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Weekly Roundup
#Listrak\DateStampLong# The latest news from the State Capitol
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Working for the People of PA

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Lawmakers were back in session this week, continuing our fight for the people of Pennsylvania as we work to safely reopen businesses that can comply with scientific guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) while continuing to protect our citizens, frontline health care providers and first responders from the COVID-19 pandemic.

We passed Senate Bill 613 that would help create clear and consistent guidelines about business closures and give businesses across the Commonwealth the opportunity to reopen ONLY IF they could do so safely. While I am disappointed the governor chose to veto this bill earlier this week, it’s clear our vote to start reopening the economy safely using scientific CDC guidelines encouraged the governor to take a step in this direction himself by announcing he would possibly start lifting stay-at-home orders in some areas of the state with minimal COVID-19 cases May 8.

To help keep us moving in the direction of safely reopening the construction industry, we passed House Bill 2400, which would allow all public and private construction activities that can adhere to scientific CDC guidelines to protect workers to resume operations. Pennsylvania is one of the only states that has stopped nearly all construction.

We passed Senate Bill 841 to, among other things, allow online car sales in the Commonwealth. The governor has signed this bill into law. Surrounding states have allowed dealerships to remain open to sell cars in a safe manner, and I believe Pennsylvania should be doing the same, again following scientific CDC guidelines. On Tuesday, we passed House Bill 2388 that would allow all auto dealerships to reopen if they choose to do so, safely.

We passed House Bill 2376, the One Staffer/One Shopper bill, that would allow a retail business staffed by one employee to open for business as long as it allowed only one customer into the store at a time. The bill is designed to enable shoppers to visit smaller venue retailers and avoid the larger crowds often present at big box stores.

We passed House Bill 1822, which would provide protections for workers impacted by COVID-19, ensuring they cannot be terminated or demoted for becoming ill or abiding by a doctor’s order to quarantine.

We passed House Bill 1869 that would help ambulance companies meet staffing requirements and continue to serve their communities, as well as ensure benefits for first responders and National Guard members who may be impacted by COVID-19.

Finally, a bill to enhance the availability of telemedicine in the Commonwealth was sent to the governor’s desk on Tuesday. If signed into law by the governor, Senate Bill 857 would improve safe access to care in this time of social distancing, as well as boost accessibility and affordability of care in rural and other underserved areas of the Commonwealth.
Wolf Rejects Sensible Bill to Reopen Businesses

Just hours after announcing his version of a “plan” to reopen Pennsylvania businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed Senate Bill 613, which included my amendment to put federally recognized standards in place to determine life sustaining businesses, which is used utilized by 44 other states, and require those businesses determined to be life sustaining to follow CDC safety guidelines. In response, I issued the following statement:

I am deeply disappointed the governor has once again decided to go it alone in his decision making instead of taking input from the General Assembly. He has once again turned his back on the small businesses – its owners and employees – that are the lifeblood of our economy, while failing to protect essential workers at the same time.

Since the start of the governor’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, he has offered no insight into which businesses he’s allowed to operate other than to state they are ‘essential.’ The waiver process has been ripe with inconsistencies as the governor allowed big box stores to remain open and to sell the exact same products as small businesses that have been closed for more than a month. Desperate business owners are begging for help as they struggle with five weeks of no income, no ability to earn, and delayed assistance from unemployment compensation benefit that won’t provide any income for at least another week.

Last week, Pennsylvanians heard the governor say a plan to reopen our economy would be data driven and should be done in a bipartisan fashion. If the governor’s veto, which ignores data and the voices of tens of thousands of Pennsylvania business owners and employees, is any indication of what he considers ‘bipartisanship,’ I have strong fears the status quo of the governor ignoring the General Assembly will continue and elected officials will remain shut out of the decision-making process. 
Construction to Resume May 1

You can’t rebuild the economy if construction sites are closed. Fortunately, the governor heard our calls, and yours, to reopen this essential industry. Starting May 1, all construction in Pennsylvania will resume. The governor took this action after the House approved House Bill 2400 to reopen construction.

Governor Outlines Plan to Reopen PA

While the stay-at-home order has been extended to May 8 statewide, Gov. Tom Wolf this week also outlined a phased plan he intends to use to reopen the Commonwealth’s economy. Areas with fewer confirmed cases of COVID-19 will be the first to move toward reopening with other regions remaining under current orders until they reach a level of fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 people for a period of 14 days.

The governor compared the three phases to a traffic light, with the entire state currently in the red phase. Areas in the northwest and northcentral portions of the state are the most likely candidates to move into the yellow phase, and ultimately the green phase, first. For details about what the governor would permit in each phase, review the chart below.

Unemployment Compensation Update

With so many people left unemployed as a result of the governor’s orders to close non-essential businesses, the Department of Labor and Industry has received more than 1.5 million
unemployment claims since mid-March. I am unfortunately well aware of the extreme delays, system crashes and other problems filers have experienced in trying to claim the benefits they need. I continue to stress to administration officials the dire need of so many Pennsylvanians struggling to pay their bills and put food on their tables. For general information about unemployment compensation benefits, click here.  

Last weekend, the department opened its online application for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program to provide benefits to self-employed workers and independent contractors. That system has also had more than a few bugs, but I’m told it is functioning properly at this time. To learn more about how to apply for assistance through PUA, click here.  
What’s New?

The Pennsylvania Department of Health is now releasing both county and ZIP code-level information about COVID-19 cases. An interactive map shows the number of confirmed cases and negative tests, as well as the number of deaths if applicable. Click here to check out the map.  

Nearly $16 million is on its way to Pennsylvania food banks, which are providing critical assistance to Pennsylvanians during the COVID-19 health crisis. The state received $14.9 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for The Emergency Food Assistance Program to provide critical support and food to Pennsylvania’s food banks and emergency food assistance network working to feed the hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians in need. To find a food pantry near you, click here.  

The Pennsylvania Department of Aging has launched an online COVID-19 resource guide for older adults, their family members and caregivers. The guide includes information on meals, prescriptions, protective services, scams, and how to stay active and connected. Click here for more information.  
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