Sep. 6—WILKES-BARRE — Attorney General Josh Shapiro this week issued a consumer alert warning Pennsylvanians of home repair or improvement scams in the wake of Hurricane Ida. He also reminded homeowners of their rights when interacting with home improvement contractors.

“As Pennsylvania rebuilds and recovers from the remnants of Hurricane Ida, scammers will try to take advantage of consumer panic to make a profit,” Shapiro said. “I’m asking Pennsylvania homeowners to report suspicious offers to my office. If you have concerns about an unsolicited home improvement contractor, or just want to verify a contractor’s registration information before paying for home repairs, contact my office by emailing [email protected] or calling 1-800-441-2555.”

As part of Pennsylvania’s Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act, homeowners should remember:

—A home improvement contractor must provide you with a copy of the complete contract, free of charge.

—You have the right to rescind your home improvement contract without penalty within three business days of the signing date, except as provided under law for immediate emergency situations including power or water outages.

—A home improvement contract is not enforceable against a consumer if it does not include all of the information required by law.

—A contractor may not demand or receive any payment for a home improvement before the home improvement contract is signed. After the contract is signed, the contractor cannot request more than one-third of a contract price totaling more than $5,000 before completion of the project.

—All contractors must display their official registration number on all contracts, estimates, proposals, and advertisements distributed within the Commonwealth.

The Office of Attorney General reminded Pennsylvanians that:

—After major storms like Hurricane Ida, homeowners may see more instances of scams related to home improvement contracting and government loans or grants.

—Legitimate contractors and government agencies will not send Pennsylvanians unsolicited offers.

—Legitimate organizations will also not ask for large sums of money, and will provide written estimates and contracts before entering into any agreements.

—Under Pennsylvania law, contractors who perform home improvements totaling more than $5,000 per year are required to register with the Office. Pennsylvanians are encouraged to verify contractor registration by calling or emailing the Office.

Pennsylvanians are also encouraged to take proactive steps to protect themselves from home improvement scams by:

—Contacting their insurance companies to ensure that improvements are covered under their policy. Once a homeowner selects a contractor to complete repairs, they should not sign insurance checks or claims over to a contractor.

—Arranging with their bank or credit union for a Certificate of Completion. The bank will pay the contractor for each stage of the job after they have given their approval.

State programs honor those

lost to substance use disorder

Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) Secretary Jen Smith this week joined with the Pennsylvania chapter of Team Sharing, Inc. — a national non-profit organization made up of parents who have lost a child to substance use disorder (SUD) — to honor the lives of Pennsylvanians lost due to an overdose death.

State lawmakers and other stakeholders also participated in the event, which was held on the steps of the state Capitol.

The event was held in observance of International Overdose Awareness Day, held annually on Aug. 31, to acknowledge the grief surrounding the loss of a loved one to an overdose, reduce the stigma associated with substance use disorder, and spread the message that drug overdoses are preventable.

“Today is a day of reflection and remembrance in Pennsylvania,” said DDAP Secretary Jen Smith. “It is important for us to come together and honor the lives of those lost to an overdose and continue to provide support and hope to individuals who are on their recovery journey.”

Advocacy organizations, community members, and individuals who have lost a loved one participated in the eventhsd. The event featured Narcan training demonstrations, as well as information on how to obtain the life-saving drug, a butterfly release, and a sectioned-off area for friends and family to place a picture or pair of shoes, honoring a loved one who lost their battle with substance use disorder.

“The Wolf administration has made significant strides in addressing the opioid epidemic at the state level, and we must recommit to those efforts as we continue to manage this crisis,” said Smith. “Overdose death numbers for 2020 slid back to near-record levels as the COVID-19 pandemic greatly impacted this public health crisis. We must double-down on what we know works: reducing the stigma surrounding SUD and ensuring resources for those who are struggling,”

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, preliminary numbers show there have been 5,063 drug overdose deaths reported for 2020 through July 21, 2021 in Pennsylvania, marking a substantial increase from recent years. It is an increase of more than 600 drug overdose deaths reported in 2019 and ranks second only to 2017, in which there were 5,403 overdose deaths.

Individuals looking for substance use disorder treatment options or resources for themselves can call DDAP’s Get Help Now Hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

State grant promotes racial

equity in pregnancy/child health

The Department of Human Services (DHS) this week announced that, in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh, the Commonwealth was awarded more than $249 thousand in funding over two years from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to better study the effects of work promoting racial equity in pregnancy and child health care.

“We know that our nation needs to work to reverse distressing trends in maternal mortality, and we need to improve outcomes for people of color relative to white populations,” said Acting DHS Secretary Meg Snead. “With this grant funding, we will be able to directly see the effects our policies are having on maternal and infant health equity. DHS has the ability to review and assess our Medical Assistance policies, so it is incumbent upon us to promote racial equity in pregnancy and child health.”

State Medical Assistance programs are the largest single payer for pregnancy and birth in the US, covering 65 percent of births to Black people. In Pennsylvania, a large disparity exists between white and African American women for maternal mortality.

DHS and the University of Pittsburgh will work with Healthy Start, Medical Assistance Managed Care Organizations, and other community partnerships to conduct interviews with Medical Assistance recipients. The interviews will attempt to learn about participants’ experiences with Medical Assistance, find desired policy changes in Medical Assistance — especially those that would be useful to promote equity in healthcare — and gain perspectives about the new Medicaid policies.

DHS hopes that with this research, it can determine how equity-focused maternity care affects racial equity in health outcomes and can identify next steps and community partners to implement other policies. Full results of the research will be available at the end of the two-year grant period.

The department is also rolling out a new maternity care bundled payment, which creates specific incentives to promote racial equity in care.

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PennDOT invites students to aid

in strategy for tr
ansportation planning

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) announced this week that students in grades 9-12 are invited to participate in the fifth annual PennDOT Innovations Challenge, which encourages students to use their problem-solving, creative and strategic-thinking abilities to solve real-world transportation challenges in a competition among their peers.

The Innovations Challenge is open to all students in grades 9-12, regardless of their school’s learning model.

Taking Pennsylvania’s diverse demographics into consideration, this year’s Innovations Challenge asks students to develop a comprehensive and cost-effective public engagement strategy, beyond the current public engagement procedures (outlined in detail in Publication 295) that uses innovative technologies and tools, that PennDOT can implement to more effectively engage and connect with all age groups during the transportation planning and project development process.

“Public engagement is vital to PennDOT’s transportation planning and project development efforts,” said PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian. “However, it can be challenging to bridge technology and generational gaps to ensure all demographics are engaged and involved as we plan for the needs of our statewide transportation system.”

“In addition to the challenge itself, we hope that this experience will open students’ minds to the possibility of a career in transportation after graduation, maybe even with PennDOT,” Gramian added.