The Narrative – 2015 to 2020
Four years ago, we were told PNGAS couldn’t impact an organization as big as our National Guard and that we should just focus on membership and our annual conference. But under the leadership of Chad Rettew, Chairman; Louis Fabrizi, Vice Chairman; and Kathleen Fabrizi, Executive Director; PNGAS has developed a focused and dedicated team tackling major initiatives and delivering big results.
Restored Local Tax Exemption:
Since 1964, the local tax exemption for active-duty military pay was a small benefit for soldiers and airmen deployed stateside, often before being deployed overseas into harm’s way. An inadvertent 2008 Revenue Code rewrite removed many exemptions, including this local tax exemption which was sunset and expired in 2012. Because tax exemptions repeals go largely unreported, for two years or so, nobody knew or noticed any changes. Then in 2015 and 2016, local municipalities started hiring debt collection companies to go after Guard members charging them late fees, charges, and interest, on top of the tax liability. Guard members were shocked with $4,000 to $9,000 invoices, and debt collection threats. Listening to Guard member complaints, PNGAS retained a former legislator, turned lobbyist, that served on the House Finance Committee, and within 10-months the local tax exemption was restored, saving members of the Guard more than $2.2 million a year.
Act 6 of 2016 restored the Local Earned Income Tax Credit for wages or compensation paid to individuals on active military service, regardless of whether it is earned for active military service inside or outside this Commonwealth.
Nation-Leading Tuition Benefits:
In 2017 PNGAS started an engagement strategy with educators for Guard members to optimize their educational tuition benefits. Through PNGAS surveys, college, university, trade school officials and Guard members enjoyed being asked their opinions on making tuition benefits better. They liked having their voices heard. Schools were equally receptive to listen, learn and share best practices that other schools were using to optimize tuition benefits. PNGAS started monthly calls with the PNGAS Education Action Council (EAC), chaired by Brig. Gen. George Schwartz (Ret.).
Through surveys and fact-finding,
(1) PNGAS learned while the Education Assistance Program (“EAP”) is the number #1 recruiting tool of the Pennsylvania National Guard, there was little communication or information-sharing between the 488-EAP-approved schools, High Schools, Guard members, students, parents, and the National Guard. In many instances, a Higher Education provider securing approval to receive EAP funds, was the only measured engagement, criteria, or outcome.
(2) After investing billions to create the best National Guard in the United States, increasing retention rates of our well-trained Guard members is cost-effective, strategic, and wise. PNGAS learned retention rates were strained if a Guard member using tuition benefits was deployed and the school or professor made it difficult or inflexible for the student to complete classes. PNGAS also learned spouses and families were an integral aspect in retention decisions. We Recruit Soldiers – We Retain Families
It’s an institutional challenge replacing 2,300 highly trained members every year, due to retirements and Guard members that have completed their commitments, in an environment where 73% of the high school population is not able to serve in the military.
Maintain and Improve Retention Rates
While PNGAS surveys determined EAP tuition benefits were the #1 recruiting tool, the surveys also indicated members or spouses having bad experiences with tuition benefits were severely impacting retention rates.
PNGAS started a lead-dog strategy: pulling together breakfasts, monthly conference calls, information-gathering, while sharing and promoting best practices on social media, articles, and blogs. By promoting the lead-dog best practices, we provided the roadmap for all schools to see successive programs and move towards excellence. The results were fantastic as more than 150-colleges, universities and trade schools started actively participating, sharing thanks, exchanging best practices, and reporting positive changes they were making at their schools.
Now backed by so many participating schools with strong brand names, PNGAS was building tremendous legislative clout to help secure passage and funding for the historic Military Family Education Program (MFEP), which secured passage in less than 8-months.
