News for Constituents

Pennsylvania Christmas Trees

The storied history of Pennsylvania Christmas trees finds them gracing the halls of the White House, including the 2019 Blue Room, towering over the Rockefeller Center skating rink, and adorning our grandmothers’ homes for more than a century.

Whether purchasing and preparing for your first or fiftieth Christmas tree, take note of a few healthy tree tips.  Inspect for hitchhikers, including mantises, gypsy moths, and the spotted lanternfly.

The Pennsylvania Christmas Tree Growers Association interactive map and directory can help you find a convenient vendor and the Selection Guide can help you find your perfect tree.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, with more than 1,400 tree farms and nearly 31,000 acres of trees, Pennsylvania ranks third in the nation for Christmas tree production.

VisitPA for the Holidays and Beyond

Pennsylvania has lots to offer during the winter months and especially during the holiday season.

Bethlehem, known as Christmas City, is home to Christkindlmarkt, an open-air market recognized by Travel and Leisure magazine as one of the top holiday markets in the world.  Christkindlmarkt features more than 100 artisans and is open from mid-November until the weekend before Christmas.  Once all your is shopping is done, take a break and visit one of more than a dozen dazzling holiday light displays throughout the state.

And, after all the holiday activities are complete, Pennsylvania’s state parks and state forests offer numerous winter activities for the outdoor enthusiast to fill the winter months, such as snowmobiling, downhill and cross-country skiing, sledding and ice skating.

Flu Season Precautions

The Pennsylvania Department of Health is encouraging those who have not gotten a flu vaccine yet this year to do so.  With the upcoming holiday gatherings many will be attending, it is important to get a flu vaccine to be protected throughout the flu season.  As of November 30, there were 2,667 laboratory-confirmed cases of the flu and five deaths statewide.

Protect yourself and your loved ones by getting vaccinated and taking specific preventive actions:

Wash your hands with soap and warm water or an alcohol-based hand-sanitizer.

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and throw away used tissues. Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. 
  • Keep hands away from your face, eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Disinfect frequently-used surfaces like doorknobs, light switches, TV remotes, and countertops.
  • Avoid personal contact with those experiencing symptoms of the flu.
  • Remain at home until at least 24 hours after your fever subsides without the use of fever-reducing medicine.

Flu symptoms come on quickly and may include a fever, headache, fatigue, dry cough, sore throat, nasal congestion, and body aches.  Populations at particular risk include the very young, older Pennsylvanians, pregnant women, and those with chronic health conditions.

Shoveling Tips for Your Driveway and Mailbox

In addition to providing important information about winter driving preparation and precautions, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is reminding residents about effective shoveling tips to remove snow and ice from driveways and mailboxes which will keep these areas clear following the passage of the plow trucks.

Snow should be shoveled or plowed to the right side of the driveway as you are facing the intersecting roadway.  By piling the snow away from the oncoming direction of the snow plows, the snow will not be pushed back onto the driveway.  However, do not push snow onto roadways at any time, this creates a hazardous condition for all vehicles.

Before undertaking any snow removal activity, review these shoveling safety tips.

Energy Efficiency Program Rebates

If your appliances are beginning to let you down just as the holidays approach, consider giving yourself an Energy Star rated gift eligible for a rebate.  Many electric distribution companies will also recycle your old appliances free of charge.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission highlights Residential Electric Energy Efficiency Measures including rebates available through your electric distribution company for the purchase of energy efficient appliances.  Choose from among those considered the most energy efficient appliances for 2019.

Increase your savings with qualifying replacement windows, home insulation, duct sealing, HVAC, computer monitors, televisions, pool pumps and so much more.  Energy savings are achievable with a few simple changes, including your choice of light bulbs and smart thermostats.

Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Homes with wood-burning fireplaces and stoves, gas-fired fireplaces, appliances, grills, generators, and motor vehicles are susceptible to the release of deadly carbon monoxide as a result of the incomplete burning of combustible materials, according to the Pennsylvania Office of State Fire Commissioner (PAOSFC).

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, often mistaken for the flu, include nausea, headaches, dizziness, disorientation, fatigue, and death, if undetected.  On average, carbon monoxide poisoning claimed the lives of 73 Pennsylvanians annually between 2009 and 2013.

The PAOSFC recommends installing carbon monoxide detectors and changing the batteries in the fall and spring when resetting your clocks and replacing smoke alarm batteries.

News for Constiuents

PA Home Energy Assistance Program Accepting Applications 

Pennsylvania’s 2019-2020 Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is accepting applications to help income eligible families, whether renting or owning a home, to pay their heating bills.

