May. 22, 2020 / Weekly Roundup

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Weekly Roundup
#Listrak\DateStampLong# The latest news from the State Capitol
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Wolf Should Have Been Focusing on COVID-19 in Nursing Homes

My latest column is now out. I write about how our senior citizen populations in nursing homes throughout Pennsylvania were neglected by the Wolf administration while COVID-19 ravished these facilities. You can read an excerpt of it below and click here to read it in full.

“For months we have been told by Gov. Tom Wolf and Department of Health Secretary Rachael Levine that senior citizens, one of our most vulnerable populations, are at a greater risk of dying from COVID-19 and that we must do all we can to protect them.

“I completely agree, it is up to us to care for and safeguard our senior citizens. At the same time, I am deeply saddened, and extremely angry that Wolf and Levine didn’t live by their own words, but rather, neglected residents in senior care facilities.

“As of May 15, 2,991 Pennsylvanians living in nursing homes, personal care homes and assisted living residences died due to COVID-19, according to Levine. These tragic deaths account for 69% of Pennsylvania’s 4,442 COVID-19 deaths. Sixty-nine percent of all COVID-19 deaths in the state happening in care homes among our most vulnerable is completely and utterly unacceptable.”
 
 
York, Cumberland Counties Now in the Yellow Phase


Today marks the day York and Cumberland counties move to the yellow phase. The most notable change is that retail stores will be open, though curbside pickup and delivery is encouraged. Unfortunately, many other important businesses are advised to remain closed under the governor’s order. You can learn more about the restrictions by clicking here.

I have fought hard to reopen York and Cumberland counties and the fight is not over until all Pennsylvania businesses are fully operational. Businesses able to operate safely, per CDC guidelines, should be open and I trust consumers to make choices in the best interest of their health and safety. The purpose for the lock-down and business shut-downs was to flatten the curve and provide enough time for health care providers to prepare to prevent them from getting overwhelmed. The data shows the virus peaked on April 9, the curve has flattened, and Pennsylvania health care providers are so underwhelmed that they’re collectively bleeding $2 billion monthly and furloughing thousands of health care workers. We continue to gain greater insight of the virus and have provided extensive information to educate the public so they’re able to take proper precautions to protect themselves from the virus. We must adopt a plan to vigilantly protect our most vulnerable and abandon this unprecedented policy of locking down healthy people. It’s time for governor to acknowledge the science and data, open up the Commonwealth and stop moving the goal posts!
 
 
 
Property Tax/Rent Rebates Distributed Early Thanks to House Bill

In response to the fiscal stress residents are facing because of the COVID-19 pandemic, rebate checks through Pennsylvania’s Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program are distributed early thanks to House Bill 1076, which is now law.

Because so many Pennsylvanians, particularly older residents, have been suffering from the financial consequences of the economic shutdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the House authored and approved legislation to expedite check distribution. Rebate checks for the 2019 claim year are being distributed on a first-in-first-out basis. Checks normally start to be distributed on July 1.

Claimants can check the status of their claim via phone at 1-888-PATAXES (728-2937). Using this service, claimants need to provide the claim year (2019), Social Security number and expected amount of the rebate. Claimants can also go online to www.revenue.pa.gov. The claim year (2019), Social Security number and birth year of the claimant will need to be provided.

Eligible residents who have not applied for a rebate can contact my office free assistance. The deadline to file is Dec. 31, 2020.
 
 
House Approves Shawn’s Law

The House advanced my legislation to increase criminal penalties for people convicted of aiding or encouraging another person to commit suicide.

The action by the House sends a strong message that aiding or encouraging someone to take his or her own life will not be tolerated in Pennsylvania. This is nothing more than murder by proxy and, in addition to being a shameful and cowardly act, should carry a heavy penalty for those who commit this crime.

There have been numerous instances across the country of a person directing someone to commit suicide. One such case happened in York County. Shawn Shatto, for whom Shawn’s Law is named, took her own life in her parent’s Newberry Township home after she received a step-by-step guide on how to end her life from an online chat forum. Chat forum participants led her through the entire process, from preparing poison, to proper timing, to making sure her parents weren’t home (explaining if they found her in the midst of the act they would intervene and/or resuscitate her.) As Shawn began the process, she contacted the chat forum explaining she was scared and was having second thoughts. More than one person on the forum told her that suicide was the best route and wished Shawn well on her journey instead of encouraging her to seek help.

As a parent, I can’t imagine the grief. My heart breaks for Shawn and her family. In Shawn’s hour of need, she was met by predators leading her down a path from which there was no return. The depravity is incomprehensible.

The legislation now goes to the Senate for approval. To read more about the bill, click here.
 
 
Busy Session Week as House Continues to Advance Policies to Reopen PA


Recognizing the growing strain on our families, communities and the economy, the House returned to session this week to continue our fight for the future of our state. While the governor has again chosen to veto some of our efforts rather than work with us, as your elected representative, it is important I continue to help advance policies that reflect your voices. I hear from so many of you about the struggles and frustrations you are facing as a result of this pandemic and prolonged mitigation efforts. We recognize the harm being done, and we are fighting for you.

Following is a quick rundown of this week’s session.

To help our struggling restaurants, bars and clubs, we passed bills that would authorize these business owners to allow outdoor seating (House Bill 2506) and indoor seating (House Bill 2513)to resume in areas of the state in the yellow or green phases of mitigation. Certain safety guidelines would have to be met. These bills go to the Senate for consideration. In related news, House Bill 327 to allow the sale of cocktails to go, is now law.

