WILKES-BARRE — Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) Acting Secretary Meg Snead this week advised Pennsylvanians of a potential scam in which individuals are going door to door asking Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) recipients to see their bills to ensure they are receiving the correct LIHEAP funds.
LIHEAP is distributed directly to a household’s utility company or home heating fuel provider in the form of a grant, and neither DHS nor utility companies will solicit LIHEAP information from recipients in this manner.
Report any texts or other interactions about DHS benefits that seem suspicious by calling the DHS fraud tipline at — 1-844-DHS-TIPS (1-844-347-8477).
“If you have received unsolicited visits asking you about your LIHEAP benefits and for your personal information, it is a scam,” Snead said. “Do not respond so you do not fall victim to identity theft, and please inform the DHS fraud tipline immediately.”
The regular season will open on Nov. 1, and run through April 28, and DHS will publicize information on the benefit amounts closer to the opening of the 22-23 LIHEAP season.
Casey, Scott release fraud book on
heightened reports of senior scams
U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging Chairman Bob Casey, D-Scranton, and Ranking Member Tim Scott, R-SC, this week held a hearing entitled, “Stopping Senior Scams: Empowering Communities to Fight Fraud.”
Senators Casey and Scott examined the most common scams targeting older adults and released the Aging Committee’s annual Fraud Book in English and Spanish, which details the top 10 scams reported to the Aging Committee’s Fraud Hotline in 2021.
During the hearing, the Senators highlighted the passage of their bipartisan Stop Senior Scams Act, which directs the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to create a federal advisory council charged with improving education and training efforts so that businesses and financial institutions can better identify and prevent scams. In one week, the FTC will convene its first meeting of the federal advisory council.
“While predatory scams have existed for decades, the pandemic has exacerbated this issue, as fraudsters preyed on fear and uncertainty surrounding the virus to scam seniors out of their hard-earned savings,” Casey said.
Chairman Casey invited Aurelia Costigan, a scam survivor from Pittsburgh, who was called by a scammer posing as a representative from her bank who convinced her to download Zelle and scammed her out of $1,800.
She testified, “It takes me a long time to earn money like that. I’m on Social Security, I have to save my money. Because sometimes your car breaks down or a medical expense comes up…I thought I was never going to get that money back. But thankfully, maybe a month or so later, my bank was able to get my money back – the full $1,800.”
Sen. Toomey co-sponsors
Electoral Count Act of 2022
U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, this week released the following statement after cosponsoring the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act of 2022.
“The poor drafting of the 1887 Electoral Count Act endangered the transition of power from one Administration to the next. Unfortunately, in the over 100 intervening years, individual Democratic and Republican Members of Congress have occasionally attempted to exploit the ambiguities in this law to cast doubt on the validity of our elections, culminating in the debacle of January 6, 2021. It is past time Congress act. This legislation would make commonsense changes to clarify the role of Congress, the Vice President, and the courts in the certification of presidential elections to give the American people more confidence it will be their voice that chooses the next executive and those that follow,” said Sen. Toomey.
Background on the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act of 2022:
• Clarifies confusing language from the original Electoral Count Act of 1887
• Adds important guardrails to protect results from partisan interference
• Respects and preserves the bifurcated election process set forth in the Constitution
• Clarifies that the Vice President’s role in certifying an election is purely ministerial
• Increases the threshold to file an objection during congressional certification from one member of each chamber to at least 1/5 of each chamber
• Prevents any state from changing their laws after an election in an attempt to overturn a previous election’s results
• Clarifies which state official must submit an electoral slate to Congress in order to avoid a situation where a state submits two competing slates of electors to Congress
• Introduced by Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.)
Meuser, lawmakers, call for increased
attention to spotted lanternfly spread
U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser, R-Dallas, this week joined with other members of the House to call attention to the alarming and increasing presence of the spotted lanternfly (SLF) throughout Pennsylvania, the Northeast and Northwest region of the United States.
The SLF, a native of China, was first detected in Berks County in 2014. According to the United States Department of agriculture (USDA), the insects’ diet consists of fruit, ornamental and woody trees. They are invasive and can spread on materials that move their egg masses. The USDA has expressed concern that the SLF can impact the grape, orchard, and logging industries.
Populations are found in 14 states: Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, Virginia, and West Virginia.
The letter was addressed to Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Thomas Vilsack and Administrator of Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services, Kevin Shea. Meuser and other members of Congress expressed concern over the impact the SLF are causing on the country’s hop and grape growers, emphasizing the impact the invasive species can have on entire harvests.
The letter pointed out that while there has been an effort to stem the spread of SLF in Pennsylvania, the presence beyond southeast Pennsylvania and surrounding regions calls for a greater national effort to protect the agriculture of the country, including the growing of grapes, hops, apples, and cucumbers. Grapevines can quickly be overwhelmed, causing weakened vines, reduced production, and plant death. The SLF also can release a sugary substance that facilitates the growth of sooty mold, which impacts growers and homeowners.
“In Pennsylvania alone, an economic impact study estimated that without targeted efforts, the SLF could cost the state $324 million annually and more than 2,800 jobs,” according to the letter. “We applaud previous efforts by the USDA and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to contain the spread of SLF. However, the rate at which the SLF continues to spread across the country, the impact it has already had on the livelihood of so many American agricultural growers, and the potential devastation the SLF could wreak on our nation’s farmers clearly show that much more needs to be done.”
Meuser and the lawmakers urge the allocation of increasing funds and resources to eradicate the spread of SLF, asking for increased outreach efforts to track and mitigate the spread of the species.
“As someone who has heard from farmers in the district about their concern over the spread of these insects, it’s important to stay ahead of their infestation,” Meuser commented. “I urge anyone who sees a spotted lanternfly to follow the advice of experts and kill it. I also join with my fellow lawmakers to act on creating strategies to stem its spread in the country.”
Department of Aging: Medicare
open enrollment begins Oct. 15
The Pennsylvania Department of Aging (PDA) this week reminded consumers that the annual open enrollment period for Medicare beneficiaries will begin October 15 and end December 7. Any new coverage selected or changes to existing benefits will take effect Jan. 1, 2023.
During open enrollment, new Medicare beneficiaries can sign up for Medicare Prescription Drug coverage and health plans to complement Medicare, and current Medicare beneficiaries can review and join, switch, or drop Medicare Advantage or Prescription Drug Coverage so that it better meets their needs.
In order to help Medicare beneficiaries sort through their options, the department offers free, objective health benefits counseling through Pennsylvania Medicare Education and Decision Insight (PA MEDI). Through Pennsylvania’s 52 Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs), PA MEDI counselors can assist Medicare beneficiaries with plan comparisons, help with enrollment in a new plan, and evaluate eligibility for any of Pennsylvania’s Medicare cost-savings programs.
During this time of year, consumers may see television ads or hear them on the radio with celebrities endorsing Medicare Advantage plans’ extra benefits and free offers. Although these ads may mimic official Medicare communication, the ads are from brokers or agents who receive financial incentives to enroll beneficiaries in these plans.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.