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Keller and Virginia officials discuss ways to improve veterans services

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WILKES-BARRE – In response to growing concerns over lack of access to records and essential benefits of military service, U.S. Representative Fred Keller this week hosted a roundtable with local Veterans Affairs (VA) officials to highlight his legislative efforts and identify avenues for further cooperation to improve the quality and accessibility of services for local ex-combatants.

Keller, R-Middleburg, spoke at an event in Williamsport attended by officials from the Wilkes-Barre VA, as well as Veterans Service Officers (VSOs) from seven of the 15 counties that encompass the 12th Pennsylvania Congressional District.

During their discussion, Keller pointed out the backlog of more than 500,000 vital records requests that remain unfulfilled by the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC). These are documents needed to obtain VA benefits, adjudicate disability claims, and apply for a commendation, award, or badges.

Last year, the NPRC was forced to scale back its on-site operations due to COVID-19 precautions and currently only has 25% of its capacity. As a result, the region’s ex-combatants and their families have been forced to wait up to a year before receiving medical treatment or accessing benefits earned through military service.

Keller pointed to the RECORDS Act, legislation he introduced in June that would require the NPRC to fully resume operations in person and report to Congress on its plans to expedite requests for veterans’ records. The bill has attracted 44 co-sponsors and was recently approved by the Lycoming Office of Veterans Affairs.

Concerns about ID cards, the facilitation of VA claims, and strategies for enabling local, state and federal partners to work collaboratively to improve veterans services at all levels were also addressed.

After the event, Congressman Keller made the following statement:

“The brave men and women who have served our country in uniform deserve a government that meets their needs and works diligently on their behalf. Our discussion today reaffirmed that the RECORDS Act is necessary and aims to establish long-term solutions to address NPRC delays. I am grateful for the partnership our office has with local authorities as we continue to pressure the NPRC to honor America’s promise to our military, who have sacrificed so much to protect our freedoms. and our way of life. life.”

Municipalities warned not to use

COVID Fund for the payment of pensions

Auditor General Timothy L. DeFoor said this week that audits showed municipalities in 11 counties had failed to make required employer contributions to their employee pension plans, prompting him to again warn local governments that they couldn’t use federal COVID relief funds to make up for missed payments.

DeFoor said the Borough of Bristol in Bucks County topped the list of recent audits with such findings. The borough owes more than $ 757,836 in mandatory contributions, including interest, to its police and employee pension plans for 2019 and 2020.

“My audit team sees a worrying increase in the number of municipalities failing to fully fund their employee pension plans as required by state law,” said DeFoor. “I again caution municipalities that they cannot use the federal COVID relief funds provided as part of the US bailout to make up for past retirement debt.”

According to the AG report, in Luzerne County, the audit found that the Pittston Town Police Pension Plan owed $ 218,102.

On June 14, AG DeFoor released audits showing that the city of Chester, Delaware County, owes more than $ 34 million in retroactive employer contributions to its three employee pension plans. He shared those checks with the court-appointed receiver who oversees the city’s financial turnaround.

DeFoor added that municipalities that fail to pay legally required employer contributions run the risk of being denied state pension assistance.

The Department of the Auditor General audits municipal pension plans that receive state assistance to ensure that the plans are administered in accordance with state law.

In 2020, the Ministry of the Auditor General distributed a total of $ 324.74 million in state pension assistance to 1,483 municipalities and regional departments to support pension plans covering police officers, paid firefighters and firefighters. employees in uniform.

Garrity Record growth for PA 529

Education and Career Savings Program

Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity announced this week that the PA 529 College and Career Savings (PA 529) program had its best year in fiscal year 2020-2021, adding 25,004 new accounts while bringing in more than $ 732 million in total contributions.

These numbers are the highest in the nearly 30-year history of the PA 529.

“This exceptional growth shows that families in Pennsylvania continue to put the future of their children first,” said Garrity. “PA 529 accounts have been helping families save for their education for almost three decades, and it’s incredibly encouraging to see so many people benefit from this valuable savings tool. The program continues to evolve and offers families the opportunity to meet their savings goals, whether their child is considering getting a technical certification, attending trades school or earning a university degree.

There are currently over 265,000 PA 529 accounts open with balances that have increased through membership fees and investment growth to a total of $ 6.8 billion. The first PA 529 account was opened in 1993, when it was known as the Tuition Account Program.

The PA 529 Education and Career Savings Program offers two different ways to save: the PA 529 Investment Plan (IP) and the PA 529 Guaranteed Savings Plan (GSP). ‘Significant tax benefits, including a Pennsylvania state income tax deduction on contributions and no tax paid on withdrawals for qualifying education expenses. Savings on PA 529 accounts do not affect eligibility for state financial assistance. Accounts can be opened with as little as $ 10.

The PA 529 IP – which is one of 14 such plans to achieve a Morningstar Silver or Gold rating – allows families to choose from a variety of investment options, including date-listed portfolios. target. These portfolios move investments gradually and automatically as the child approaches their enrollment date. The returns depend on the performance of the financial markets.

The PA 529 GSP is a low risk option that allows families to save at the current university tuition rate to cover future expenses. Account holders can save enough for a semester of college today, and no matter how much tuition increases, the savings will cover that semester going forward.

PA 529 accounts can be used to pay tuition and eligible fees at four-year colleges, community colleges, skill and vocational training programs, and qualified apprenticeship programs in Pennsylvania and nationwide. The savings can also be used to pay for books, supplies, room and board, and more.

$ 13 million in tax credits to improve

water quality, farm sustainability

Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding this week announced the availability of $ 13 million in tax credits to Pennsylvania farmers for measures to improve soil and water quality.

Tax credits are available under the innovative and nationally recognized conservation finance program – Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP).

“Farmers have led the way in ensuring that we have clean water and productive soil to support us in the future,” said Redding. “Soil renewal and water protection require substantial investments on their part. REAP tax credits are just one part of our strategy to support farmer stewardship and develop a viable and sustainable agricultural economy in Pennsylvania to fuel our future.

REAP tax credits are available to agricultural producers who implement best management practices or purchase equipment that reduces nutrient and sediment runoff, improves soil, and improves the quality of waterways. Pennsylvania.

This is the 15th year that Pennsylvania farmers can take advantage of REAP tax credits. Farmers can receive up to $ 250,000 over a seven-year period, and spouses who complete jointly can use REAP tax credits.

Examples of funded projects include no-till planting and precision farming equipment, waste storage facilities, conservation plans, nutrient management plans. Measures that limit runoff from areas with high animal traffic such as backyards, as well as cover crops and riparian buffers that prevent erosion and keep nutrients out of streams are also common practice. eligible for REAP.

Farmers can receive REAP tax credits of 50 to 75 percent of the eligible reimbursable costs of the project. Farmers whose operation is located in a watershed with a maximum total daily load (TMDL) mandated by the EPA can receive REAP tax credits of 90 percent of the reimbursable costs for certain projects.

Tax credits can be used in conjunction with other sources of funding such as the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), Chesapeake Bay Program or Excellence in Conservation Grants for help install BMPs. REAP requests are reviewed on a first come, first served basis.

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