What’s Changed in Western Pa after Trump’s First Year?

The state of our region 

PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE

JAN 27, 2018 – Just ahead of the State of the Union speech President Donald Trump gives Tuesday, Post-Gazette reporters have gathered information on the state of Western Pennsylvania and what people involved in politics, government, business, religious life, health care and environmental issues see in the months ahead.

Health Care

A year after the newly inaugurated president promised quick repeal of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and despite efforts to replace Obamacare over the ensuing 12 months, the program is quite alive, with more than 8 million Americans signed up for 2018 plans including nearly 400,000 Pennsylvanians.

Locally, both UPMC Health Plan and Highmark say they remain committed to offering ACA plans locally, even as one expands and the other steps back. In 2017, UPMC offered ACA policies in all 29 Western Pennsylvania counties, including one of the lowest-cost Silver plans in the U.S., while Highmark withdrew from 17 of the 29 counties after suffering massive losses in the marketplace’s first years.

Still waiting for Congress to act, Pennsylvania community health centers begin cutbacks
For the current year, the Consumer Health Coalition on the North Side reports helping 1,248 people — including 784 who qualify for medical assistance — signed up for 2018 ACA plans, which “overshot our goals significantly,” said executive director Lou Ann Jeremko.

But attacks on the ACA nationally, such as eliminating the tax penalty in 2019 on those who do not obtain insurance, leaves the future stability of the marketplace still in question.

Taxes

While corporations stand to reap the biggest windfall from the Republican tax overhaul, average workers here and across the country are likely to see a slight increase in pay due to an adjustment in the federal income tax withholding tables.

Higher income workers will benefit more than lower income workers when the tax savings are considered dollar for dollar, although it is difficult to say exactly how much more because different taxpayers have different exemptions that contribute to the bottom line.

But in general, a worker earning about $2,000 a month may see a pay increase of about $10, whereas a taxpayer earning $200,000 a year could see a benefit of a couple thousand dollars.

With the top tax rate for corporations slashed from 35 percent to 21 percent, many corporations see an opportunity to increase employee salaries, said Alex Kindler, a partner at H2R CPA in Green Tree. “We’ve had tax cuts before, but this is the first time I’ve had so many corporate clients say they will pass the savings on by increasing pay to workers.”

Social Services

Advocates for the poor fear the president and congressional Republicans could enact major cuts to safety-net programs such as Medicaid, which provides health insurance for low-income and disabled people, or the food stamp program.

They also fear cuts to funds for affordable housing, money for heating assistance, legal help for the poor, or Supplemental Security Income, a program for people with disabilities.

“We are generally concerned that another year will go by without any real policies to address poverty and hunger,” said Emily Cleath, a spokeswoman for Pittsburgh anti-hunger advocacy group Just Harvest. “These should include passing HR 1276 so that SNAP [food stamps] benefit amounts better reflect the actual cost of a healthy diet, raising the federal minimum wage, mandating paid Family and Medical Leave, addressing the critical shortage of affordable housing, and funding universal high-quality childcare and preK. Imagine how great a nation we would be if we could provide those things. Instead, this administration and Republican leaders in Congress seem more interested in perpetuating the War on the Poor.” Continue reading What’s Changed in Western Pa after Trump’s First Year?

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China Energy MOU Impact Paying Dividends for Northern Panhandle Properties

Frontier Weirton demo

 Crews from Frontier Industrial are demolishing old, unused steel-making properties in Weirton, preparing hundreds of acres for reuse. Staff photo by Linda Harris
By Linda Harris
WVA News

MOUNDSVILLE, Jan 2, 2018 — China Energy’s potential $84 billion investment in energy projects in the Mountain State has sparked an uptick in interest in available industrial properties throughout the Upper Ohio Valley, officials say.

The memorandum of understanding, or MOU, is not binding, meaning the Chinese company can still back out if it wants to.

“Everybody’s trying to figure out what it means,” said Bryce Custer, NAI spring real estate adviser, Energy Services.

Custer is working with New York’s Frontier Industrial Corp. to market vacant industrial properties in Marshall and Hancock counties.

“I think what it’s done is to create more of a sense of urgency for some companies.They realize if they want to have a facility in the area, they’d better speed up their game a bit,” Custer said. “So, yes, the MOU has had an impact; we are seeing a good bit more activity.”

Custer said he’s been busy fielding calls from clients “looking from Moundsville north to Monaca, Pennsylvania,” where Royal Dutch Shell has already begun building a $6 billion-plus ethane cracker. Frontier’s properties in the Upper Ohio Valley — a 58-acre parcel that once housed a power plant in Moundsville, as well as a thousand surplus acres that steel giant ArcelorMittal wants to unload in Weirton — are generating a tremendous amount of interest because of their river and rail access, he said.

“We’ve got a good bit of activity right now with (the Kammer) facility. We’re working with companies not only within the U.S., but also with some companies overseas. There’s a good bit of interest right now in properties that have rail and barge access for a variety of products. They’re diverse companies … petrochemical companies, straight chemical companies and also plastics and derivatives,” he said.

Continue reading China Energy MOU Impact Paying Dividends for Northern Panhandle Properties

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