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Representative Jennifer O’Mara Addresses Concerns in Marple

By: burgundy bug

Representative Jennifer O’Mara (D-165) speaking at the Marple Township Building

Source: State Representative Jennifer O’Mara’s Town Hall in Marple | Penelope Peru Photography

State Representative Jennifer O’Mara (D-165) discussed Don Guanella, transportation, property taxes, funding, and fielded questions from many constituents during her town hall at the Marple Township Building on Thursday evening.

Before taking questions from attendees after introducing herself, O’Mara began with the inquiries that had been sent to her via email.

The first question pertained to saving green space in the 165th District, particularly the Don Guanella property in Broomall, from being taken over by developers.

“I appreciate that question and it’s something I’ve been working on a lot behind the scenes,” O’Mara said. “I’ve met with the Governor, I’ve met with the Secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, I’ve met with Natural Lands here in Delaware County, and I’ve met with staffers to talk about grants.”

“At the end of the day, this is going to be a township decision. I think we need to see how we can coelce as many resources as we can, so I want to work with township and county officials to see what we can do.”

Representative Jennifer O’Mara (D-165)

“The plan being discussed right now, to build houses at Don Guanella, is not good for a myriad of reasons,” she continued. “Beyond the sewage capacities we talked about, schools are going to be stressed, and traffic – it took me 20 minutes to go from my house to my office, which should’ve taken four minutes the other day. My house is off of the same street that my office is on.”

Prior to the town hall, O’Mara had visited the County Commission’s Planning Office meeting to voice her concerns about traffic and flooding if houses are developed at Don Guanella.

“We have a bunch of developments going up in the area; potentially Don Guanella, Upper Darby has the new Drexeline development, and Springfield has a medical center going up on Rolling Road,” O’Mara said.

“We have no power right now because of storms and flooding, and that will continue to happen if we take more green space away.”

Representative Jennifer O’Mara (D-165)

“We have to ask PennDOT and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to seriously evaluate a multi-township impact, and that requires us to have conversation,” she said. “I think the best thing you can do to support me if this decision is important to you, is make sure your neighbors come, make sure your commissioners know how you feel. Help the commissioners make decisions based on how you feel.”

Representative Jennifer O’Mara (D-165) speaking to constituents at the Marple Township Building

Source: State Representative Jennifer O’Mara’s Town Hall in Marple | Penelope Peru Photography

As O’Mara took the floor at 6:30, she thanked constituents for coming in spite of the inclement weather and power outages around the area.

“I’m going to introduce myself, explain how I became your state rep, and address some issues right up front that I’ve heard a lot about,” O’Mara began. “I have a few questions that were emailed to me that I’ll answer, then I’ll answer some of your questions.”

O’Mara continued to share her personal background: she said she grew up in Southwest Philadelphia, her father was a firefighter in the city, her mother was a stay at home mom, and the rep. has three younger brothers.

“We had a pretty nice life,” O’Mara said. “But when I was 13, my father died by gun suicide and that changed everything for our family – it’s the reason we moved to Delco.”

At the time of her father’s death, O’Mara said her mother had three children, a high school diploma, and she hadn’t worked in 15 years.

She continued to explain how her father’s pension as a union firefighter, public schools, and programs like CHIP as well as WIC were critical to helping her family stay afloat during her adolescence.

“I had to grow up quick,” O’Mara said. “I’m a first generation college graduate from West Chester University – with the help of student loans, as evil as they are, they’re the reason I was able to get my education.”

She said she was a certified Social Studies teacher, however, when she graduated there weren’t any positions available in her field. This lead her to work at the University of Pennsylvania as an administrative assistant and pursue a Master’s degree while also working two other part time jobs.

“It was actually my husband’s idea to run,” O’Mara explained. “I met Brad in the middle of Aug on Tinder – so yes, there are Tinder stories that work out. Brad served two duties in Afghanistan, has two purple hearts, and Army Commendation for battle.”

The audience applauded Brad, who was sitting in the front row, before O’Mara continued speaking.

“The last presidential election, regardless of where you stand, it was an ugly campaign,” she said. “I thought both candidates ran negative campaigns that weren’t about us, they weren’t about people, they weren’t about the issues we talk about at our kitchen table. I felt like the people who represented us didn’t get it, so I decided to run to try to bring light to what Delaware County families are facing.”

