In This Update:
Disaster Declaration Extended
Yesterday, Governor Wolf decided to extend his disaster declaration another 90 days without approval of the General Assembly. Now more than ever we need to restore checks and balances in the Commonwealth by passing SR 323. I am a co-sponsor of this resolution and firmly believe we MUST vote to end this disaster declaration.
CARES Act Package Supports Education at All Levels
As part of a package of bills approved by the Senate and signed into law last week, additional funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act will support all levels of education from early childhood through college.
A new $150 million grant program will help school districts reopen safely in the fall by supporting training, equipment purchases and services to minimize the risk of infection. Some of the eligible uses for the grants will include health monitoring equipment, sanitation, personal protective equipment, educational technology for distance learning and other health and safety programs.
The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency will receive more than $42 million, including $30 million for state grants. An additional $30 million will support the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education with costs incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Pennsylvania Department of Education will also receive an additional $7 million for Pre-K Counts and $2 million for Head Start. More information on passage of the CARES Act funding and the interim state budget that funds education for the entire 2020-21 school year is available here.
Preliminary Guidelines Set for Students to Return to School
The Pennsylvania Department of Education announced new guidelines this week for elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools to reopen in the near future. K-12 schools can begin reopening as early as July, and colleges, trade schools and other post-secondary schools can begin offering classes again as soon as Friday (June 5).
Schools will be required to develop health and safety plans that reflect the unique needs of local districts, including steps to protect students and staff at higher risk of severe illness, training for staff and faculty, monitoring students and staff for symptoms, developing policies and hygiene practices to protect against infection, and ensuring proper distancing of desks and seating.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has also offered interim guidance for schools and child care to open safely.
Reminder: Be Vigilant of Fraudulent Unemployment Checks and Payments
The Department of Labor and Industry recently uncovered thousands of cases of fraud in which scammers were filing for unemployment benefits under another person’s name and having payments deposited into their own accounts.
State residents who receive an erroneous or fraudulent check should immediately write “void” on the front of the check and email a photo of the complete front and back of the check to firstname.lastname@example.org. The paper check should be returned to the Pennsylvania Treasury at the address below, or destroyed if the recipient is unable to mail it back:
Pennsylvania Treasury Department
If a Pennsylvanian receives a PUA direct deposit payment in error, they should contact their financial institution to request a Refuse Credit of Deposit. If they are unable to complete a Refuse Credit of Deposit, recipients should write a personal check, cashier’s check, certified check or money order payable to the “PA UC Fund” with a brief statement to explain why they are sending the payment to the address below:
Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry
Guidance Available for Parents With Children Returning to Child Care
As the governor’s COVID-19 restrictions begin to ease and more Pennsylvanians prepare to get back to work, new guidance is available for parents with children who will be returning to child care facilities.
All facilities are required to follow guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control specifically for child care centers. Under the guidance, all staff are required to wear masks, but children and youth are not required to do so. Masks are encouraged, but not required, for older youth in indoor or crowded settings. Additional requirements are also included for health screenings, sanitation, and notification if any staff member or child tests positive for COVID-19.
If you or someone you know is heading back to work and needs help finding child care options, help is available here.
2020 Census is Happening Now
Beginning on August 11, census takers will begin visiting all households that have not responded to the 2020 Census. If you have not already completed the 2020 Census, it is not too late to complete the questionnaire and ensure local communities receive our fair share of federal funding and are properly represented at all levels of government.
More information about how to complete the 2020 Census online, by phone or by mail is available here. Information is also available online about national, state and county census response rates. Pennsylvania is ahead of the national average, but still approximately 7 percent behind the statewide response rate in 2010.
New Scam Targets WIC Recipients
Pennsylvanians who receive benefits from the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program have been targeted recently by scammers claiming to need banking information in order to deposit funds. It is important to remember to never disclose personal information over the phone without verifying the identity of the caller.
Recipients should contact their local WIC office if they have any questions about whether a request is legitimate. Any state resident who is targeted by similar schemes should also report the fraudulent activity to local law enforcement and file a complaint with the Attorney General online, by email at email@example.com or by calling 800-441-2555.
New Funding Supports Families, Small Businesses, Nursing Homes, First Responders and More
Last week, the General Assembly approved a bipartisan package of bills to deliver funding to families and organizations impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including small businesses, nursing homes, first responders and affected employees. The funding comes from a portion of Pennsylvania’s share of money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Approximately two-thirds of all COVID-19 deaths in the state have been residents of nursing homes and other long-term living facilities. More than $690 million in the package is dedicated to increased testing, infection control, personal protective equipment and other measures to support residents and staff.
An additional $225 million is directed to help small business recover from the damages caused by the pandemic and the governor’s shutdown orders. A portion of new funding directed to counties can be used for small business assistance as well.
The CARES package also provides important assistance to low- and middle–income families by investing $175 million through the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency to provide rent and mortgage assistance. The program would provide monthly mortgage assistance, up to $1,000, and rent assistance, up to $750, to those who lost their job or experienced a 30 percent or more loss in pay as a result of the coronavirus.
In addition, a new $50 million COVID-19 Crisis Fire Company and Emergency Medical Services Grant Program would be created to provide grants to all companies that received funding through the Fire Company Grant Program and Emergency Medical Services Grant Program in January. Companies that received a grant will automatically receive the additional money, while companies that did not receive a grant will need to submit an application to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.
Senate leaders offered more information on these and other programs funded by the CARES Act at a news conference last week.
More Counties Moving to Green Phase of Reopening
The first 18 counties in the state moved to the green phase of reopening on Friday, and 16 more will join them on June 5. The green phase of reopening allows all businesses to conduct in-person operations as long as the businesses follow guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Counties that already entered the green phase last Friday are: Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Crawford, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, McKean, Montour, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Venango and Warren.
Counties moving to the green phase on June 5 are: Allegheny, Armstrong, Bedford, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Clinton, Fayette, Fulton, Greene, Indiana, Lycoming, Mercer, Somerset, Washington and Westmoreland.
All other counties that are not already in the yellow phase will move to that phase on June 5.
Wolf Vetoes Bill to Protect Small Businesses, Election Integrity
While Governor Wolf was signing bills the Senate passed to create an interim budget and distribute additional federal money to vital community needs, he vetoed a bill that would have prevented state government from retaliating against small businesses who reopened with new safety measures before the governor felt it was safe to do so.
The bill would have protected small businesses from being cited or having their license revoked solely from violating the governor’s arbitrary, inconsistent shutdown orders.
The legislation also would have required the Department of State to submit a comprehensive report about the 2020 primary election, including a critical review of the new mail-in ballot system that was implemented this year.
Although the veto of this commonsense plan is extremely frustrating and disappointing, I will continue to fight to ensure more businesses can open safely under the guidance of state and national health experts as soon as possible.
New Guidance Available for Liquor Licensees
As more counties move to the green phase of reopening, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board recently provided new guidance for businesses with a liquor license in these areas. The guidance includes information on indoor seating, outdoor seating and social distancing, as well as information for breweries, distilleries and wineries.
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