investment – they will enhance learning, living, shopping and economic opportunities for residents and generations to come in each of our legislative districts.” “These grants are incredible news for Erie,” Harkins said. “I’m especially pleased that we were successful in our efforts to help secure $2 million in funding for the project to expand Saint Vincent. My wife and I – and all three of our children – were born there, and we have many friends who work there. It is truly a regional investment.” Merski agreed, saying, “These state investments in the city of Erie are critical to accelerating our transformation. From Read more
ERIE, July 15 – Erie County elementary school students will see more fresh fruits and vegetables on the school menu thanks to $251,047 in grants awarded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, state Reps. Pat Harkins, Bob Merski and Ryan Bizzarro, all D-Erie, announced today. “The nutrients in fresh fruits and vegetables are essential for ensuring kids’ healthy growth and bolstering their immune systems, which is so important in a school setting, where kids are in constant close contact,” Harkins said. “I’m so glad we were successful in our efforts to secure this funding.” Merski agreed, noting, “As an educator for many years, I have seen how proper nutrition improves memory skills and boosts academic performance. I’m delighted that our students will be seeing this incredibly important addition to the school menu.” Bizzarro added that the grants help start healthy patterns, saying, “By introducing kids to fresh fruits and vegetables at an early age, we’re helping them understand that healthy eating is a choice that’s available to them and that it feels better than junk food, hopefully a lesson they’ll carry with them for life.” The grants to the First, Second and Third Legislative Districts, by school district, are as follows: Erie City School District Diehl Elementary School – $29,440 Edison Elementary School – Read more
ERIE, July 15 – State Rep. Bob Merski, D-Erie, attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony today celebrating the opening of a new splash pad water feature at Bayview Park. The new water feature, which was funded in part by a $60,000 Keystone Communities grant to Our West Bayfront, includes a large, colorful hose sculpture that will spray cool water in all directions. “I’m delighted that we were able to assist in securing funding toward the construction of this new splash pad, which is going to provide hours of refreshing fun in the sun for our kids,” Merski said. “Beyond providing a safe recreational outlet, the new water feature will bring together members of the community. Parents and other family members coming to watch the kids will be connecting with other parents and forging new friendships. Improvements like this don’t just improve the physical landscape – they broaden our community horizons and help neighbors develop stronger ties to one another.” The Keystone Communities program is administered by the state Department of Community and Economic Development. The program is designed to support local initiatives that grow and stabilize neighborhoods and communities, encourage the creation of partnerships between the public and private sectors in the community and enhance overall quality of life for residents. Read more
ERIE, July 12 – Erie County projects to expand affordable housing and reduce blight will receive $450,000 through the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement fund, state Reps. Ryan Bizzarro, Pat Harkins and Bob Merski, all D-Erie, announced today. “This funding is critically important for members of our community in need of housing – particularly those who may be homeless or struggling to make ends meet,” Harkins said. “It’s especially good to know that our efforts to help secure funding were successful because the organizations benefiting, such as Mercy Center for Women, do such vital work in helping residents regain productive lives.” Bizzarro agreed, noting that projects to expand affordable housing are good for the community on multiple levels. “These projects will not only expand affordable housing options for the working families of Erie, they will create jobs and spur increased economic activity,” Bizzarro said. “The projects will open doors for residents in so many ways.” Merski pointed out that the funding will also bolster efforts to revitalize vacant, blighted areas. “It’s great to see part of this funding go toward breathing life back into blighted, vacant areas of our community,” Merski said. “During my years on city council, I drafted the ordinance creating the city land bank for this very purpose. With this funding, the land bank can Read more
ERIE, July 10 – At a joint news conference today, state Rep. Bob Merski, D-Erie, and the Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority announced a new program that allows seniors to obtain free bus passes – which they can use to ride any EMTA bus for free – at Merski’s district office. Merski said helping residents with essential services such as transportation is one of his office’s key functions. “One of our most important jobs here in Erie is to help make life easier for residents, and particularly those who may be facing mobility issues or other challenges,” Merski said. “That’s why I’m so excited that our office is now offering the free Senior Identification cards that allow eligible residents to enjoy EMTA’s free senior ride program. “The best part is, our office can help make this a ‘one-stop-shop’ process in which we supply the application, provide any help the senior may need with applying, and then issue the card itself that same day. It saves time and effort, and it’s a great way to give back to the many seniors who have done so much to enrich our community.” Merski’s district office is located at 3901 Liberty St., 16509. Seniors who come in to apply must bring an acceptable proof-of-age document, which may include: a valid driver’s license, birth certificate, armed forces discharge or separation papers, passport or naturalization papers, a PACE card, a Read more
