Barletta urges US Senate to act on his disaster mitigation bill

By Bill O’Boyle - [email protected]

WILKES-BARRE — U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta this week highlighted the need to invest in resilient infrastructure and pre-disaster mitigation measures, especially in the wake of the 2017 disaster season.

During a hearing in the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management, of which Barletta is the chairman, witnesses discussed the status of recovery from the 2017 disaster season and efforts to prepare for the 2018 hurricane season, which began June 1.

Witnesses included representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Army Corps of Engineers. A key focus of the hearing was Barletta’s Disaster Recovery Reform Act (DRRA), which has passed the U.S. House twice, most recently in April.

A bipartisan effort led by Barletta to address disaster recovery, DRRA implements broad reforms at FEMA. In particular, the legislation increases the federal emphasis on pre-disaster planning and mitigation, which will reduce the potential for future loss of life and address the rising costs of disasters.

Barletta’s bill includes provisions ranging from ensuring that individuals with disabilities are able to repair or replace accessibility-related property to ensuring pets and other animals are taken care of during disasters. The bill awaits action in the U.S. Senate.

When asked by Barletta about how important it was for the Senate to act on DRRA, each of the witnesses responded that getting DRRA signed into law would be vital to helping communities across the nation prepare for and respond to disasters.

“As you’re sitting here listening, you see that almost every agency that responds to disasters recognizes very clearly that pre-disaster mitigation works,” said former FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison. “It does save lives, it saves property. Will it have an impact? Of course it would. A very, very positive impact.”

Barletta, R-Hazleton, has long been an advocate for investing in pre-disaster mitigation. Mitigation can include elevating or moving structures prone to flooding and strengthening structures to mitigate effects of hurricanes or earthquakes. Local mitigation projects include the floodwall in Bloomsburg.

Cartwright bill aims to

increase organ donation

Addressing our nation’s dire organ transplant shortage, U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, has introduced the Organ Donor Clarification Act. There are 115,000 people on the organ transplant waiting list and 20 people die every day as they wait for an organ. This bipartisan legislation will remove existing hurdles for donation and test out new ways to increase donations.

“This is life and death; 20 people die every day because they could not survive the wait for a viable organ,” Cartwright said in a press release. “Kidney waiting lists in major cities can last from five to 10 years, which is often longer than a patient can survive on dialysis.”

The number of people in the United States with kidney failure has increased by nearly 20 percent since 2000 and there are currently over 95,000 Americans on the national wait list for a kidney. Each year, 17,000 patients receive a kidney transplant, while about 35,000 new patients are added to the waiting list. As many as 80,000 additional patients may be good candidates for kidney transplant, but have never even been listed.

This legislation removes existing barriers that donors face under current law and allows for a pilot program to test the effectiveness of non-cash incentives to increase the supply of organs for transplantation.

Currently, organ transplantation is governed by the National Organ Transplant Act (NOTA) of 1984. This law prohibits buying or selling organs for “valuable consideration.”

The expanding kidney wait list has also become a financial burden, as costs for dialysis and other intermediary treatments become more expensive each year. The taxpayer ends up footing the bill through Medicare and other social service programs. Experts project that eliminating the waiting list would save taxpayers well in excess of $5.5 billion per year in medical costs and billions of dollars more in savings to other social programs.

The Organ Donor Clarification Act would:

• Clarify that certain types of payments are not valuable consideration but are reimbursements for expenses a donor incurs.

• Allow government-run pilot programs to test the effectiveness of providing non-cash incentives to promote organ donation. These pilot programs would have to pass ethical board scrutiny, be approved by HHS, distribute organs through the current merit-based system, and last no longer than five years.

Sen. Casey presses to

protect newspaper industry

In public testimony before members of the U.S. International Trade Commission, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, spoke in support of the Pennsylvania newspaper industry.

In addition to reaffirming the importance of a free press to our democracy, Casey submitted the concerns of newspapers in Pennsylvania to the commission for review.

Casey said a free press and newspapers “serve as a bedrock of our democracy and they must have access to the necessary resources that ensure our informed public.”

“While we value our larger publications with wide circulation, it is our local newspapers, whose reporters execute the duties of the fourth estate for their communities, that have struggled the most as Americans across the country make difficult choices in the face of stagnant wages,” Casey said. “I have heard from many newspapers in Pennsylvania expressing concern about the impacts of Commerce’s preliminary findings. I know you will undertake a judicious review of the concerns raised by my constituents and take the appropriate action.”

Recent tariffs placed on newsprint from Canada have hit some papers hard. A recent Associated Press story says the tariffs have generally increased newsprint prices by some 25 to 30 percent.

Faced with that additional cost, about a dozen members of Congress told the commission this week that newspapers in their home states might reduce news coverage, lay off workers or go out of business.

Pa. revenue chief: Support

bill to limit identity theft

Pennsylvania Revenue Secretary Dan Hassell this week sent a letter to both of the state’s U.S. senators encouraging them to support proposed legislation that would allow the IRS to provide state taxing authorities with more data to combat identify theft and tax refund fraud.

Giving the Department of Revenue increased access to IRS data would bolster the department’s efforts to pinpoint fraudulent patterns being used by cyber criminals, Hassell wrote in the letter to Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey.

“Each data breach makes it easier for criminals to make themselves look like a real taxpayer,” Hassell said in a press release. “Providing the department with access to more data points will help us identify more tax fraud schemes and put us in a better position to help protect Pennsylvania citizens from being victimized.”

Hassell explained the Department of Revenue receives information from the IRS that is specific to Pennsylvania taxpayers only. That means the department faces difficulties in some ID theft cases, including those where Pennsylvania taxpayer data is used to file fraudulent returns in other states.

By Bill O’Boyle

[email protected]

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.