Government Affairs Update
Despite many legislators' wishes to go home and campaign in these crucial last weeks before the election, the Congress has still not adjourned for the year. As of last week, only six of the 13 spending measures for fiscal year 2001 (which technically began on October 1) had been sent to President Clinton. Four other bills are reportedly close to completion.
The appropriations bills for military construction, defense/national security, and the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior have been signed into law. Another measure combining appropriations for the Departments of Energy, Veterans Affairs, and Housing and Urban Development, in addition to other smaller agencies, has been sent to President Clinton. He is expected to sign it.
The following funding information is available for programs of importance to the Penn community:
Other programs important to the University of Pennsylvania community--such as funding for the National Institutes of Health and student financial aid programs--are in bills that have not yet been finalized. Congressional leaders are now saying that they expect to complete work and adjourn on Thursday, October 26.
In other Congressional news, there is still talk of the possibility of an end-of-year tax bill. Although there are no specifics about what will be contained in the bill or how it will be handled, it is expected to include tax incentives to promote growth in economically depressed communities, other tax breaks for business, and an increase in the minimum wage.
Additionally, President Clinton has signed into law a bill that raises the cap on H-1B visas for highly skilled foreign technical workers to 195,000 per year for each of the next three years and exempts from the cap individuals working at higher education institutions. The new law also includes a provision that will allow the backlog of visas created by the cap to be cleared out without being counted against this year's allocation.
As of last week, the White House was threatening that President Clinton would veto legislation aimed at increasing funding to Medicare health care providers unless Republican leaders reallocated some of the money from health maintenance organizations to hospitals and other providers, and placed certain conditions on increased funding for the HMOs. Because Republican leaders have refused to make public the text of their $28 billion, five-year bill or negotiate its terms with the White House, details about the measure are unclear. However, it appears to provide about $8 billion for hospitals, including a freeze on the Medicare Indirect Medical Education payment, a smaller reduction in Disproportionate Share Hospital payments than in current law, and an increase in hospital per-resident support.
Finally, the University has received a $59,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service to create a rain garden at the site of the new Penn-assisted school.
Pennsylvania Dormitory Sprinkler Legislation
On October 11 the Pennsylvania House of Representatives approved House Bill 2458, legislation requiring all colleges and universities in the state to provide automatic sprinkler systems in dormitories, fraternities and sororities and other student residences. This bill sets a compliance period of five years from the effective date of the act, except in cases of hardship where a variance can be granted to add an additional two years.
This proposal was developed in large part as a response to a series of tragic fires at colleges and universities throughout the country, including Seton Hall University, Bloomsburg University and the University of North Carolina. HB 2458 appropriates $125,000,000 to fund loans with 2% interest that would help colleges and universities meet the costs of compliance. Under the terms of the bill, any building "owned or utilized" by an institution of higher education as a residence by students would be covered by the sprinkler requirement. Also covered is any building owned or utilized by a fraternity or sorority and which is recognized by a college or university.
The bill now goes to the Senate for its consideration. It appears unlikely that it will be approved before the end of the current session and will probably be reintroduced and reconsidered in the new session that begins in January. Various concerns about the current language have been raised by colleges and universities, including the definition of "dormitory," the compliance period and the appropriation amount.
City and Community Relations
According to a report from the Office of Student Financial Services, the Class of 2004 includes 106 residents of the City of Philadelphia who will receive a grand total of $1,678,149 in grants from Penn. Forty-eight matriculating students in the freshman class were offered Mayor's Scholarships. The Mayor's Scholarship is a renewable, undergraduate, need-based financial aid award granted to incoming first-year students at the University of Pennsylvania who reside in the City of Philadelphia and attend a secondary school in Philadelphia. A committee appointed by the Mayor of Philadelphia determines the Mayor's scholars.
These students will receive $1,043,974 in Mayor's Scholarships from the University, with an average grant amount of $21,749. Thirty-one of these students are graduates of Philadelphia public high schools, eleven are graduates of archdiocesan schools, and five are from private secondary schools. One student was home schooled. They represent neighborhoods throughout the city, such as Frankford, Germantown, Kingsessing, Olney, Roxborough, and West Philadelphia.
Center for Community Partnerships
The Community Outreach Partnership Center (COPC) of the University of Pennsylvania, coordinated by Penn's Center for Community Partnerships, was recently awarded a two-year $150,000 grant. The COPC initiatives were developed in close consultation with the Center's Community Advisory Board, which has been part of COPC since its inception in 1996. COPC will undertake the following activities for its "New Directions" grant awarded by HUD's Office of University Partnerships.
One: Strategic Neighborhood Planning
The key activity requested by the community is the development of three neighborhood strategic plans for the Mill Creek, West Powelton, and Kingsessing areas of West/Southwest Philadelphia. The project teams will include Penn faculty and students, community members as well as youth linked to the projects through their school work or community-supported after-school programs. Various workshops and studios in City and Regional Planning will be linked to these efforts.
Two: Community Information Network for West/Southwest Philadelphia (CIN)
The Community Information Network (CIN) builds on the work of Penn faculty who are part of the Philadelphia Data Consortium--West Philadelphia Project (PDC). PDC is making Internet-accessible public data sets as well as data developed by faculty from the diverse disciplines represented in the PDC, (including City and Regional Planning, Wharton-Real Estate, Social Work, and Arts and Sciences) available to the community. Training for the community on the CIN will be provided.
Three: Community Capacity Building
The activities in this area will help local nonprofits develop internal capacity to better carry out their work related to urban problems. Grants of $1,500 per year will be awarded by the Center's Community Advisory Board to each of five West/Southwest Philadelphia nonprofits through a request for proposals. Several Penn courses and seminars as well as technical assistance by staff will also support nonprofit capacity building efforts.
These activities were developed in close consultation with the Center's Community Advisory Board, which has been part of COPC since its inception in 1996.
--Carol R. Scheman, Vice President for Government, Community and Public Affairs
Almanac, Vol. 47, No. 9, October 24, 2000