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PA Treasurer Stacy Garrity Elected Chair of National ABLE Savings Plan Network

From a press release

Treasurer Stacy Garrity has been elected as the inaugural Chair of the new ABLE Savings Plan Network (ASPN), a group formed by the National Association of State Treasurers. ABLE programs allow Americans with disabilities to save tax-free without affecting their eligibility for means-tested government benefits.

ABLE accounts help Americans with disabilities live more independently and enjoy better financial security,” Garrity said. “I’m honored to lead this new organization to advance the reach of ABLE programs. We’re all dedicated to making sure these programs are accessible and affordable, and I will be a tireless advocate to ensure our ABLE programs are successful and continue to grow and help more Americans.”

The Stephen Beck Jr. Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act, passed in 2014, allowing states to create ABLE programs. It was sponsored by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.)

“ABLE programs help Americans with disabilities save for the future and work towards financial security. I can fortunately say that these programs are benefiting Pennsylvanians every day, helping them lead independent lives,” said Senator Casey. “Treasurer Garrity is knowledgeable and well-qualified for this position. I have faith that she will work to ensure the accessibility of these programs to Pennsylvanians with disabilities.”

ASPN will provide strategic leadership on advancing ABLE accounts by monitoring federal actions, including any legislative or regulatory changes, that impact state ABLE plans, developing strategies to improve ABLE plans at the federal level, and analyzing best practices for those with an eligible disability who want to save and invest for a better life, achieve financial empowerment, and prepare for a more independent future.

Pennsylvania’s ABLE program – PA ABLE – is the largest in the 19-member National ABLE Alliance, accounting for nearly 25 percent of total assets, and one of the largest ABLE programs nationwide. More than 7,000 PA ABLE account owners have saved more than $71 million for disability-related expenses. The program was created with instrumental support from state Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Susquehanna/Wayne/Wyoming), and the first PA ABLE accounts were opened in 2017.

“We are proud of the bipartisan work done to establish and implement a very effective and popular program here in Pennsylvania,” Baker said. “Since becoming state treasurer, Stacy Garrity has been a champion of expanding eligibility for the program, especially with a focus on assisting veterans, and encouraging more families to sign up for the advantages it offers. It is appropriate that her organizational, fiscal, and advocacy skills will now be deployed on a national basis.”

To be eligible for PA ABLE, a person’s disability must have occurred prior to their 26th birthday. PA ABLE account owners can save and pay for short- or long-term disability related expenses including education, housing, transportation, assistive technology, health care, financial management, and more.

Casey has introduced the ABLE Age Adjustment Act in Congress, which would raise the eligibility to those whose disability occurs by age 46. This would expand ABLE account access to about 6 million more Americans, including an estimated 1 million disabled veterans. The legislation is cosponsored by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) A House version has also been introduced and is cosponsored by 17 members of the Pennsylvania delegation.

“I’m a strong supporter of the ABLE Age Adjustment Act and will work with other members of ASPN to urge Congress to approve it and President Biden to sign it,” Garrity said. “It’s a great bill that will benefit many of the brave men and women who have served in our military. It’s time to get it done.”

 

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Thieves Scam Millions From Struggling Chester Upland School District

A romance scam, cryptocurrency, and hacked email accounts were part of an attempted theft of large sums of money from the Chester Upland School District.

Delaware County District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer and Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity held a press conference Friday to disclose the results of their investigation.

The scheme involved a Florida resident trying to steal, and then launder, millions in state funding for the CUSD. Agencies collaborated to recapture $10.3 million owed to the district.

“The scope and complexity of the scheme are, however, alarming and remind us all of the importance of keeping our technology protected, as well as the perils of conducting financial transactions with–or on behalf of–individuals unknown to you,” Stollsteimer said. “Thanks to quick action by the treasurer’s office, this audacious attempt to steal from the school children of Chester and the taxpayers of the commonwealth was thwarted.”

In February 2021, the treasurer’s office learned from one of its banking partners that a payment request for about $8.5 million from the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) was flagged as potentially fraudulent. It came after several other payment requests from PDE had already been processed and paid to an account thought to belong to CUSD.

Officials alerted the appropriate agencies of their findings, worked quickly to identify misdirected funds, and pursued recall of the misdirected payments.

“We are hopeful that the additional missing $3 million that the district was to receive in state funding will be returned to Chester Upland. Our district faces significant economic challenges, and we are doing our best to allocate as much money as possible to our classrooms and provide appropriate and adequate staffing. An additional $3 million can make a difference for our students. We are also exploring our options with our insurance carrier,” Nafis J. Nicholas, receiver for CUSD, said in a press release. “We are very pleased that $10 million of the $13 million that was intercepted from the district has been returned and recovered to the district.”

The district has been plagued by financial difficulties for decades.

Detective Sergeant Joseph Hackett and Detective Edward Silberstein from the Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division (CID) uncovered a two-part, complex scheme that allowed international fraud rings to misdirect the state education funds intended for CUSD.

The CID detectives identified that, in the first part of the scheme, CUSD email systems had been compromised by a sophisticated hacker. Further investigating the channels of the misdirected funds, CID detectives determined that the second part of the scheme employed a money mule to funnel the misdirected funds to other individuals.

