Senate Budget Hearings – Key Points

Tuesday, April 6, 2021 

State-Related Universities

Lowering Costs and Making College More Affordable

Republican Appropriation Committee members questioned the leaders of Penn State University, Temple University, the University of Pittsburgh and Lincoln University on what they were doing to contain costs and lower the financial burden for students. Helping students graduate in four years is one way the schools are trying to lower the overall tuition cost.

College Students Need Reliable Broadband Access

Students relied heavily on internet access for learning during the pandemic, and Senate Communications and Technology Committee Chair Kristen Phillips-Hill (R-28) sought assurances that students had reliable broadband. Temple University President Richard Englert said that if students had internet access problems at home that the school provided students use of facilities on campus to access the internet.

Department of Military and Veterans Affairs

Impact of COVID-19 on DMVA Work

Responding to questions about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on DMVA’s core missions, Acting Adjutant General (Maj. Gen.) Mark Schindler said the National Guard has adapted, maintained staffing levels, and is continuing to fulfill its mission to the Commonwealth and nation.

COVID-19 severely impacted the DMVA’s six veterans’ homes and the Department’s role in addressing the pandemic is being reviewed. Currently, 92 percent of the residents and 51 percent of staff have been vaccinated.

PA Guard Members Serve Globally and Nationally

Currently, about 800 Army National Guard members are serving in the Middle East and 70 in eastern Europe with 760 members to be deployed over the next six months. Guard members were deployed to Washington D.C. in January, but all have since returned. In a support role in the Commonwealth, the National Guard staffed COVID testing sites, supported vaccination clinics for teachers, and is supporting regional vaccination sites, mainly in the Philadelphia region.  

Improving Services for PA Veterans

DMVA plans to expand its outreach efforts for veterans and improve the coordination of the various programs that serve their needs. Specifically, Republican Senators questioned efforts to address and care for homeless and at-risk veterans, the lack of enough Veteran Service Officers, job placement programs, and treatment of PTSD and suicide prevention.

Finally, questions were asked during the hearing if DMVA is looking at ways to reduce the need for veterans to have to relocate to long-term living veterans homes by looking at community-based health care options that would allow our veterans to receive the assistance and care they need in their own homes and communities.

Pennsylvania Treasury

Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity offered an update on the state’s financial condition and the status of programs under the department’s purview, including Unclaimed Property, Keystone Scholars, PA ABLE and PA 529.

No New Short-term Borrowing Anticipated

Thanks in large part to the fiscally responsible budgeting advocated by Senate Republicans over the past decade, Treasurer Garrity said that the state should not have a need for short-term borrowing to meet the state’s financial obligations.

PA ABLE Program Leads the Nation

The state’s PA ABLE program benefitting disabled Pennsylvanians is among the strongest in the nation, making up approximately one-third of all funding among the states with similar programs.

Transparency Portal 

Senator Phillips-Hill inquired with the Treasurer as to her interest and ability, in addition to contracts, to publish documentation on grant awards by the administration to ascertain performance against state goals of the respective grant. The Treasurer confirmed her interest in working on legislation that would allow for this action.

In the Treasurer’s interest in expanding the scope of the office’s transparency portal, Chairman Pat Browne (R-16) asked for the Treasurer’s cooperation in ensuring that the reporting of financial information not only represents cash receipts and expenditures and cash on hand in Commonwealth funds, but also commitments made that have not been expended yet so that taxpayers have a full and accurate picture of funds available to meet other public obligations. These reforms of the portal would be consistent with actions by the General Assembly to report revenue and expenditures in the accounts under its control in a fully transparent, accurate format in conformity with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.