In this Update:
Senate Passes Package to Strengthen Cybersecurity, Protect Victims of Data Breaches
The Senate approved a package of bills this week to improve cybersecurity in Pennsylvania and require timely notifications to citizens of government data breaches. The bills were sent to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Senate Bill 482 consolidates administration and management of the Commonwealth’s information technology operations under a new Office of Information Technology.
The measure would replace the current, uncoordinated approach that led to cases of costly mismanagement, including delayed implementation of a statewide police radio system and bungled upgrades to Unemployment Compensation Call Centers. Other problems included data breaches experienced by the departments of Human Services, Corrections, and Education, which exposed the names and personal information of thousands of individuals, including citizens and state employees.
Senate Bill 726 ensures Commonwealth agencies have strong safeguards in place to discourage, combat and recover from ransomware attacks.
Ransomware is a type of malicious software designed to block access to a computer system until money is paid. Senate Bill 726 would set state penalties for the possession, use, or threatened use of ransomware and prohibit state agencies from paying ransom.
When data breaches do occur, Senate Bill 696 would require state and local governments to notify potential victims within seven days. The requirement applies to any state agency, county, school district, municipality or third-party vendor experiencing a breach.
Federal Government Launches Website to Provide Home COVID Tests
The federal government has launched a website to order at-home rapid COVID-19 testing kits.
Each household is eligible to order four tests. According to the website, orders will usually ship in 7-12 days and there is no cost.
These are rapid antigen at-home tests, also referred to as self-tests or over the counter (OTC) tests. They produce results within 30 minutes and no lab drop-off is required.
To place an order, provide your name and residential address. You don’t have to provide ID, credit card or health insurance information. You can find answers to frequently asked questions here.
Armstrong, Indiana County Projects Receives Nearly $12 million in PENNVEST Funding
Earlier this week, the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST) awarded nearly $12 million in funding to projects in Armstrong and Indiana counties.
An $11 million grant was given to Freeport Borough, Armstrong County, for construction of a new wastewater treatment plant
There have been longstanding concerns about the existing treatment plant, which is old and unable to handle the flows of sewage and water as required by state and federal regulations, negatively impacting the local Buffalo Creek. When the project is completed, the new system will properly treat its discharge and meet required effluent limits, improving both public and aquatic health.
The new wastewater treatment plant will use sequencing batch reactor technology with headworks for grit control, ultraviolet disinfection, and an equalization basin.
The current system serves 743 households in Freeport Borough. Without the PENNVEST grant, rates for those users would have dramatically increased.
For several years, Freeport has been working on a solution to the borough’s sewage treatment problem, not the least of which has been how to afford what is now expected to be a nearly $17 million project to address the issue. This $11 million PENNVEST grant will go a long way toward allowing the borough to finally make a new wastewater treatment plant a reality by the end of 2024.
Additionally, PENNVEST awarded a $680,000 loan to Blairsville Municipal Authority, in Indiana County, to restore its existing pump station.
The current pump station is old and reached the end of its useful life. The restoration project will extend that lifespan.
The project intends to install cast-in-place concrete, steel reinforcing bars, structural steel restoration, and a new bypass pump, as well as replace two doors and frames, and five stop places and frames. Additionally, the existing elevator, spiral staircase, pump discharge leader pipe and raw sewage influent pipes will all be repainted.
A total of 1,788 households in Blairsville Borough and Burrell Township are served by the existing system. The project is not expected to affect residential user rates.
PENNVEST is not supported by the state’s General Fund budget, which covers the daily operations and services of the Commonwealth. Financing is provided through the use of federal funding and prior bond issues by the state as well as proceeds from the Marcellus Shale Impact Fee legislation, Act 13 of 2012.
Transition to 5G Service Will Cause 3G Cell Phones to Stop Operating in 2022
Residents with older cell phones are being urged by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and Pennsylvania State Police to prepare for the phase-out of 3G cellular networks and service, which could come as early as next month.
If your mobile phone is more than a few years old, you may need to upgrade your device before your provider shuts down its 3G network and you lose service – including the ability to call 911. You should contact your cellular service provider to determine if your devices are compliant to ensure you don’t lose connectivity.
The nation’s three major wireless carriers (AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile) have announced plans to shut down their 3G networks to accommodate more advanced services, including 5G, as early as February. That will cause many older phones to be unable to make or receive calls and text messages or use data services. It could also affect other devices that rely on 3G connectivity, such as medical alert devices, tablets, smart watches, home security systems, and in-vehicle safety, security and roadside assistance systems.
Low-income individuals concerned their 911-only phones will no longer be supported can apply for service through the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program.
Tax Form Arriving Soon for Pennsylvanians Who Claimed Unemployment Benefits in 2021
According to the Department of Labor and Industry, 1099 tax forms will be mailed no later than Jan. 31 to Pennsylvanians who claimed unemployment benefits in 2021 and need the form to file their federal income taxes.
Claimants of all unemployment programs offered during 2021 will receive a 1099 tax form detailing their benefit payments. This form will be available online soon and viewable in the same system where claimants file their weekly claims. All claimants also have the option to view 1099 tax forms from previous years, if applicable.
The receipt of a 1099 form by a person who didn’t file for unemployment may indicate a case of identity fraud. If someone who didn’t file for unemployment receives what looks to be a 1099 tax form in the mail, they should report this suspected fraud immediately so the department can correct their income with the IRS and prevent any issues with the victim’s taxes.
Applications Being Accepted for PennDOT Summer Employment Program
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) offers a summer employment program for students who are registered as full-time college students for the Fall 2022 semester.
The deadline for receiving summer applications is Feb. 18, so I encourage anyone interested in the program to contact my office.
In addition to contacting my office, those interested must also fill out an online application with the PennDOT College Student Summer Worker posting under the open summer jobs section of the website.
The hourly rate is $14.61. Applicants must be enrolled as a full-time college student for the Fall 2022 semester, have a valid PA driver’s license and be 18 years of age before beginning work.