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1000s more to benefit from Pa. property tax rebate

Thousands more older and disabled Pennsylvanians will qualify for help from a landmark state property tax rebate program.

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A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.

August 10, 2023 |
Property taxes, code bills, 5 takeaways, pay gap, hydrogen explainer, Medicaid cuts, inside info, contract cut, water ruling, and rail rules.
Thousands more older and disabled Pennsylvanians will qualify for help from a landmark state property tax rebate program, after Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro signed a major expansion into law.

The program, which provides a partial refund on rent or property taxes paid the previous year, offers a financial cushion to some of Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable residents.

But as Spotlight PA previously reported, the number of people receiving the benefit has fallen every year since 2009, after state lawmakers failed to update the income limits to qualify.

Shapiro has also signed Pennsylvania's main budget bill, but his signature isn't the final word this year. Still undone are the code bills, which typically become law alongside the budget and include specific directions for how money can be spent.

Pennsylvania’s budget secretary said the state will not spend money on at least seven programs until the governor signs additional legislation. That list includes $100 million for Level Up, a program that provides additional dollars to the most underfunded school districts in the commonwealth, and $7.5 million to help defray costs for public defenders.

"Improving and expanding opportunities for children remains a priority for me, and I consider this to be unfinished business all parties must work together on as we move forward."

—Gov. Josh Shapiro on his ongoing support for a private school voucher program despite his recent line-item veto

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» 5 takeaways from our ‘Lost in Transition’ project about Pa.’s struggling mortgage assistance program
» Penn State gender pay gap is among worst compared to public Big Ten schools, federal data show

A policy expert explains if and how hydrogen will help decarbonize Pa.

Thanks to a possible windfall of federal dollars for hydrogen production, Pennsylvania lawmakers are trying to figure out how to regulate this potentially massive new emission-reducing industry. But as Spotlight PA recently reported, there are unanswered questions about how green hydrogen will be. 

Pete Budden works on state and regional hydrogen policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national nonprofit that studies ways to fight climate change. Spotlight PA’s Kate Huangpu asked him why there’s so much attention on hydrogen and what it means for Pennsylvania’s energy future. 

The Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

Spotlight PA: What role will hydrogen play in decarbonization and, more broadly, in U.S. climate goals? 

PB: The big picture is to reach net zero [emissions by 2050], reducing emissions wherever we can, or eliminating them entirely. It’s hard to do in certain sectors where it’s hard to electrify. That’s where hydrogen will play a role. 

In Pennsylvania, in particular, the industrial sector is the biggest emitter, so obviously it’s a focus for the state to find a solution.

Spotlight PA: Where does hydrogen fit into the U.S. energy economy? Where would it be used and how do its uses differ from other sources, like oil and gas, or wind and solar?

PB: It’s an energy vector rather than a way to generate energy — so things like solar and wind produce electricity. Hydrogen is a way of storing and transporting energy. 

That energy is stored in the molecule until it’s burned. In that way, it’s similar to fossil fuel — but it’s different because when you burn it, it doesn’t produce carbon dioxide. But it can be a storage of dirty energy [if you derive it from methane], so we have to make sure the production process is clean. 

It’s not good to use hydrogen where electricity can be used instead — things like transportation, and heating buildings, where it’s really easily done with heat pumps and electric vehicles. It would be better to focus hydrogen on hard-to-electrify sectors: shipping, aviation, steelmaking, and some chemicals we need to make.

Spotlight PA: What is the state’s role in ensuring these giant federal green energy programs — specifically, subsidizing the building of hydrogen hubs — work as intended?

PB: I think the overarching aim of the hubs program, which is clear from what the Department of Energy has said, is to develop hydrogen where it’s really needed and there aren’t alternatives.

The state’s responsibility is to ensure that we’re using hydrogen where it’s most valuable and using the federal investments wisely: investments in hydrogen that actually lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions while preserving air quality, creating jobs, and developing the workforce. 

Spotlight PA: What is a hydrogen hub? What components are involved? What does this mean for jobs, and how might union labor play a role in production? 

PB: So a hydrogen hub is the whole ecosystem of hydrogen production — all the way from hydrogen production to transportation and storage and then the end uses of hydrogen. And they’re all linked together by the necessary infrastructure. 

The idea of the hub is to build these things close together so you’re more efficient about moving hydrogen around. And that they will produce good jobs that are lasting and a way to develop a workforce. 

For the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act — which is where this money is coming from — prevailing wage requirements are in there. Any hub projects have to meet those requirements.

Spotlight PA: Why is so much IIJA money going toward hydrogen hubs? Why has the federal government decided that hydrogen is a good place to focus its efforts?

PB: It’s a huge amount of money for a demonstration program, the biggest DOE has ever administered. The reason why the government decided to allocate [to hydrogen] is because it’s a key tool for harder-to-decarbonize sectors where we don’t have other solutions.

Something like green steelmaking — it’s a highly expensive investment for any company to make, especially to be the very first. To demonstrate that and de-risk that first one, it’s a huge infusion of cash. 

Using hydrogen in some industries is not commercially viable right now. But after demonstrating what hydrogen hubs can do with government support, we’ll be able to build out.

Hydrogen is a really key tool. It’s an opportunity to develop a sustainable workforce for a clean industry for decades to come. So we need to put the right climate guardrails in place to make sure that we’re doing this right from the start.

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🏆 HIGH SCORE: Did you stay on top of Pennsylvania news this week? Prove it with the latest edition of The Great PA News Quiz: Property tax rebates, gender pay gap, and a pet alligator
This week's top news story in PennsylvaniaMEDICAID CUTS: WHYY reports Pennsylvania has cut 137,000 people from its Medicaid program since the end of a federal continuous enrollment policy, some on technicalities. Experts say they expect the number of terminations to only grow in the coming months.

  This week's second top news story in PennsylvaniaINSIDE INFO: Emails between Shell and Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection show early trouble and regulatory failures around the energy giant's embattled and polluting Beaver County petrochemical plant. PublicSource obtained more than 500 documents (1,426 records were withheld by officials) suggesting "a pattern of inconsistent DEP responsiveness in critical situations." 

This week's third top news story in PennsylvaniaCONTRACT CUT: The Shapiro administration has ended Pennsylvania's contract with Real Alternatives, a Harrisburg-based organization that received more than $30 million in public funding from 2012 to 2017 to support anti-abortion "crisis pregnancy centers" across the state. The contract ends Dec. 31, the Capital-Star reports.

WATER RULING: Commonwealth Court ruled in favor of ratepayers in a July 31 ruling that reversed a Public Utilities Commission decision that allowed Aqua Pennsylvania to purchase East Whiteland Township’s sewer system. WHYY reports a Pennsylvania consumer advocate argued that PUC failed to show the sale’s benefits for the township.

RAIL RULES: It's been six months since the fiery and toxic train derailment near the Pennsylvania-Ohio border, and Congress is deadlocked on new safety rules amid opposition from the powerful railroad lobby, the AP reports. In Pennsylvania, a train safety bill has faced similar headwinds and questions about the enforceability of state rules for an industry traditionally regulated by the feds. 

» ABC27Taxpayers face multimillion dollar bill for Krasner impeachment

» CITY & STATE: State Police announce body camera pilot program

» COURIER EXPRESS: DuBois, Sandy Township will meet in court

» TRIBLIVE: Pittsburgh to establish $1M medical debt relief plan 

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