Enter your fuel type and county into the LIHEAP Benefit Table to access benefit amount by household size.  You do not have to be on public assistance or have an unpaid heating bill to be eligible. 

Apply online, by paper application, or through your County Assistance Office between November 2019 and April 10, 2020 for cash or crisis grants

Finnegan Foundation Accepting Applications for Paid Summer Internship Program

Competition for paid summer internships in Pennsylvania state government is open, according to the Finnegan Foundation.  PA undergraduates attending an in- or out-of-state accredited college or university and who have completed at least one semester are eligible to participate. 

Winners earn a weekly salary while working in the executive, legislative, or judicial branches of government.  The Foundation also bestows honorable mentions, individual awards of $1,000, and the $1,500 James A. Finnegan Award during the annual awards banquet at the Governor’s Residence. 

Applicants must submit a 1,500 to 2,500 word essay designed to serve as an answer to this year’s state government policy question. 

Complete the application along with transmitting the required documents no later than 11:59 p.m. on January 31, 2020 or mail the required materials, postmarked no later than January 31, 2020, to Finnegan Foundation; Kathy Speaker MacNett, Treasurer; 320 Market Street, Suite 600W; Harrisburg, PA 17101.  For additional questions, contact a Foundation representative at 717-233-1000 or send a message

Will You Need Real ID? 

Will you need Real ID beginning October 1, 2020?  Do you typically fly for the holidays and vacations?  Does your job require flying?  Will you need to access services inside a federal courthouse or military installation? 

Consult the list of Frequently Asked Questions to determine your needs and required documents to obtain a federally accepted Real ID.  The Real ID online wizard can help you decide your need to apply.  Those with a U.S. Passport, military ID, or other federally-accepted forms of ID may board a commercial flight or visit a secure federal building on or after October 1, 2020. 

If you will require a Real ID, begin by selecting from each subcategory of documents for required proof to obtain a Real ID: 

  • S. Citizenship Identity or Lawful Permanent Resident – One of eight documents.
  • Social Security – An original card.
  • Pennsylvania Residency – Provide two of seven options.
  • Legal Name and Date of Birth – Marriage certificate, name change court orders, and original or certified copy of an amended birth certificate showing a name change.
  • Gender designation – Certified, amended birth certificate with a raised seal and a completed DL-32 form.

Applicants may pre-verify documents, apply online if verification is complete, or go to one of eleven Real ID Centers located across the state to have verification completed and receive a Real ID at the time of service.  Locate a convenient Driver License Center that will accept and process your documents to receive your Real ID within 15 days, according to PennDOT. 

DCNR Offers Grant Assistance Workshops 

Individuals and groups interested in applying for Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) grants for recreation, conservation, riparian buffer, trail, and community-based projects can register for free, in-person workshops scheduled for six convenient locations around the Commonwealth during November. 

Community leaders, municipal officials, consultants, land trusts, volunteer board members, trail managers, and park and recreation professionals will receive technical assistance for the 2020 grant program running from January 15, 2020 until April 22, 2020. 

Teacher workshops scheduled throughout the fall and winter focus on K-12 watershed education.  The instruction also qualifies teachers for Act 48 credits

Avoid an Uninvited Holiday Dinner Guest

You survive the holiday dinner countdown.  You stuff and safely roast the turkey.  Dinner is served.  The collection of pies, cookies, and desserts thins out. 

Now it’s time to wrap it up, literally, before bacteria ascends upon your gathering.  Thriving at room temperature, bacteria can grow quickly at temperatures between 40*F and 140*F.  Make sure your refrigerator is 40* or below and your freezer should be 0*F or lower, then store the leftovers. 

Leftovers require cooling from 135*F to 70*F within 2 hours and to 41*F within an additional 4 hours, for a total of 6 hours of cooling time.  Bacteria can survive freezing.  Thawed food also requires cooking to the proper internal temperature to kill harmful bacteria. 

Prepare Now for Ice and Snow 

We should expect the unexpected during winter driving and prepare now for ice and snow emergencies, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

Organize and refresh your vehicle’s emergency travel kit.  Replace flashlight and radio batteries, bottled water, and other items with a shelf life.  Ensure gloves, warm clothing, and blankets are included. 

Get your vehicle winter road-.ready before the first flakes fall.  Regularly check fluids, wipers, heater, defroster, radio, lights, tires, and brakes, along with the battery, hoses, and belts. 

