In This Update:
Update on Audit Details Glaring Inconsistencies in Governor’s Business Waiver System
At the request of state lawmakers and business owners throughout the state, the Pennsylvania Auditor General is taking a closer look at Governor Wolf’s deeply flawed waiver system that determined which businesses were forced to remain shuttered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the audit is still ongoing, a status update that was released by the Auditor General this week detailed glaring inconsistencies in the way the waiver system was handled.
According to the Auditor General, “The waiver program appeared to be a subjective process built on shifting sands of changing guidance, which led to significant confusion among business owners.”
The update also noted that the waiver system was “remarkably subjective,” and in many cases the approval or denial of applications depended heavily on the individual reviewing the application. Approximately 500 businesses received responses that were later reversed by the Department of Community and Economic Development, including 171 waiver applicants that were initially denied and forced to remain closed longer than necessary before finally receiving approval to reopen.
I will provide further updates on this issue when the audit is completed.
Expanded Indoor and Outdoor Gathering Limits Announced
A federal judge ruled last month that the Wolf Administration’s limits on gatherings were unconstitutional. However, a federal court ruled last week that the limitations should remain in place while the governor pursues an appeal.
While these issues are resolved in court, the Wolf Administration updated its guidance on gatherings this week to allow for greater attendance at events that are held at larger venues. The new gathering limits are based on the occupancy limits of the venue.
Senate leaders repeated concerns about Governor Wolf’s go-it-alone approach to most aspects of the state’s response to the pandemic and called for greater clarity and local decision-making power for schools and communities who are best positioned to protect their students and neighbors.
Legislation to Crack Down on Child Pornography Earns Senate Approval
Legislation was approved in the Senate this week to strengthen penalties for the heinous crime of child pornography and create a new task force to help prevent children from being victimized in the future. The legislation would boost penalties in all cases of child pornography in which the child is under the age of 10 or prepubescent.
In addition, the bill would create a special Task Force on Child Pornography to review all laws pertaining to child pornography and make recommendations to improve the investigation and prosecution of offenders to ensure the perpetrators of these crimes are held accountable for the tremendous damages they cause.
Key Health Care Bills Move Forward in the Senate
The Senate approved two bills this week to protect access to health care coverage and services in Pennsylvania communities. The bills would ensure employees with disabilities can continue to work without the risk of losing access to health care benefits and allow temporary nurse aides hired during the COVID-19 emergency declaration to receive certification to continue working.
Grants Available for Environmental Education Projects
Youth and adult environmental education projects may be eligible for grant funding from the state Department of Environmental Protection. Schools, colleges, nonprofit community and environmental organizations, county conservation districts and businesses are encouraged to apply for Environmental Education Grants by December 11.
A special webinar is scheduled for October 14 from 1 p.m. until 2:30 p.m. to provide additional information on how to apply. Registration is required. Registration and more details are available here.
Motorcycle Safety Courses Resume
Pennsylvania Motorcycle Safety Program classes are set to resume statewide through the end of the year with new safety measures in place to protect against COVID-19. The classes are free to Pennsylvania motorcycle permit and license holders. Completing the basic or intermediate course waives the requirement for a permit holder to complete the skills test at a PennDOT Driver License Center.
A list of locations and training providers is available online, and virtual training is also available for individuals under the age of 18.
REMINDER: Mental Health Resources Available for Pennsylvanians in Need
Pennsylvanians who are struggling with mental health issues can find help through a variety of different avenues. If you or someone you know are experiencing a mental health crisis, help is available by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or by texting “PA” to the Mental Health Crisis Text Line at 741741.
Pennsylvania residents can also call the PA Support & Referral Helpline at 1-855-284-2494. More information on mental health resources is available here.
New Scam Targets SNAP Assistance Program
Community residents should be aware of a new scam involving the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The scam involves text messages telling the recipient that they have been selected to receive assistance through SNAP and requesting personal information that is later used to commit fraud.
Government agencies do not solicit participation in assistance programs like SNAP through text messages. If you ever have a question about whether a call, text, letter or other communication is legitimate, questions can be directed to the Statewide Customer Service Center at 1-877-395-8930.
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