On Friday, I had the opportunity to participate in the final segment of the Pennsylvania Bookstore’s Governors Speakers Series. Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission (PHMC) Historian, Dr. Ken Wolensky and PHMC Executive Director, Barbara Franco, joined me for the event. The final segment in the Governors Speakers Series featured my father, the late Governor Robert P. Casey, Sr. Previous speakers included Governors George Leader, Dick Thornburgh and Mark Schweiker.
It was a great honor for me to discuss the challenges and triumphs my father faced during his time as Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. His hard work on behalf of and dedication to the people of Pennsylvania is still an inspiration to myself and many others.
As more of Pennsylvania’s children head back to school, on Friday, I travelled to Harrisburg to continue my conversations with state and local leaders about early learning opportunities in Pennsylvania to understand how we can ensure more of our youngest citizens get off to a good start in school and in life.
Whereas the week before I held a roundtable with leaders in Pottstown involved in the district’s pre-k readiness initiative (PEAK), this past Friday I met with leaders from across the state who are involved in implementing, overseeing and supporting early learning programs in the Commonwealth, including Head Start, Pre-K Counts, and Keystone Stars.
As was the case in Pottstown, leaders in Harrisburg voiced tremendous support for the programs and talked about the many ways that families and children have been helped by Pennsylvania’s investment in early learning. They emphasized that investments in early education and child care offer great value for the workforce of today, as well as the workforce of tomorrow, and that even in the face of tight budgets for families and the Commonwealth, they should be sustained. They also noted the need to support not just low-income families, but middle class families who also struggle to afford quality care and education for their young children.
I agree that such investments must be a priority – and not just for states. I was gratified that before the August recess, the Senate Appropriations Committee reported out a Labor-Health-Education bill that for FY2011 includes an increase of $1 billion for the Child Care Development Block Grant – a program that supports states investments in child care – and an increase of nearly $1 billion for Head Start. This funding will help to ensure that states and communities continue to build on the strong work that has been done over the past several years to ensure more hard working American families and their children have access to high-quality early learning opportunities.
Of note, in the Labor-Health-Education bill, $300 million has been requested for the Early Learning Challenge Fund (ELCF). This fund is a terrific idea, as it would provide competitive grants to states to raise the bar for early childhood programs, encourage them to coordinate quality improvement activities across early learning settings, and increase the number of low-income children in high-quality programs. We must preserve support for ELCF in the final Appropriations package, as it will help to incentivize states to continue making investments in early learning.
Small Business owners may not know of the newly-revised payroll tax form, which eligible employers can use to take advantage of the special payroll tax exemption for new workers hired in 2010. This incentive was created as a part of the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act, which I was proud to support. In addition to this provision, the HIRE Act provided for an expansion of the Recovery Act provision that enables small business owners to write-off certain capital expenses. I hope that many Pennsylvanian entrepreneurs will be able to take advantage of the provisions in this legislation to help improve their businesses and drive our economy forward in its recovery.
The payroll tax form has been posted on the Internal Revenue Service’s (IRS) website where you can find more information on this tax exemption.
In addition, many small business owners have expressed concern about the impact of the upcoming requirement mandating reporting of the value of health insurance coverage on employee’s Form W-2. The IRS confirms that employer-provided health coverage is NOT taxable. The IRS explains on its website that this reporting is for informational purposes, to show employees the value of their health care benefits so they can be more informed consumers. The value of the employer contribution continues to be excludible from an employee’s income and is not taxable. More information on this subject can also be found on the IRS website.
The recent national recall of nearly half of a billion eggs is yet another example of why Congress must modernize our more than 100-year-old food safety system. Because it is my priority to protect the health and safety of Pennsylvanians, I believe it is necessary to pass legislation that provides the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with the tools and the authority to ensure contaminated foods do not make it onto our kitchen tables or into our children’s lunchboxes. While the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has had strong egg safety regulations in place for many years, the FDA only this year instituted strong national regulations that could possibly have prevented this current recall.
There are 76 million cases of foodborne illness in this country each year, sending approximately 300,000 people to the hospital. This is unacceptable. Americans have every right to demand a safe food supply. As a father and as a consumer, I demand that the food I buy be safe to eat. I believe that S. 510 promotes health and safety and will be beneficial to the people of Pennsylvania. That is why I support S. 510, the Food Safety Modernization Act.
The Food Safety and Modernization Act improves the FDA’s capacity to detect and respond to foodborne illnesses by assessing safety threats at food facilities, increasing inspection of imported foods, and exploring new ways to track fruits and vegetables in the case of an outbreak. S. 510 provides the FDA the authority to issue a mandatory recall, a provision that could have drastically improved how the current egg recall was handled. In addition, this bill contains multiple provisions from the Ending Agricultural Threats: Safeguarding America’s Food for Everyone, otherwise known as the EAT SAFE Act, which I introduced in the 110th and 111th Congresses. These provisions add personnel to detect, track and remove smuggled food and call for the development and implementation of strategies to stop food from being smuggled into the United States.
On Friday, I travelled to Pottstown to meet with local parents and community and business leaders to talk about the Pottstown Early Action for Kindergarten Readiness (PEAK) initiative. PEAK is a unique public-private partnership that members of the community launched in 2006 to ensure that every child enters kindergarten ready to learn. Roberto J. Rodriguez, Special Assistant to President Obama for Education, joined me for the visit.
The passion expressed by everyone involved was striking. By drawing upon all members of the community – public and private sector-alike – to enhance early learning opportunities, PEAK is really making a difference for Pottstown’s youngest citizens.
One of the most striking moments of the discussion was when PEAK parent, Christine Russell, talked about the difference the program has made in her son’s life. Christine was alerted that her son had a developmental disability long before most children are diagnosed with this particular condition because of the keen perception and intervention of her son’s teachers. Because of this, she was able to get her son the help he needed while he was still very young, which has allowed him to stay enrolled in the mainstream curriculum.
Early learning must be a priority not just in states but in Washington. I believe that we can’t be the nation we want to be without ensuring every child in this country gets a good start in life. That is why I have introduced legislation to increase access to high-quality pre-k education and increase the availability of high-quality and affordable child care, including:
These types of investments in early learning opportunities would not only help children, they would also improve our economy by strengthening our workforce, our productivity and our competitiveness.
I look forward to working with Roberto and others from the Administration as well as my Congressional colleagues, to ensure that early learning opportunities are expanded and strengthened – so that we can grow upon the good work being done in communities like Pottstown.