Gain easy access to traffic delay warnings, weather forecasts, traffic speed information, and a live view of the roads from more than 850 traffic cameras accessible through 511PA.  Snow plow locations can help you determine conditions before leaving your driveway.  Download the iPhone or Android version of 511PA to help you with your year round travel needs. 

News for Constituents

Safe2Say Something 

Safe2Say Something, the Pennsylvania Legislature’s school safety program, received nearly 23,500 tips through the anonymous reporting program’s first year. 

Among the programs 49 different types of reportable events, the top three report categories are bullying/cyber bullying (3558), cutting/self-harm (2529), and suicide/suicide ideation (2184).  Violent threats toward a school (607), general harassment (574), and threats against a person (523) are also reported, but less frequently than reports of self-harm.  The need for increased mental health resources for students is reflected in the report. 

Self-led training, in-person training, and an interactive video are available to students, parents, and educators.  Training involves the recognition of the signs and signals of individuals exhibiting behavior s risky to themselves or others and how to anonymously report the potential crisis.  Anonymous reports may be submitted to 1-844-SAF2SAY (1-844-723-2729).  The programs app is available for Apple and Android phone

Leaf Peeping to Return in Full Fall Color

Biking and hiking bring leaf peepers up close and personal with Pennsylvania’s blaze of fiery fall color, according the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Pennsylvania’s size and geography spell predictions for weeks of leaf peeping that began across the northern tier of counties the first week of October.  Regions to the south will follow suit in the coming weeks. 

Paved, natural, or gravel, Pennsylvania’s urban trails wind their way through woods, across bridges, and along waterways, passing historical sites and manmade creations.  Those preferring to leaf peep from the comfort of their vehicle will find satisfying fall scenic driving tours, including the Northern Loop and the Southern Loop, to take in the beautiful colors from the ridges and valleys. 

Autumn Driving Precautions

Autumn in Pennsylvania brings more than cooler temperatures and beautiful colors illuminating the landscape.  According to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, the sun’s angle shining in motorist’s eyes alters autumn driving. 

Combine general driving safety tips with PennDOT’s fall driving tips for a safe autumn: 

  • Increase following distance;
  • Let tailgaters pass;
  • Ensure operation of headlights, taillights, and turn signals;
  • Use headlights as sunlight fades;
  • Confirm the vehicle’s heating and wiper systems are working; and
  • Use tires with sufficient tread depth.

Motorists should anticipate morning dew collecting on road surfaces following cool nights and warmer days and the potential for an unexpected icy glaze covered by leaves.  Bears preparing to hibernate, deer breeding, and hunting season increase the potential for encountering wildlife during your drive. 

Farmer’s Markets Ready with Fall Fare

Top PA farmer’s markets are full of fall fare and fun, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and VisitPA.  Harvest a pumpkin from the field, pick an apple from a tree, and choose a fresh fall flower before you and the family hop on a hayride.

Select pumpkins and gourds for fall decorating.  Add some farm fresh produce to your basket.  Before you go, look up in-season vegetables for meal planning and preparation. 

Enjoy the benefits of PA Preferred locally grown and processed foods through supporting the local economy and consuming some of the best products in the world. 

Tips for Selecting Firewood and Avoiding the Spotted Lanternfly 

Whether you plan to build a campfire or yours is among the nearly 170,000 Pennsylvania homes using firewood as a primary source of heat, the Penn State Extension offers a few tips for increased efficiency. 

Cutting your own or looking to purchase firewood for the first time, Firewood Guidelines breaks down cord measurements.  Fourteen species of wood are rated for their ease of starting, coaling quality, sparks, and heat content. 

Select firewood grown locally to avoid transporting unwanted pests, such as the spotted lanternfly (SLF), onto your property.  The SLF quarantine restricts the movement of firewood.  Residents living within a quarantine area can help prevent the pests spread by keeping outdoor items free of any SLF hitchhikers. 

Senior Centers – Meals to Entertainment to Wellness Opportunities

Pennsylvania Senior Centers offer safe warm settings to enjoy meals, recreation, health and wellness programs, and a variety of other services, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Aging

Over 500 Senior Community Centers are located across Pennsylvania’s 67 counties and administered by 52 Area Agencies on Aging, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Aging. 