“My story may have some sad elements, but it’s not unique.”

Representative Jennifer O’Mara (D-165)

“Someone came in tonight and asked me if I was a Democrat or a Republican,” O’Mara continued. “I said, ‘I’m a Democrat,’ and the second thing I said was, ‘But I’m an American.’ I think that’s where we need to get back to.”

Representative Jennifer O’Mara (D-165) speaking at the Marple Township Building

Source: State Representative Jennifer O’Mara’s Town Hall in Marple | Penelope Peru Photography

Then, O’Mara discussed the committees and caucuses she serves on at the Pa House in Harrisburg.

“I serve on the Transportation, Aging and Older Adult Services, Veterans and Emergency Preparedness committees,” she said. “Veterans and Emergency Preparedness was my first request because that’s where we have a lot of work to do right here in Delaware County.”

“Right now, we are facing a silent crisis of not having enough volunteer firefighters. We have one of the last volunteer ambulance corps in Springfield Township.”

Representative Jennifer O’Mara (D-165)

She then elaborated on how transportation is another one of the primary issues she hears about from her constituents.

“When people ask me what keeps me up at night, I say, ‘How we’re going to fund SEPTA in 2022 when Act 89 ends. I used to ride it to work everyday for seven years.'”

Representative Jennifer O’Mara (D-165)

“Aging and Older Adult Services is obviously very important,” she noted. “Another one of the issues I hear most about from folks is property taxes and how seniors are supposed to stay in their homes as schools continue to raise our taxes.”

Then, the rep. proceeded to address concerns she’s heard about recently, such as her votes on HB800 and HB321.

“A lot of people called my office about the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) education improvement program that provides scholarships to students who go to private or charter schools, instead of public schools,” O’Mara began. “The bill itself that I voted no against initially was going to add $100 million to EITC, but it also included an elevator clause that meant it would add more money into the program every year without the General Assembly authorizing it – and according to the constitution, the General Assembly is supposed to authorize funding. It was also going to raise the threshold for families to qualify from $80,000 to $110,000.”

“What rubbed me the wrong way in that bill was the elevator clause. I felt like that is jumping ship and the General Assembly should look at it every year.”

Representative Jennifer O’Mara (D-165)

“When it came time to vote on the Ed Code this year, I voted yes,” she added. “There are a lot of reasons why I did – we got a lot more funding for special education programs, but one of my big reasons was it made a compromise: EITC had $25 million added and they also increased the family threshold. That way it’s going to help more families and I think it still added an appropriate amount.”

Next, O’Mara began explaining her vote on HB321, commonly referred to as the “Down Syndrome Abortion Bill.”

“If there was the potential diagnosis of Down Syndrome, abortion would not be allowed,” she began. “I heard a lot from constituents about this bill, most of them asking me to vote against it, which is ultimately what I did.”

“I was concerned that we were taking decisions away from women and their doctors.”

Representative Jennifer O’mara (D-165)

She then added that three weeks prior to HB321, the House had voted on a bill that would allow patients with Lymes Disease to use long term antibiotics with the argument that doctors should be able to make the best decisions for their patients.

“If we were going to use that argument [for the Lyme’s Disease bill], I felt it should be used across the board,” O’Mara said.

Representative Jennifer O’Mara (D-165) speaking at the Marple Township Building

Source: State Representative Jennifer O’Mara’s Town Hall in Marple | Penelope Peru Photography

Another issue the rep. has heard a lot from Broomall constituents is the behavior of one of her colleagues, Rep Brian Sims (D-182).

“I agree with you that Brian Sims was completely out of line,” O’Mara said. “People, my husband included, fought to defend our Constitution – and that includes the First Amendment, freedom of speech. What [Sims] did was wrong; I told him personally, we told him in caucus.”

She then discussed the importance of building relationships across both sides of the aisle, and her efforts to work together with Democrat and Republican members of the House on the Veterans and Emergency Preparedness as well as the Student Debt committees and caucuses.

“Pennsylvania has the highest student loan debt per capita in the whole country, with an average of $36,000.”