HARRISBURG, July 3 – State Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie, lauded Gov. Tom Wolf’s signing of legislation Bizzarro co-sponsored that will create a state-based insurance exchange for private plans under the Affordable Health Care Act. “This new law is tremendous news for the nearly 400,000 Pennsylvanians who rely on private insurance under the ACA and have been dealing with rising premiums,” Bizzarro said, noting that in the past, insurance consumers have relied on an insurance marketplace run by the federal government. “By stepping in and establishing its own state-run exchange, the commonwealth is paving the way for a more efficient system that will generate millions in savings. It’s a classic case of the state being able to accomplish something more efficiently than the federal government – with the savings realized going directly to the benefit of our state’s insurance consumers.” Bizzarro said Pennsylvania can operate its own insurance exchange at a cost of nearly one-third the amount the federal government collects from insurers to operate the federal exchange. The state can then use those millions in “user fees” no longer being paid to the federal government to create a reinsurance plan that will help insurers defray their risk. “The winner in all of this will be the state’s insurance consumers, who will benefit from lower, more stable premiums,” Bizzarro said. “We know these Read more
HARRISBURG, July 1 – Pennsylvania National Guard members who reenlist for a second obligation will be able to earn college education benefits for their family members under a new law signed today by Gov. Tom Wolf, according to state Rep. Bob Merski, D-Erie, a co-sponsor of the legislation. “It’s terrific to know that this legislation – the first of its kind in the nation – is now law,” Merski said. “I supported the legislation because it accomplishes several important purposes. First, it promises to boost our state Guard retention rate by offering members who commit to a second obligation of six years a chance to earn college education benefits for their spouses or children. “Second, the law provides a meaningful way to thank the many Guard family members who sacrifice time with their loved ones whenever they must report to duty. We have one of the largest and most committed Guards in the nation, and that’s a testament both to our service members and their supportive families. This is a great way to honor them.” Merski noted that under the program, Guard members who commit to an additional six years of service can receive five years of higher education benefits for their spouses and children. The program will provide family members with 10 semesters of tuition-free education. The benefit must be used at an educational institution approved by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency and at the Read more
HARRISBURG, June 28 – A $2,955 mini grant to Gannon University will help support Erie Earth Day Festival 2020 and its efforts to raise awareness about environmental issues such as air and water quality, state Reps. Pat Harkins and Bob Merski, both D-Erie, announced. “The grant announced today is great news for Erie because it supports an annual event attended by so many in our community who are concerned about the environmental impact of issues like climate change,” Merski said. “Funding for the event is especially important in light of the many students who attend. As the need for conservation and protection become more evident each year, environmental education becomes an increasingly important supplement to classroom learning.” Harkins agreed, noting that the event generates community-wide involvement. “It’s important that we face critical, time-sensitive issues like climate change, water conservation and air quality as a community because they impact all of us,” Harkins said. “Events like the festival – which bring together local green businesses, advocates, organizations and colleges – are a great way to educate the community, generate energy, and inspire everyone to become involved.” The grant is one of a package of Environmental Education mini grants awarded by DEP to encourage environmental awareness in students and adults. Projects receiving priority include those that educate and Read more
HARRISBURG, June 28 – A $2,900 mini grant from the Department of Environmental Protection will fund microscopes for students studying climate, watersheds and other environmental subjects, state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie, announced today. “We have a wealth of students who are concerned about their future and interested in learning how to protect our environment,” said Bizzarro, who is a member of the House Climate Caucus. “The grant announced today will provide the tools to fuel their curiosity and inspire a new generation of scientists and environmental engineers. We’ll need those well-trained minds to address the ongoing impact of climate change and develop new ways to safeguard our natural resources.” The grant to Asbury Woods nature preserve is one of a package of Environmental Education mini grants awarded by DEP to foster environmental awareness among students and adults. The funds are used for projects that include hands-on student lessons, teacher training programs, outdoor learning resources, and conservation education for adults. Enacted in 1993, the Environmental Education Act mandates that 5% of all pollution fines and penalties collected annually by DEP be set aside for environmental protection. Since inception of the grant program, more than $10 million in grants has been awarded to support environmental education efforts throughout Pennsylvania. Read more