During 2017-18, 10.7 million meals were served at senior centers and delivered to homes for a daily average of 29,300 meals for older Pennsylvanians.  The PA Lottery designates its proceeds to senior programs, including prescription assistance, transportation, care, and property tax and rent rebates

News for Constituents

Top Ten School Bus Safety Tips for Students and Parents

As 31,000 public school buses begin to roll, daily transporting more than 1.5 million Pennsylvania students, parents and caregivers are encouraged to turn to the School Bus Safety Activity Book offered by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation

Top ten safety tips for students traveling to and from school by bus include: 

  • Be on time.
  • Never run to or from the bus.
  • Stand back from the curb.
  • Don’t push or shove.
  • Stay in your seat.
  • Don’t yell or shout.
  • Always obey the driver.
  • If you must cross the street, always do so at least 10 feet in front of the bus.
  • Never crawl under a school bus and never try to pick up a dropped article near the bus.
  • Wait until the bus and all traffic has stopped before entering and exiting the bus.

Parents and caregivers are reminded to secure drawstrings and other loose objects that may get caught on a handrail or door. 

40 Money Management Tips Every Young Adult Should Know 

Spending, saving, credit, and debt are concepts every young adult needs to know when heading out into the job market, vocational school, or college, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities

The useful publication “40 Money Management Tips Every College Student Should Know” can alleviate the challenges of navigating financial goal setting.  The numerous choices and decisions explored range from selecting housing to managing tech expenses, while being vigilant to avoid identity fraud schemes. 

The money management tips publication’s interactive table of contents (p. 3) allows the reader to easily locate the desired topic.  Parents and guardians are encouraged to engage with their student in discussing expectations and responsibilities. 

Weatherproofing for Winter Months Ahead 

Early fall temperatures offer perfect conditions for weather-proofing your home, according to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission

The heat loss due to a quarter inch gap at the base of a three-foot wide exterior door is equal to the loss through a three inch hole in the wall of your home.  Prepare Now to conserve energy and money later with the following resources: 

Utilities are required by the PUC to offer programs and protections that help low-income customers maintain utility service. 

Autumn Gardening Guide

Don’t let the chill in the air and the fading summer flowers curtail your gardening just yet.  According to the Penn State Extension, trees, shrubs, and hardy perennials should be planted at least six weeks before the first frost allowing the root system to establish itself in the new soil. 

When cool fall temperatures arrive, planting hyacinth, narcissus, and tulip bulbs will brighten your landscape next spring.  Planting should occur during cool autumn temperatures but before the first hard frost. 

Warm-season vegetable growers are encouraged to improve soil quality by growing grain or legumes as cover crops during the off-season.  Cover crops help with erosion, soil compaction, and organic soil enrichment. 

Filling in bare patches, over-seeding, or planting a new lawn are recommended for late summer to early fall to escape hot summer days.

Fall Flooding Facts

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) 2019 hurricane season update predicting an above normal level of activity in the Atlantic for the peak months of September and October, provides a good backdrop to consider flood facts for driving. 

Key considerations for driving during heavy rainfall include:

  • Six inches of water will reach the bottom of most passenger cars, causing loss of control and possible stalling.
  • A foot of water will float many vehicles.
  • Two feet of rushing water can carry away most vehicles including sport utility vehicles and pick-ups.
  • Do not drive around road closure barriers erected by emergency responders to protect motorists and their passengers.

Before traveling in questionable weather, consult 511PA for conditions on 40,000 roadway miles including more than 860 traffic cameras.  The app, available for iPhone or Android devices, is free and available 24 hours a day, details traffic delays, issues weather forecasts, and more.

Safe Tailgating Makes Everyone a Winner

Preparing, packing, grilling, and serving are each a part of the tailgating experience requiring safe handling of the food, according to the Penn State Extension. 

Observe time and temperature recommendations to avoid contamination.  Equally important during food handling is to be sure to wash hands often and thoroughly.  Use disposable antiseptic wet wipes and wipe hands for 20 seconds as recommended when soap and water are not available. 

It is critical to remember to safely handle food on the go to avoid foodborne illness whether headed out for an elaborate tailgate party or a simple picnic. 

News for Constituents

Heat Waves and You 

Each year, heat waves kill more people than hurricanes, lightning, tornados, earthquakes, and floods combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Remember to stay cool, hydrated, and informed during a heat wave. 

Heat stroke can lead to brain damage and death if the victim is not quickly cooled.  Chronic conditions and prescription drugs may impair the body’s ability to regulate its temperature, creating critical conditions for the elderly.  Those with disabilities and special medical needs may struggle with mobility making it imperative to alert a trusted neighbor to your situation. 