Representative Jennifer O’Mara (D-165)

“I reached out across the aisle and found Rep. Meghan Schroder (R-29) from Bucks County,” O’Mara added. “We started a bipartisan Student Debt Caucus and together we’ve gotten about 30 members, almost 50/50 across the board, to meet, convene, to figure out what issues we agree are problems, and come up with solutions together.”

O’Mara said she is also the co-chair of the Firefighters Caucus with Rep. Frank Farry (R-142).

“Just today I was meeting with Delco Emergency Services folks to discuss what Frank and I can do to make sure what we’re fighting for is helping in our county,” she added.

“I think our national politics have gotten really lost, and they’re not focused on the right things anymore. State level is almost the last place where we can do that.”

Representative Jennifer O’Mara (D-165)

Before taking questions, O’Mara wrapped up her introduction by discussing her experience at the State Legislative Leaders Foundation National Conference.

“There was one State Rep or Senator from every state, minus Virginia and Oregon, so 48 states,” she added. “We were completely bipartisan – we weren’t even allowed to mention what party we’re in. For three days, we talked about tough issues, the Civil War, the Revolutionary War, and we toured Monticello. We were able to talk about really important issues and now when I have ideas that I want to run by another state, I have a card from another State Rep that I can call.”

She also mentioned the bill she had pass unanimously in the Pa House that would increase the amount you can donate online to the Veterans Trust Fund from $3 to $5, almost doubling the amount of revenue they can get.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs in Pa is sorely lacking resources for behavioral health, mental health, homelessness, job support, and a ton of other things,” O’Mara continued.

The rep. also had a bill signed into law through the Tax Code that would allow residents to donate directly to the Veterans Trust Fund with their Pa tax refund.

Representative Jennifer O’Mara (D-165) speaking at the Marple Township Building

Source: State Representative Jennifer O’Mara’s Town Hall in Marple | Penelope Peru Photography

After answering the Don Guanella question that had been emailed to her, O’Mara answered a question she had received via email about senior property taxes.

“There are a lot of proposals in Harrisburg, the issue is getting everyone to agree on one,” she began. “My big concern with property taxes is that’s how Pa funds our public schools.”

A bill that recently passed would let seniors to volunteer with their schools for tax credits from the township for their time, O’Mara said.

“There’s also been discussion of implementing something similar to what’s already in Maryland,” she continued. “After a certain amount of time, residents are locked into their property tax rates.”

O’Mara said she agrees with that notion, stating that she believes tax rates should become fixed once your income is fixed after retiring.

“I get that question a lot, too,” said Matt Bilker, a member of Marple’s school board. “That proposal would put the cost of rising education on the backs of non-seniors, like regular families with middle income. Beyond that, how are you able to administer it? Although the property tax formula isn’t perfect, it’s what we have and it’s easy to administer. How are you going to administer different exceptions without getting any fraud or problem in making the formula work?”

O’Mara responded by stating she agrees, and that we could solve the issue by reconstructing how schools are funded in Pa.

“The Fair Funding formula that was passed in 2015 would fund schools based on the number of pupils that exist in that school,” O’Mara said. “Right now, only 10 percent of funding moves through that formula; they decided only new funding would move through that formula.”

“We’re using an outdated formula from the 1980s that funds schools based on the population in Pa at that time. Pa population has shifted greatly, especially in areas like Delaware County.”

Representative Jennifer O’Mara (D-165)

“The proposal that’s out right now to end the hold harmless clause and move 100 percent of funding through Fair Funding would bring more revenue to Marple-Newtown, Springfield, and Radnor,” she noted. “I made sure before I signed on as a co-sponsor.”

If the school districts are receiving more funding from the state, it would relieve the burden from the taxpayers, O’Mara said.

Representative Jennifer O’Mara (D-165) answering questions at the Marple Township Building

Source: State Representative Jennifer O’Mara’s Town Hall in Marple | Penelope Peru Photography

“We have a great board of commissioners here and haven’t had a tax increase in eight years,” said a constituent standing in the back of the room. “I’ve been here since 1962. I spent 31 years in the military, okay? This is the greatest township in the universe, I’ll tell it to anybody. I was overseas and I couldn’t wait to get back here. The first thing I did, I went up Lawrence Road, kissed the ground and said, ‘THANK GOD I’M HOME!'”

