Addressing Flood Insurance Affordability

Bill Seigel, Chief of SEDA-COG’s Community Development program, provided an overview of the Biggert-Waters Insurance Reform Act of 2012 and its impacts on flood insurance at a recent public meeting in Danville.

SEDA-Council of Governments (SEDA-COG) has begun an education and training process that helps municipalities and residents in the region find solutions to flood-related issues.

SEDA-COG received funding for the completion of a planning process to develop a Self-Help Assessment Tool for several central Pennsylvania riverine communities. The assessment is aimed at assisting the municipality and its citizens in defining and designing flood resiliency strategies and to better implement those strategies. The planning process has been tested in the pilot community of Selinsgrove and are proposed to be replicated in five additional communities to include the boroughs of Milton, Danville, Newport, and Lewisburg; and the Town of Bloomsburg

Specific project activities include public meetings to educate and increase awareness about flood-impacts and flood insurance reform. A meeting was held in Danville on May 18 and the Bloomsburg meeting is Tuesday, May 30, at 6 p.m. at Town Hall. Residents learn how to develop a response to these threats through a series of community working groups and data analysis. The community teams identify appropriate flood-mitigation options, match structures with best-suited options to mitigate flood impacts, and identify means of financing those options. Additionally, SEDA-COG will assist each community with the creation of a Flood Task Force Committee, and members of this Task Force will be recommended to Council for approval. The Task Force Committee members will vary from community to community, but may be comprised of a combination of citizens, insurance agents, real estate agents, and Council members. 

SEDA-COG has also entered into a contractual agreement with a professional services provider to provide discounted Elevation Certificates for citizens in these communities. The need for Elevation Certificates has become increasing important with the increase in flood insurance, particularly for Pre-FIRM structures with the enactment of the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 and the Homeowner Affordability Act of 2014. 

The completion of this initiative will allow SEDA-COG to examine legislative solutions to flood insurance reform with local, state, and federal officials.  For more information, or to participate in either the Danville or Bloomsburg working group, contact Teri Provost at SEDA-COG at 1-800-332-6701.

Legislation to Pay Down Pension Debt Earns Support from IFO

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

It’s been relatively quiet over the last several weeks on lawmakers’ plans to address Pennsylvania’s bloated and unsustainable public pension systems. However, earlier this month the state’s Independent Fiscal Office filed an actuarial note to a bill (H.B. 778) that would tackle the pension crisis in part by paying off the current unfunded liabilities of the State Employees Retirement System ($19.5 billion) and the Public School Employees’ Retirement System ($42.7 billion) within about 20 years.

The actuarial report projects increased costs in the short-term with the potential for “significant” long-term savings. It indicates that under H.B. 778, PSERS contributions would initially increase by 17 percent, and then by approximately 35 percent until the unfunded liability is satisfied. SERS initial contribution would be about $90 million lower for the first five years, after which they would be higher than the estimated contribution rates under current law until the SERS unfunded liability is satisfied. All told, these provisions could save as much as $18 billion.

The IFO notes in its report: “The projections show that the savings over the entire projection period are much more significant on a cash flow basis than when they are measured on a present value basis. This occurs because the bill shifts the timing of employer contributions to pay down the unfunded accrued liabilities, and the savings that occur at the back of the projection period are valued much lower when measured by current dollars.”

In its review of H.B. 778, Milliman – the actuarial firm used by the IFO – voiced support for the bill’s reduction of the amortization period (the length of time it will take to pay down the unfunded liability) because it would help to improve security, protection from adverse experience and intergenerational equity.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle offered some level of praise for the bill, with House Majority Leader Dave Reed, R-Indiana, saying, “I think John [Rep. John McGinnis, R-Blair, who sponsored the legislation] has done an excellent job of putting together half a proposal, on the accelerated payments, but, obviously, we’ve got to see the other half of his proposal of how we would make those additional payments up front.” In a Capitolwire story, House Democratic spokesman Bill Patton praised McGinnis for his focus in paying down the pension debt. “The 2010 law that it’s in place now [Act 120] has a schedule for paying the pension debt, but it could be done faster if larger chunks of taxpayer funds are redirected …. House Democrats are open to workable ideas that use sustainable revenue sources to pay off the pension debt.”

PA Department of Labor & Industry to Conduct Series of Free Safety Webinars

The Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Health & Safety Division of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry will conduct a series of free safety webinars during the month of June. Titled PATHS (PA Training for Health and Safety), the series will cover a wide range of topics including emergency action plans, social media safety, workplace violence, industry-specific safety and much more. 

For a complete list or to register, visit the PATHS Training Calendar

Montour County Readdressing to Begin Next Month

Residences and businesses that will be impacted by Montour County’s readdressing will begin receiving information in the mail this month. The first of three mailings will be a checklist which will include updating driver’s license and vehicle registration information. Pending final approval by the Postal Service, address change information will be mailed and are scheduled to take effect in June. The Post Office will continue to deliver to the old addresses for one year. Any location that does not receive a notification in the mail by mid-July and would like to confirm address information should contact the Columbia Montour GIS office at 570-387-4930. Montour County intends to begin using new addresses for 911 dispatch on August 1, so it will be important to have the updated information by then.

The Montour County Commissioners hosted the first of four public information sessions last Wednesday to discuss readdressing as a result of 911 consolidation with Columbia County. Three more sessions are scheduled. The next is Wednesday, May 24, at 7 p.m. at the Anthony Township Municipal Building, followed by May 25 at First Baptist Church of Danville and May 31 at St. Peter’s United Methodist Church in Riverside. Information, including the checklist and schedule of future meetings, is available at MontourCo.org. 

PA Chamber Supports UC Reform Bill

From PA Chamber of Business & Industry

PA Chamber Government Affairs Director Alex Halper advocated in favor of legislation that would clarify and strengthen language within the state’s Unemployment Compensation law last week at a public hearing of the House Labor and Industry Committee. House Bill 1014 defines “willful misconduct” (i.e. the circumstances under which a firing triggers ineligibility for UC benefits) and clarifies that an individual whose separation from employment was due to “voluntary leaving work without cause of necessitous and compelling nature” is only eligible for benefits if he or she quits for reasons attributable to the job or workplace.

Halper explained to the committee that part of the reason these changes are necessary is to preserve the UC system for who it is truly designed to help – individuals who lose their job through no fault on their own for a temporary basis as they search for new employment. The bill will also help address problems with the administration of the UC system and service centers – of which the funding and function has recently been the subject of much scrutiny – along with challenges that have strained the UC Trust Fund for years.

“The problem is that the term ‘willful misconduct’ is not defined within the statute, which gives overly broad discretion to those tasked with resolving eligibility disputes and too often leads to benefits being granted to individuals fired for reasons that would lead an objective observer to almost certainly conclude should be disqualifying,” Halper said. “Unfortunately, we hear frequently of employers in this precise situation: a former employee whom they were forced to fire for good cause still manages to qualify for benefits … everything from chronic absenteeism and altercations with fellow employees to the individual arriving at work clearly under the influence of illegal drugs.” To make matters worse, those employers’ taxes increase as a result because tax rates are partially based on experience.

While not a panacea for addressing Pennsylvania’s myriad UC system problems, the PA Chamber supports H.B. 1014 because it will help to provide specific statutory guidance and clarification to help dictate decisions, remove unpredictability in the system and allow for a quicker, more uniform approach to dispute resolution.

The bill still awaits action by the House Labor and Industry Committee.