That led to CID tracking down, identifying, and interviewing a Florida resident who served as the money mule in the case. After the investigation, it was established that the individual, recently widowed, was a victim of a romance scam.

“Our investigation has determined that this scheme is tied to individuals in Nigeria, and we have alerted all relevant federal authorities in the furtherance of the international investigation,” Stollsteimer said. “By using a widow as a conduit, and by directing those funds be transferred using cryptocurrency, the individuals behind this scheme obscured their identity and made tracing the funds far more complex.”

Quickly after the Treasury learned of these fraudulent payments, the Account Verification System (AVS), a system designed to detect suspicious transactions and prevent fraud, was implemented in the Governor’s Budget Office’s Bureau of Payable Services of Comptroller Operations.

Stollsteimer and Garrity advised residents to be vigilant for cybercriminals and hackers.

“This incident should remind everyone—businesses, government agencies, nonprofits, and—always be alert for fraudsters and cybercriminals. We must take every possible step to prevent fraud. In this case, my team and I were very pleased to work closely with District Attorney Stollsteimer and others to recover $10.3 million for the CUSD,” Garrity said. “It’s clear my highest priority is serving as a fiscal watchdog to protect taxpayer funds.”

Treasury was authorized to implement AVS for all Treasury payments as part of the Fiscal Code approved alongside the 2022-23 state budget.

“This was truly a team effort and could not have been possible without the help of the Delaware County District Attorney’s office and its detectives, the staff at the Treasury, and the Bureau of Payable Services Office of Comptroller Operations,” Garrity said.

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PA Treasurer Garrity Joins Lawsuit Opposing Wolf’s RGGI Push

Pennsylvania’s state treasurer is throwing her two cents into a lawsuit opposing the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).

“RGGI is a massive, illegal tax disguised as a regulation,” Treasurer Stacy Garrity said in a press release.

The lawsuit was filed in the Commonwealth Court on April 25 by a coalition of energy companies and unions. They argue Pennsylvania’s entrance into RGGI will drive up prices and harm jobs.

Garrity agreed.

“If it’s allowed to be implemented, energy prices for every Pennsylvanian will skyrocket–and thousands of our good, family-sustaining jobs will be lost,” said Garrity.

Pennsylvania’s entrance into RGGI has been a hotly-contested issue for years. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) took executive action in 2019 instructing the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to put Pennsylvania in the multi-state compact. Politicians, think tanks, and special interest groups say Wolf should have gone through the legislative process.

“The governor unilaterally entering RGGI without any legislative approval is a direct insult to democracy,” state Rep. Ryan Warner (R-Fayette) told DVJournal last year.

Wolf ignored the complaints. The Environmental Quality Board (EQB) went on to vote 15-4 to adopt the final regulation that would bring the state into a regional agreement among Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia. It sets a cap on total carbon dioxide emissions from electric power generation in those states. Generators will purchase credits–effectively a carbon tax–per ton of emissions through auctions.

“The Wolf administration is trying to use the regulatory process to avoid seeking legislative approval for its scheme to impose limits on the operation of electric generators, but our state constitution is clear,” Garrity said this week. “The power of taxation belongs to the General Assembly, not to the unelected and unaccountable members of the EQB.”

As a result, Garrity says she is “proud” to stand with Pennsylvania’s energy companies and the unions who “represent many thousands of hardworking Pennsylvanians.”

Unions and energy companies are not the only ones concerned about RGGI. Organizations including the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) Pennsylvania have been speaking out against RGGI. Several appeared before the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee in April to testify on the concerns about RGGI’s economic harm, particularly among small and independent businesses already facing higher prices and supply chain issues.

Greg Moreland of NFIB PA said the concerns remain. NFIB told DVJournal Wednesday he believes the EQB did not conduct a complete analysis of the regulation on small businesses as required by the Regulatory Review Act (RRA).

“Every other state that has entered RGGI has obtained legislative approval,” Moreland said. “The governor and the EQB do not have the authority to enact a carbon tax, and this is a tax. NFIB is fully supportive of efforts that acknowledge the constitutional powers to tax only come from the General Assembly.”

Time is of the essence. Wolf, who is a lame duck, has stated on several occasions that Pennsylvania’s participation in RGGI is needed to combat man-made climate change.

“Climate is the most critical environmental threat confronting the world, and power generation is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions,” said the governor.

Delaware Valley Democrats agree that is the case. State Sen. Katie Muth (D-44) has also argued reducing emissions will improve public health.

“Efforts to block Pennsylvania from joining RGGI only put our environment, health, and economic security at risk,” she wrote in an op-ed.

Still, Garrity and others argue that economic security is at risk of jobs being killed as a result of RGGI.

“The taxes imposed by these unlawful regulations will directly harm miners, electrical workers, welders, and fabricators,” said Garrity. “Once lost, these jobs may never return, (so) the Court should act quickly to prevent irreparable harm done to Pennsylvania’s electric generation industry and its thousands of workers.”

Pointing to a report last fall by Independent Fiscal Office, Garrity said Pennsylvania’s carbon dioxide emissions have fallen by 37 percent over the last decade without the regulatory burden of RGGI.

Companies and unions involved in the lawsuit include those with coal interests, natural gas, and oil-burning power plants in Pennsylvania, United Mine Workers of America, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers.

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