Act 32 of 2019 With the July 2019 enactment of the Military Family Education Program (MFEP), there is now a non-lapsing fund providing EAP-like tuition benefits to spouses and children of members of the Pennsylvania National Guard when a Guard member re-enlists for an additional 6-year term. Like the EAP, the MFEP is an almost $32,000 tuition benefit for spouses and/or children of a Guard member that reenlists for an additional 6-year term. Act 32 also modernized the EAP and made EAP funds available to the almost 1,800 Guard members that lived outside of Pennsylvania. PNGAS led efforts to adopt the MFEP and continues to advocate for full funding.
PNGAS Guard Friendly Programs:
With the strength, experiences, and advice of the PNGAS Education Action Council, PNGAS adopted ten (10) foundational standards for the PNGAS Guard Friendly School designation. In 2019, the PNGAS Guard Friendly School designation was awarded to thirty (30) colleges and universities. Today there are forty-two (42). In similar fashion, based on a scale of twenty (20) best practice standards, today there are thirty-one (31) PNGAS Guard Friendly High Schools.
The PNGAS Guard Friendly programs are designed to promote schools and best practices that go the extra mile to help Guard members, spouses, and their families; and by example inspire all schools and high schools to improve. PNGAS surveys revealed students serving in the Guard need flexibility, appreciation and understanding. In 2021, PNGAS is working with hundreds of schools to encourage their schools to be more Guard Friendly, listening to their challenges, and helping them deliver better courses, programs, and services to students.
Military Academic Credit Review Board
The PNGAS EAC discovered many colleges, universities, and trade schools were using military academic credit review boards to understand a Guard members military certifications and skills for translation into academic credits. By promoting these best practices, more schools are adopting or developing military academic credit review boards.
We are very proud Pennsylvania offers the strongest tuition benefits in America, positioning Pennsylvania to have one of the most educated National Guard units. As military and domestic challenges continue to get more complex and multi-faceted, we believe tuition benefits are a critical strategy for recruitment and retention.
Professional License Portability
PNGAS surveys also amplified the need for Guard members and their spouses to have good jobs with flexibility, promotion-opportunities, and an understanding and appreciation of Guard life. The PNGAS surveys also revealed the challenges military families face when they relocate to Pennsylvania, and the Guard member, spouse or family members cannot easily transfer their professional licenses from other states.
Led by the PNGAS Business Action Council (BAC), chaired by Brig. Gen. Wilbur Wolf (Ret.) PNGAS listened to members, spouses, veterans, employers, vendors, and entrepreneurs to learn about hiring needs, job opportunities, entrepreneurial programs, and professional license challenges.
Act 41 of 2019 With passage of the Professional License Portability Act, Pennsylvania licensing boards or commissions shall issue a license, certificate, registration or permit to a military spouse to allow the military spouse to practice the military spouse’s profession or occupation in this Commonwealth if, upon application to the licensing board or commission, the military spouse satisfies all pertinent conditions.
PNGAS JOB Board:
The PNGAS JOB Board is an interactive, real-time JOB board with more than 2,300 job postings. The PNGAS team works one-on-one helping Guard members and their spouses get good jobs. Featured Employers include PNC Bank, Wells Fargo, First Quality, Commonwealth Charter Academy, PJ Dick, Trumbull, Lindy Paving, Great Wolf Lodge, Tradesman International, ONE Source, and Jillamy. DeVry University has helped PNGAS host three (3) Virtual JOB Fairs. https://pngas.jobboardhq.com/.
Legislative Agenda Scorecard – 2015 to 2020
PNGAS Priority Legislation:
Act 6 of 2016 – Restoration of Local Earned Income Tax Credit for wages or compensation paid to individuals on active military service, regardless of whether it is earned for active military service inside or outside this Commonwealth. PNGAS played an instrumental role in passage.
Act 51 of 2018 – Establishment of National Guard Youth Challenge Program for civilian youth to improve the life skills and employment potential of participants by providing military-based training and supervised work experience, together with the core program components of assisting participants to receive a high school diploma or its equivalent, leadership development, promoting fellowship and community service, developing life coping skills and job skills and improving physical fitness and health and hygiene. In August 2017, PNGAS hosted an educational briefing with members of the Senate and House Committees on Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness to learn more about Maryland’s National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program (Freestate ChallenNGe Academy).