HARRISBURG, June 25 – State Reps. Pat Harkins and Bob Merski both cast “yes” votes for the budget bill today, saying they believed that, although not perfect, the bill (H.B. 790) would make sound investments in the commonwealth’s future. “Although the budget is not everything I wanted, I believe it would invest our resources wisely and would not increase the burden on taxpayers,” Harkins said. “I’m especially encouraged about the substantial increases for public education and pre-K resources – including increased funding for my school districts – and additional funding for nursing homes and home health care operations. “Finally, I’m pleased the new budget would make a sizeable increase to the Rainy Day Fund. Having served in lean years, I understand how important that will be for the commonwealth moving forward and how it will help with our bond rating over the long term.” Merski was likewise pleased about the budget’s emphasis on education and protecting the state’s vulnerable populations, though he has some concerns. “This budget would increase funding for every school district I represent,” Merski said. “It also would increase investments in Pre-K Counts to give our kids the best possible start, and in nursing facilities to help protect our seniors and most vulnerable citizens. Best of all, it would do all of this without raising taxes. “Of course, Read more
HARRISBURG, June 25 – State Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie, cast a “yes” vote for the budget bill today, praising the bill’s strong investments in education and job training but saying he was disappointed that it misses opportunities for realizing millions in savings by failing to address workers’ wages and closing loopholes for special interests. “To be clear, there is a lot of good in this budget bill – particularly with regard to its substantial investment in education and the fact that it does not impose any new taxes on residents,” Bizzarro said. “At the same time, I’m disappointed that the budget contains some important missed opportunities. “An essential part of our obligation when it comes to passing a budget is not just passing the budget on time but also passing a budget that saves money for Pennsylvania’s taxpayers. By failing to include a modest increase in the minimum wage that would help thousands of low-earning Pennsylvanians pull themselves off public assistance, we are missing out on savings of $100 million, according to a recent report by the Independent Fiscal Office. It’s not hard to image how the commonwealth could use those dollars. “That said, I’m not prepared to let the perfect stand in the way of the good. I voted for this budget because I believe that on balance, it contains a number of provisions that will benefit Pennsylvanians and working families. Read more
HARRISBURG, June 24 – State Reps. Ryan Bizzarro, Pat Harkins, and Bob Merski, all D-Erie, lauded today’s news that UPMC and Highmark have entered into a 10-year contract, beginning July 1, that will provide Highmark customers continued access to all UPMC doctors and facilities. “News of this agreement to preserve Highmark customers’ access to UPMC doctors and facilities for the next decade comes as a tremendous relief to the millions of Pennsylvanians who were living under the specter of losing access to the trusted relationships they had formed with chosen providers,” said Bizzarro. “As lawmakers, we were prepared to do whatever was necessary – including crafting a legislative solution – to preserve those relationships, but thanks to the efforts of both sides and work of the attorney general in helping to bring them together, Pennsylvanians won’t have to worry and wonder any longer because the promise of continued care has been restored.” Harkins agreed, saying, “Today’s agreement comes as the best possible news for the people of western Pennsylvania. The possibility of Erie residents losing access to their chosen care providers has been foremost on my mind since the clock began ticking on this consent decree nearly five years ago. I’ve received hundreds of calls and emails from constituents worried about how this was going to negatively impact health care options for themselves and their Read more
HARRISBURG, June 19 – The House today unanimously passed a bill that would give Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry more flexibility in drawing down funding allocated for modernizing the state’s Unemployment Compensation benefits delivery system, according to the prime sponsor, state Rep. Pat Harkins, D-Erie. The funding in question comes from Act 60 of 2017, which provides the Labor and Industry Department $115 million over four years to help underwrite the cost of operating the state’s UC system and completing a technology-modernization project to improve the department’s benefits delivery system. Harkins said that although the act provides a specific timeline for the funding, the department needs added flexibility when acting to protect the state taxpayers’ investment. “My bill would give the Labor and Industry Department the flexibility it needs as it works to oversee the project to modernize the state’s benefits delivery system,” Harkins said. “The department recently encountered a situation in which a project vendor failed to meet a certain timeframe. The department withheld payment to enforce the contract and ensure successful implementation of the project. “Although the department acted the way we expect agencies to act to protect taxpayer dollars, the language in the current law could require it to forfeit some of the money allocated for the project simply because it enforced the Read more