The attendees clapped before the constituent cut them off, saying he didn’t serve to get a round of applause.

“Whether you like the president or you don’t like the president, when I got discharged in 2001 I came home from Desert Storm, I couldn’t get anything done in the VA – took me eight months to get my card,” the constituent continued. “This man (the president), you know what he did? Got the little card that says I served 30 years and I can go to any hospital for whatever I want. I don’t want to hear about the VA; it could be better, but they’ve done a great job and it’s because of him. I’ll say it front of the whole audience. That’s what it’s all about! I don’t want to care about Republicans, Democrats, or Independents, it’s all about us. I’m happy to live here and I hope I die here. These are the lowest taxes in all of Delaware County!”

The constituent then excused himself from the room temporarily.

Another constituent towards the center of the audience asked about adding a “splash pad” to Marple, a playground with water activities for children to cool off at during the hotter, more humid months.

O’Mara said that was a great suggestion and asked the woman to email her the suggestion after the town hall.

An older constituent towards the front of the room asked about the volunteer tax credit O’Mara had mentioned as she began answering questions.

“How about the seniors who are unable to volunteer because of medical reasons,” the constituent asked. “What are they, out in the cold?”

O’Mara responded by stating it was just one bill that passed the house and hasn’t been passed in the senate yet. She said that she agrees with the constituent and that she’ll make sure the House looks into other options.

“I’ve heard a lot about what you’ve done for disabled Veterans and I applaud that,” a constituent towards the back of the room began. “But I have disabled children who have been 700th on the Emergency Funding list for Intellectual Disabilities for over five years. I have a kid who’s going to be 18 and he has zero dollars in funding. Zero. When he turns 21, he’ll become solely my responsibility. I now have another financial burden, I have a child that’s in college that doesn’t get state aid because we don’t qualify. How is that fair to children who are now going to be adults in the system? Nobody brings it up.”

O’Mara said she’s tried to increase funding to health services programs, only to have other state representatives tell her that’s not how they wanted to spend the money. She also mentioned a bill one of her colleagues is working on to address the Emergency Funding list.

“If I take my kids to the county tomorrow and tell them I can’t do this anymore, I’m emotionally spent and financially drained, what are you going to do for me,” the constituent pressed.

The representative said at that point, she would personally help the constituent and asked if they could meet to work together on the issue.

“If you tell [O’Mara] about an issue, it may not happen as quickly as you want it to because we’re dealing with politics – no offense – but she’s trying,” another constituent responded after sharing her own experiences in receiving help from the rep.

When a constituent asked how O’Mara would do a better job for Marple than the previous representative, Alexander Charlton (R-165), O’Mara discussed how she’s been getting involved with the township through town halls and events that bring resources to the community.

“I’ve lived in Marple since 2001,” an older constituent towards the left side of the room said. “I never met Bill Adolph. I never met Alex whatever his name is.”

“This is my third or fourth time meeting you and you’ve only been in office since January. I think you’re doing a great job, reaching out and meeting everybody.”

Anonymous Constituent

After answering a few more questions about transportation, green space, and children’s activities, O’Mara hung around for an hour after the town hall concluded to meet constituents and speak with them directly.

Representative Jennifer O’Mara and constituents mingling after the town hall

Source: State Representative Jennifer O’Mara’s Town Hall in Marple | Penelope Peru Photography

Many attendees also mingled with one another or hung around to obtain their SEPTA Senior Key Passes from Larry Healy, a constituent services advisor at O’Mara’s district office.

Next week, O’Mara will have a Spotted Lantern Fly Interactive Awareness Event at the Marple Public Library to inform residents of the 165th District about this invasive pest that is detrimental to Pa’s environment.

The representative will also be holding another town hall in Springfield next month, which you can learn more about on her social media.


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The bug behind the blog… A cynical optimist, burgundy bug is the editor, graphic designer, and main photographer for The Burgundy Zine. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it's got nothing on the bug. Her work embodies a wide variety of topics including: ecology, biology, neurology, cannabis, reviews, fashion, entertainment, and politics. If you are interested in learning more about the bug behind the blog or working with her, please visit our contact page.

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