Act 32 of 2019 – Military Family Education Program (MFEP) With the July 2019 enactment of the Military Family Education Program (MFEP), there is now a non-lapsing fund providing EAP-like tuition benefits to spouses and children of members of the Pennsylvania National Guard when a Guard member re-enlists for an additional 6-year term. Like the EAP, the MFEP is an almost $32,000 tuition benefit for spouses and/or children of a Guard member that reenlists for an additional 6-year term. PNGAS led efforts to adopt the MFEP and continues to advocate for full funding.
Act 41 of 2019 – Professional License Portability Pennsylvania licensing boards or commissions shall issue a license, certificate, registration or permit to a military spouse to allow the military spouse to practice the military spouse’s profession or occupation in this Commonwealth if, upon application to the licensing board or commission, the military spouse satisfies all pertinent conditions.
Act 55 of 2019 – Military Pay Parity Sets military compensation to be equivalent to the federal military base pay and determines how the cost-of-living adjustment is to be calculated.
Act 60 of 2019 – Civil Air Patrol under DMVA Codifies the Civil Air Patrol under the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
2019 – Pennsylvania Keystone State Challenge Academy receives $1 million initial funding Act 51 of 2018 establishes the framework for the National Guard Youth Challenge Program. The program will operate Keystone State Challenge Academy. State funding is considered matching funds to the National Guard Youth Challenge Program and establishes the Keystone State Challenge Academy Special Fund as a special non-lapsing fund in the State Treasury.
2019 Budget – The modernized Education Assistance Program (EAP) funding increased to $13,265,000.
2019 Budget – The PA-DMVA state budget increased to $160,332,000.
Act 102 of 2020 – Veterans’ Preference- Amends Title 51 (Military Affairs) to provide clarity in the application of veterans’ preference.
Act 111 of 2020 – Veterans’ Courts- Amends Title 42 (Judiciary) to authorize the establishment of veterans’ courts and to authorize “Commerce Court” programs to decide business-related cases.
2020 Budget – Despite COVID-19, PA-DMVA, EAP, and MFEP secure full-funding in two-part state budget.
PNGAS Supported Legislation:
Act 109 of 2020 – Display of Flag- Requires the display of the official Prisoner of War / Missing in Action Flag in Soldier’s Grove at the Capitol, at all roadside rest stops and welcome centers operated by the PA Department of Transportation (PennDOT), as well as at PA Turnpike service plazas.
Act 104 of 2020 – Military Family Relief Assistance Fund- Amends Title 51 (Military Affairs) by eliminating the sunset date for the Military Family Relief Assistance Fund (MFRAP). The program is now permanently in statute.
Act 82 of 2020 – PACE and PACENET Eligibility Calculations- Eliminates State veterans’ benefits from the definition of income when determining income eligibility calculations for the PACE and PACENET programs.
Act 74 of 2020 – Veterans’ Designation on Drivers Licenses- Would require PennDOT to independently verify a veteran’s documentation for a veteran designation.
Act 55 of 2020 – Military Service Credit for PA State Police- Allows certain Pennsylvania State Police officers to purchase non-intervening military services toward their pension eligibility.
2020 Public Law No: 116-315 – The Johnny Isakson and David P. Roe, M.D. Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2020 Until passage, Guardsmen qualified for no-money-down, VA-guaranteed mortgage only if they had mobilized under Title 10, which puts Guardsmen under the control of the president, for 90 consecutive days or had six years of total service.
NGAUS believes the new law will make tens of thousands of Guardsmen eligible for VA home loans who previously were not. This includes most of those who have mobilized for state coronavirus pandemic missions. More than 20,000 Guardsmen remain on such duty nationwide.
Additional language also extends federal employment protections and reemployment rights to Guardsmen who serve at least 14 days of state active duty or who are mobilized to respond to a national emergency or natural disaster. Previously, there were no federal job protections for state active duty.