HARRISBURG, June 19 – The House today unanimously adopted a resolution designating June 28 as “National Logistics Day,” according to the resolution’s author and prime co-sponsors, state Reps. Bob Merski, Ryan Bizzarro, and Pat Harkins, all D-Erie. Merski said he introduced H.R. 395 to highlight the essential role logistics – the coordination of complex operations involving many people, facilities or supplies – plays in the success of modern business. “Successful companies share at least one important trait – they all manage to get their product to the market smoothly, efficiently and on time,” Merski said. “Regardless of the means used to store, ship and deliver goods, it’s clear our modern economy cannot function without logistics. I’m delighted the House unanimously adopted my resolution recognizing the vital role logistics plays, and I’m equally pleased that representatives of Erie-based Logistics Plus – a state-of-the art provider of logistics worldwide – could be here to see the resolution adopted.” Bizzarro agreed, saying, “Companies like Logistics Plus play a key role, not only in helping businesses throughout the world efficiently deliver their products, but in keeping our regional economy thriving. We’re so glad to support the efforts of this key area employer as it works to champion the cause of recognizing ‘National Logistics Day.” Read more
HARRISBURG, June 19 – Citing the need to protect the state’s consumers in the wake of last week’s court ruling refusing to extend the UPMC/Highmark consent decree beyond June 30, state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie, has signed onto legislation that would require hybrid hospital-insurers like UPMC to behave in the public interest. Bizzarro is co-sponsoring H.B. 1211 and H.B. 1213 , which are aimed at stopping predatory practices by hospitals that own their own health insurance plans. Both bills would require these “Integrated Delivery Networks” to contract fairly with other insurers. “Hospitals like UPMC that also provide health insurance are in a unique position of paying themselves for health care delivery,” Bizzarro said. “That means they can use predatory pricing to undercut competing insurers by charging their own health care plans less for services. The big losers are Pennsylvania’s health care consumers, who stand to lose access to their chosen providers. The bills I’m co-sponsoring would help put an end to these practices by requiring hybrid hospital-insurers like UPMC to contract fairly with all insurance companies.” Bizzarro added that UPMC’s failure to extend its consent decree with Highmark is especially troubling given the hospital’s status as a charitable organization. “As a charity, UPMC occupies a special position of trust with the state’s consumers, who fund its Read more
ERIE, June 18 – Several historic buildings in downtown Erie will see new life as residential apartments thanks to a $500,000 tax credit, which will leverage nearly $5 million to cover construction costs, state Reps. Bob Merski and Pat Harkins, both D-Erie, announced today. Merski said the project – to rehabilitate four Second Empire houses in the West Sixth Street Historic District located at 328-332 W. 6th St. into market-rate apartments – will bring multiple benefits for the community and the local economy. “This tax credit is great news because it’s an investment in our past as well as our future,” Merski said. “We’re preserving the history and character of our neighborhood while at the same time creating jobs and expanding housing options for residents, which in turn will attract more business to the area.” Harkins agreed, noting, “We’re not just rehabilitating buildings, we’re revitalizing the social and economic landscape, as well, by opening the door to new residents and stimulating investment in the community. It’s a win-win for everyone.” The tax credit for the Erie project is one of 24 projects throughout the state receiving $3 million in tax credits, which are expected to leverage an estimated $113 million in construction projects. The Historic Preservation Tax Credit program is administered by the Department of Community & Economic Development and Pennsylvania Read more
HARRISBURG, June 17 – The House today unanimously adopted a resolution commemorating 100 years of diplomatic relations between the United States and Poland, state Rep. Bob Merski, D-Erie, announced today. Merski said he introduced H.R. 353 to honor both the strong relations between the countries and the rich Polish-American heritage shared by so many Pennsylvanians. “I’m thrilled that the House unanimously adopted my resolution commemorating a century of strong diplomatic relations between the United States and Poland,” Merski said. “Polish Americans – including more than 800,000 Poles and Americans of Polish ancestry who call Pennsylvania home – treasure the bond our countries share and the ways in which the United States and Poland have stood shoulder-to-shoulder through the decades as staunch supporters of democracy. “We are also deeply proud of the ways in which Polish-American customs and traditions have enriched life in Pennsylvania and of the many influences Polish Americans have had on science, the arts and industry in Pennsylvania.” Guests present for the vote on the resolution included Kamil Henne, Deputy Consul General of the Republic of Poland in New York; Deborah Majka, Honorary Consul of Southeastern Pennsylvania; Peter Obst, representative of the Poles in America Foundation; and Sylwia Czajkowska, Hanna Wewiora, and Michael Wewiora, secretary, treasurer, and member, respectively, of the Kosciuszko Read more
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