Gov. Wolf Calls On Legislature To Act Immediately On COVID-19 Recovery, Government Reform
On August 25, Gov. Tom Wolf presented his fall legislative agenda for worker and family support and protections, COVID-19 recovery, and government reform.
Among the initiatives highlighted by Gov. Wolf called for action were series of proposals on COVID-19 relief and protection for workers and families, and small business assistance, including–
— Providing PPE to Frontline Workers: The governor is proposing $10 million for a PPE Reimbursement Program for employers to cover the cost of masks, face shields, cleaning supplies, hand sanitizers and soaps, and other industry-specific PPE in accordance with the Department of Health, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations.
Workers must have access to safety equipment and cleaning materials, and workspaces must be sanitized regularly to protect workers and customers. This program would provide grants of up to $5,000 in reimbursements for Pennsylvania-based small businesses with fewer than 150 employees, and for counties who make PPE available to election workers.
— Hazard Pay for Frontline Workers: $225 million to increase hazard pay to Pennsylvania workers, using the overall structure of the current PA Hazard Pay Grant Program administered through the Department of Community and Economic Development. This funding would cover a $3.00/hour increase for 208,000 frontline workers across the Commonwealth.
— LIHEAP/Utility Assistance: The Utility Commission recently reported that at least 800,000 utility customers across the state are currently in active termination status and would be at risk of having their electricity, water, or gas shut off had the PUC not implemented a termination moratorium at the start of COVID.
The governor is proposing $100 million in grants to be divided between the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and a new emergency water/wastewater program administered by PennVEST to assist residential customers who would be subject to termination of service when the current PUC moratorium on terminations is eventually lifted.
— Expanding Access to Child Care: The governor is proposing a significant investment in child care, including $250 million for families with school-aged children in need of child care because of blended or remote in-person instruction models. The governor is also proposing $27 million to expand child care options in “deserts,” where few providers currently exist.
The governor’s proposal also includes $50 million in grants to part-day school-age programs serving low-income communities to support necessary health and safety updates and infrastructure to facilitate remote learning for school districts not returning to in-person instruction.
— Paid Parental Leave for All Pennsylvanians: The governor announced the Commonwealth’s new paid parental leave proposal, which will offer six weeks of paid leave to Commonwealth employees who have been employed for a year or more. This leave will be separate and apart from any accrued sick or paid time off that the employee may have earned. The governor also called on the legislature to pass paid family and sick leave.
— Helping Schools Deliver the Promise of Education: The governor is proposing $3 million for institutions of higher education to partner with local education agencies (LEA) to support educators during the 2020-21 school year. The goal of these partnerships is to provide targeted professional development and reduce learning gaps.
— Rent Relief: The governor is proposing $100 million to be used to expand the PA Housing Finance Agency CARES Rent Relief Program to provide additional financial assistance on behalf of low- to moderate-income renters experiencing difficulty making rent payments as a result of the pandemic. Assistance will continue to be made available in the form of a grant and funds will be paid directly to landlords or property owners.
The governor is also calling on the legislature to increase the current $750 per month cap on assistance to renters, which has limited participation in the program, by instead linking assistance to the federal HUD index.
Providing Recovery for Small Businesses
By providing hundreds of millions of dollars of additional grants and loans for Pennsylvania businesses, the legislature can take immediate action to help Pennsylvania’s economic recovery.
The legislature should also provide relief for bars and restaurants by canceling the alcohol tax and allowing businesses to buy at cost. Over time, this funding can be supplemented by legalizing recreational marijuana and dedicating a portion of the funding to historically disadvantaged businesses.
— Grants and Loans for Businesses: Gov. Wolf is proposing $225 million in forgivable loans and grants to small businesses in Pennsylvania through the COVID-19 Relief Statewide Small Business Assistance Program. In addition, the governor is proposing $100 million in forgivable loans and grants for the hospitality, leisure, and service industries, including restaurants and bars, salons, and barber shops. This funding will provide critical working capital financing to the Commonwealth’s small businesses adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
— Alcohol Tax Cancelation or Reduction: The governor is calling on the General Assembly to pass legislation to revitalize Pennsylvania’s hospitality, leisure, and service industry by offering alcohol-tax cancelation or reduction for six months, and allowing the hospitality industry to purchase alcohol at or near cost for six months.
— Recreational Marijuana Legalization to Fund Ongoing Business Grants and Restorative Justice: The governor is calling on the legislature to legalize recreational marijuana with the proceeds going to existing small business grant funding. Fifty percent of the funding would be earmarked for historically disadvantaged businesses. Along with the call to the General Assembly to pass legislation legalizing the sale and use of recreational marijuana, the governor proposes that a portion of the revenue be used to further restorative justice programs that give priority to repairing the harm done to crime victims and communities as a result of marijuana criminalization.
Also, the governor wants the General Assembly to pursue criminal justice reform policies that restore justice for individuals convicted of marijuana-related offenses.
House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre) issued the following statement in response to the Governor’s fall agenda– “Gov. Wolf has spent the last six months turning his back on the people’s representatives in the General Assembly despite our numerous attempts to work with him to fight this pandemic. It is disingenuous for this governor to put forward an unaffordable legislative agenda and require taxpayers to bail him out of his unilateral mandates that have devastated their lives and livelihoods.
“The House Republican Caucus will return to session next week to begin working on Pennsylvania’s priorities of getting people safely back to work and providing for their families, ensuring the best educational opportunities for our children, and finding the normalcy Pennsylvanians have long-desired.”
House Democratic leaders released the following statement on the fall legislative agenda–
“As we continue to move forward in Pennsylvania’s path to recovery, we stand united with Governor Wolf in his efforts to protect the health and welfare of all Pennsylvanians in the face of a continuing global pandemic.
“Much of the governor’s legislative agenda is shared by House Democrats, as we’ve pushed for paid parental leave, increased access to personal protective equipment for frontline workers and removing special interest influence from our elections, among other proposals outlined by the governor. These goals are aimed at creating a safe, healthy and prosperous Pennsylvania that works for all of its people.
“Unfortunately, we’ve spent far too much time with a Republican-led legislature determined to pick fights that only undermine the health and safety of our state. Rather than face this public health crisis head on, Republicans have taken it upon themselves to ignore science and guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and pretend the pandemic is over. Instead of authorizing hazard pay for frontline workers or providing housing and utility assistance to struggling Pennsylvanians, valuable time was wasted on a concerted effort to undo the protections put in place by Governor Wolf. This negligence to the reality of the pandemic must end.
“Upon our return to Harrisburg, we look forward to working on legislation that will actually help Pennsylvanians weather this storm and emerge in a position to succeed and grow. We have a duty to those we represent, and we fully intend to continue doing everything possible to protect their health and welfare.”
Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) issued the following statement–
“For more than six months, the Governor has lorded over Pennsylvania through Executive Order and today he wants to dictate to the legislature through press release.
“It appears as if the Governor is starting the fall campaign now after it’s become clear that legislative Democrats are feeling the pressure of Governor Wolf’s decisions to implement some of the most restrictive economic shutdown measures in the country and create an autocracy.
“Governor Wolf has not been in the Capitol in months. He has not even held a call with legislative leaders since July. The Governor is clearly not interested in governing. If he were, he would have reached out to legislative leaders at some point during the summer to discuss a fall agenda. Instead, he sends out a political document and takes partisan shots at elected officials.
“We continue to be open to productive discussions despite Governor Wolf’s priority of providing campaign cover for House and Senate Democrats instead of governing.”