$1.3B in fed­eral aid to Pa. re­mains un­spent

The Morning Call - - Front Page - By Ford Turner The Morn­ing Call

HARRISBURG — Penn­syl­va­nia Senate Democrats on Fri­day called for the im­me­di­ate spend­ing of $1.3 bil­lion in fed­eral coro­n­avirus emer­gency aid the state re­ceived this year, and they want it to help strug­gling busi­nesses and in­di­vid­u­als.

“That money needs to be driven out,” Demo­cratic Sen. Vincent Hughes of Philadel­phia said dur­ing a Fri­day news con­fer­ence. “It needs to be driven out im­me­di­ately.”

The Democrats’ plea came on a day the state re­ported 1,566 ad­di­tional cases of the virus, the 11th straight day of more than 1,000 ad­di­tional cases.

How and when to spend the $1.3 bil­lion has be­come more con­tentious in Harrisburg as the prospect of more fed­eral fi­nan­cial help for Penn­syl­va­nia re­mains un­clear. In Wash­ing­ton, D.C., dis­cus­sions on an­other stim­u­lus pack­age have sput­tered along.

Any spend­ing in Harrisburg must be ap­proved by the Repub­li­can-con­trolled state Leg­is­la­ture. And its lead­ers re­peat­edly have said Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf hurt the state with overly broad shut­downs dur­ing the pan­demic.

“Penn­syl­va­nia has lost 500,000 jobs as a re­sult of Tom Wolf’s eco­nomic shut­downs,” Ja­son Gottes­man, a spokesman for House Repub­li­cans, said Fri­day. “The gov­er­nor has cre­ated the cri­sis in our econ­omy, and he can’t look to this $1.3 bil­lion to get him out of the hole.”

Ear­lier this year, law­mak­ers from both par­ties and both cham­bers along with Wolf agreed to put the money in a re­serve fund.

If it is not spent by Nov. 30, it will be dis­trib­uted to 60 Penn­syl­va­nia coun­ties that did not get coro­n­avirus emer­gency money di­rectly from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

Gottes­man said House Repub­li­can lead­ers want to keep the money on hand for at least a short pe­riod in case the virus which state lead­ers says is surg­ing cre­ates a need for rapid spend­ing.

Spend­ing plans

Wolf spokesper­son Lyn­d­say Kensinger said the gov­er­nor laid out some of his pri­or­i­ties for the money in late Au­gust. They in­clude $225 mil­lion in haz­ard pay for front-line work­ers, $250 mil­lion for fam­i­lies with school-aged

chil­dren in need of child care be­cause of blended or re­mote in-per­son in­struc­tion mod­els, and hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars in for­giv­able loans and grants to small busi­nesses.

Senate Democrats stressed some of the same pri­or­i­ties Fri­day. Hughes said the state was see­ing “eco­nomic strug­gles in just about ev­ery sec­tor.”

The largest items in the Senate Democrats’ pro­posal for spend­ing the money are:

$575 mil­lion for busi­ness as­sis­tance, in­clud­ing bars, tav­erns, bar­bers, sa­lons, restau­rants, non­prof­its, his­tor­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged busi­nesses and oth­ers.

$150 mil­lion for prop­erty tax re­lief.

„ $141 mil­lion for higher-ed­u­ca­tion en­ti­ties.

$125 mil­lion for in­di­vid­u­als and fam­i­lies for util­ity bill as­sis­tance.

$125 mil­lion for high-Med­i­caid vol­ume hos­pi­tals. „ $100 mil­lion for haz­ard pay in ex­ist­ing pro­grams, and ex­panded pro­grams for phar­ma­cies.

The Morn­ing Call this week re­ported how many em­ploy­ers, in­clud­ing op­er­a­tors of Le­high Val­ley am­bu­lance ser­vices and phar­ma­cies, felt left out of the first haz­ard pay pro­gram an­nounced over the sum­mer. The Senate Democrats’ pro­posal also in­cludes $10 mil­lion for EMS ser­vices and $15 mil­lion for fire ser­vices.

In late May with the state’s fi­nances in dis­ar­ray be­cause of the virus the Gen­eral Assem­bly passed an in­terim $25.1 bil­lion bud­get that funded some pro­grams for the full year, but oth­ers for only five months. Law­mak­ers ex­pect to fin­ish a seven-month bud­get for the rest of the year by Nov. 30.

Democrats made it clear they want the $1.3 bil­lion in emer­gency money spent im­me­di­ately.

But a spokesper­son for Senate Repub­li­can lead­ers, Jen­nifer Kocher, said, “Our in­ten­tion is to get a bud­get done, and that would in­clude ap­pro­pri­at­ing that money.”

The state faces a bud­get short­fall that has been es­ti­mated in the bil­lions of dol­lars.

Kensinger said the ad­min­is­tra­tion ex­pects bud­get work to be­gin “in earnest” soon, and it would be crit­i­cal to fi­nal­ize the bud­get in Novem­ber “to avoid fur­loughs and any stop­page of crit­i­cal pay­ments to providers and grantees.”

The state has a hir­ing freeze in ef­fect and is look­ing to re­duce ex­pen­di­tures, she said.

Mean­while, the state re­ported Fri­day that the un­em­ploy­ment rate dropped to 8.1% in Septem­ber from 10.3% in Au­gust. It still re­mains above the na­tional rate, 7.9%.

Virus data

Be­sides the re­port of 1,566 more cases of the coro­n­avirus in Penn­syl­va­nia, state data Fri­day showed a mov­ing 14-day av­er­age of peo­ple hos­pi­tal­ized for the virus reached 699.6, the high­est level since it was 706.7 on July 31.

The num­ber of peo­ple hos­pi­tal­ized for the virus Fri­day at mid­day was 830, which was at or near the high­est num­ber in sev­eral months.

Those hos­pi­tal­ized Fri­day in­cluded 48 peo­ple in Le­high County and five in Northamp­ton County.

The seven-day mov­ing av­er­age of newly re­ported cases was 1,148 on Fri­day. It was 1,146 a week ear­lier.

The case to­tal statewide stood at 179,086. Sixty-eight of the ad­di­tional cases Fri­day were in the Le­high Val­ley, with 25 in Le­high County and 43 in Northamp­ton County.

Among the cases statewide, 29,676 have in­volved res­i­dents or em­ploy­ees at nurs­ing or per­sonal care homes.

The state re­ported 25 more deaths Fri­day to bring the to­tal to 8,457. Le­high County has had 361 deaths and Le­high County has had 309.

Amongdeath­s statewide, 5,603 or more than 66% have been nurs­ing or per­sonal care home res­i­dents.

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