We passed House Resolution 867 to set up a special committee of the House to examine various aspects of the state’s response to the COVID-19 public health emergency and make recommendations regarding issues of importance and long-term recovery. A final report of the committee’s activities, findings and recommendations would be due by Nov. 19.

To further aid in assessment of the COVID-19 disaster response, House Bill 2505 would require the administration to retain relevant records for 10 years after the end of the emergency order. The bill goes to the Senate for consideration.

Additionally, House Bill 2517 would require a waiver to allow residential cleaning services to resume operations during the COVID-19 emergency, provided they follow social distancing and other health and safety guidelines. This bill also goes to the Senate.

Governor Again Denies Options to Reopen PA Safely…But Then Reopens Real Estate
Also this week, Gov. Tom Wolf opted to veto three measures we championed in the House to help provide more options to reopen the state. Ironically, one of those bills he vetoed (House Bill 2412) would have helped reopen real estate services in the Commonwealth. Shortly after he announced the vetoes, the governor released new guidance to allow real estate to resume statewide anyway.  

This is not the first time the governor has acted in response to actions of the House. The same occurred with the construction industry, online vehicle sales, reopening plans and more. We are helping to drive the agenda toward reopening and will continue to do so. It’s incredible that the governor won’t simply meet with the General Assembly to discuss his plans and strategy to open Pennsylvania so that we could work collaboratively work together in the best interests of all Pennsylvanians.

Other bills vetoed by the governor this week include Senate Bill 327, which would have (among other things) given county officials the ability to develop their own emergency mitigation plans for business, and House Bill 2388, which would have required waivers to allow the following types of businesses to reopen: vehicle dealerships, lawn and garden centers, cosmetology salon and barber shops for hair services, messenger services, animal grooming services, and manufacturing operations. We will continue fighting for these businesses to have the opportunity to reopen safely.
 
 
 
Long-Term Care Data Release Illustrates Need for Senior Protection Act

This week, we sent a bill to the Senate to help stop the tragic COVID-19 death rate occurring at the state’s nursing home facilities, personal care homes and assisted living residences.

The Senior Protection Act (House Bill 2510) is a bipartisan initiative that aims to use regional health system collaboratives to better manage personnel, protocols, testing and expenditures to protect our vulnerable senior citizens who live in these facilities. The legislation was developed with the help of medical experts at UPMC with the goal of saving lives and giving families whose loved ones reside in these facilities peace of mind.

The urgent need for this legislation is well illustrated by the administration’s long-awaited release of data specific to each of the state’s long-term care facilities, available here. More than 3,000 of the state’s COVID-19 deaths – nearly 70% of the state’s fatalities – have occurred among these residents. This is unacceptable.

The bill now goes to the Senate.
 
 
 
Unemployment Claims Exceed 2 Million, Extended Benefits Available

Well over 2.1 million Pennsylvanians – approximately one-third of the state’s entire workforce – have now filed for unemployment benefits, either through traditional unemployment or the special unemployment program for self-employed, independent contractors and gig workers.

While lawmakers work to help get our citizens back to work safely, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry this week launched the state’s Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program to provide an additional 13 weeks of benefits to people who have exhausted their regular unemployment compensation. The extended benefits were authorized in the federal CARES Act.

The department reports it has paid out nearly $7.4 billion in total unemployment benefits since mid-March.

A person is eligible for the extended benefits if they are unemployed between March 29 through Dec. 26, 2020; have exhausted regular state or federal benefits with the week ending July 6, 2019, or later; are currently not eligible for state or federal unemployment benefits; and are able and available to work and actively seeking work, except for COVID-19-related reasons including illness, quarantine or “stay-at-home” orders.

Important information about the extended benefits program has been emailed or mailed via the United States Postal Service to all individuals who potentially qualify for PEUC. For more information about this program, click here.

For complete information and the latest updates about unemployment, click here. 
 
 
 
What’s New?

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) announced the statewide reopening of all All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) trails in state forests. The opening date also applies to designated motorcycle trails in Bald Eagle State Forest, including a dual sport trail running through the Seven Mountains region and a trail for off-highway motorcycles on Shade Mountain. ATV riding is only permitted on designated trails in Pennsylvania state forests. State forest roads, state parks and state game lands are not open to ATV riding. The DCNR website has the locations of the 11 ATV trail systems on state forest lands. All ATVs in Pennsylvania (except ATVs used solely for business or agricultural purposes) need to be registered and titled. Due to COVID-19, all ATV registrations scheduled to expire through Sunday, May 31, have been extended until Tuesday, June 30. For guidelines to about riding safely during the pandemic, click here.  DCNR also announced additional openings of state park and forest facilities, mainly in counites advancing to the governor’s “yellow phase” of reopening. For details about the status of park and forest facilities, click here.

The Department of Human Services (DHS) is reminding residents of assistance programs that may be available to them as they deal with COVID-19 and its impacts. Among the initiatives are the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP) Recovery Crisis Program to help with residents at risk of losing access to electricity, natural gas or deliverable fuels; the Emergency Assistance Program to provide a one-time cash benefit to families who have experienced a significant income reduction or complete job loss; and the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer Program to help feed children while schools are closed. To learn more, click here.

DHS also issued guidance this week for people needing Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) criminal history background checks as a condition of employment while counties are operating under stay-at-home orders and differing points of the reopening plan. Under Act 18 of 2020, individuals who are required to obtain an FBI background check are given additional time to meet this requirement if they are unable to complete their fingerprinting scan due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, people are still strongly encouraged to get fingerprinted and obtain their FBI Criminal History Clearance as soon as they are able. Information about IdentoGO locations available to do fingerprinting, as well as other important information about this guidance, is available here. 
 
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