Also at increased risk are overweight individuals, those with physical illnesses, and infants and children

Individuals who work or exercise outdoors during extreme heat are susceptible to dehydration and heat-related illness during a heat wave.  Familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of the five heat-related illnesses

After Flooding – Safety and Recovery

Disruption of your family’s routines following flooding can be eased through preparation and knowingly anticipating possible problems when you re-enter your property, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health

The first step in flood recovery begins with making the necessary calls to power down all possible sources of fire, electrocution, or explosions to re-enter your home.  Four additional issues to address include: 

  • Cleanup – Twenty-four to forty-eight hours of home flooding causes mold growth. One cup of household laundry bleach per one gallon of water kills surface mold. 
  • Immunizations – Increases in communicable diseases and open wounds may occur post-flooding.
  • Swiftly Flowing and Standing Flood Water – Risks range from drowning to diarrheal diseases to encounters with displaced animals, insects and reptiles.
  • Chemical Hazards – Household, medical, and industrial chemicals can contaminate the environment.

Follow debris removal guidelines to safely expedite cleanup.  Consult the Federal Emergency Management checklists for post-disaster cleanup recommendations

Boating Under the Influence

Sunshine, wind, and waves usher in a beautiful day of boating unless the operator is under the influence of alcohol (BUI) p. 43, according to the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission

Waterways Conservation Officers report 14 individuals lost their lives in 2018 boating accidents.  In at least three of those cases alcohol or drugs were a contributing factor.  During the first six months of 2019, Pennsylvania witnessed the arrest of 12 individuals for BUI

Pennsylvania’s BUI laws apply during the operation of non-powered watercraft, including canoes, kayaks, inflatable boats, and rowboats.  An individual 21 years of age or older is considered over the legal limit with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08%.  For those under 21 years of age, the legal limit is a 0.02% BAC. 

Visit Pennsylvania’s “Handsomest Building” 

Come in out of the summer heat and enjoy a Pennsylvania State Capitol Scavenger Hunt.  Take your first glimpse of the historic Moravian mosaic tiled floor and the Coat of Arms greeting all who step through the revolving door and onto the floor of the Rotunda. 

Some 400 Moravian mosaic picture tiles dot the floors of the stately Capitol and represent more than 250 artifacts, animals, birds, fish, insects, scenes, industries, and workers from Pennsylvania history.  Circle the marble staircase and begin to widen your path to encompass the entire PA Capitol Rotunda and first floor hallways, being sure to checkoff each creation as you continue your search. 

See the art, architecture, and history contained in the “the handsomest building” President Theodore Roosevelt ever saw.  Drop by the Senate Library for the current exhibition honoring Senators and Senate Librarians who served the country during war.  While planning your trip, allow for a visit to the Interactive Welcome Center and the Capitol Gift Shop

PA Hunting Season Updates 

Deer hunters gain an extra Saturday during the 2019-20 firearms season rather than delaying opening day until the Monday after Thanksgiving, according to the recent Pennsylvania Game Commission decision.  With a third Saturday, firearms deer season expands to 13 days.  Opening day for antlered and antlerless deer during 2019 will be Saturday, November 30 instead of Monday, December 2. 

Look for a few other changes on the horizon this hunting season.  Licensees will receive a complimentary, print copy of the updated Pennsylvania Hunting and Trapping Digest rather than the $6 charge levied in 2018-19 and 2017-18.  Anyone preferring an online version of the Digest may still go digital. 

Costs for general adult hunting licenses and furtakers licenses will remain the same at $20.90 for Pennsylvania residents.  Enter one or all three lottery drawings by July 31 for archery or rifle season.  The application fee for each season is $11.90 or $35.70 to apply for all three.  One elk license per hunter will be issued for the 2019-20 season.  Review the PGC special and add-on licenses for additional fees. 

Farm Stays Popping Up in PA 

Growing interest in getting back to the farm for both food and fun is evident in the growing number of Farm Stays popping up in Pennsylvania, according to VisitPA.

Visitors are welcome to enjoy more than 60 PA Farm Stay options.  An Amish Farm Stay is a rare opportunity to observe a different and historical lifestyle.  Seize the opportunity to “Be a Farmer for a Day” or just take in the sights and sounds of farm life.

Lodging options range from lovely 1800’s log farm houses to cozy cabins to a rustic hilltop yurt.  Bed and Breakfast establishments also offer comfortable, modern cottages surrounded by nature and a 100 cow dairy farm.  Those partial to alpacas enjoy their farm stay with a bedroom deck overlooking a packed pasture.  From the farm to the city, VisitPA offers unique opportunities for food and fun across eleven regions of Pennsylvania.