Apr. 23, 2020 / Weekly Roundup

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

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 setting May 8 as a target date to partially resume private construction and possibly start lifting stay-at-home orders in areas of the state with minimal COVID-19 cases.

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. These efforts also made a difference, as the governor announced Wednesday evening he would now allow the reopening of ALL construction on May 1. This is an industry that has continued to operate without interruption in the vast majority of other states because it is important work but also because it is an industry that can easily comply with CDC guidelines.

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 that would allow a retail business staffed by one employee to open for business as long as it let only one customer into the store at a time. The so-called One Staffer/One Shopper bill is designed to enable shoppers to visit smaller 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.
 
 
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.  
  
 
 
Strengthening the Food Supply Chain

While plenty of food is being produced on our farms, we have identified several issues within the food supply chain that could impact the ability of producers to get their products to consumers. Already, dairy farmers have been forced to dump milk, chickens have been euthanized due to lack of processing capacity and vegetables have been left to rot in the fields.

At a time when many Pennsylvanians find themselves unemployed and struggling to put food on their tables, we cannot afford to let food go to waste. That’s why I joined with House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler of Lancaster County and other colleagues in calling on the governor and secretary of Agriculture to take several actions to help ensure the continuity of our food supply chain.

The recommendations include testing and health screening of workers at processing plants, as well as reliable access to personal protective equipment to protect the health and safety of employees and maintain processing capacity to meet consumer needs; communicate regularly with producers to assess current production capacity rates; and use the newly created Pennsylvania Manufacturing Call to Action Portal to help supply smaller, consumer-sized packaging for processors. The closures of schools and restaurants means lower demand products packaged in bulk and greater demand for smaller cans, cartons and other packaging materials.

Our food supply is healthy and reliable, but we want to work proactively to ensure the supply chain remains unbroken so we ensure consumers get the goods they need.
 
 
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 administration has launched an online portal for individuals, corporations and community organizations to outline any critical medical supplies available for donation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Supplies needed most include surgical/procedure masks; form-fitting respirators (ex. N95/N99); face masks with integrated shield; medical grade alcohol-based hand sanitizer; aprons; protective gloves; protective goggles; isolation gowns; protective suits; and sanitizing
wipes. Details and specifications required for any donated materials are available here from the Department of Health.  To visit the new critical supply donation portal, 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.  

To give students and families more flexibility during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency is extending the May 1 PA State Grant application deadline by two weeks to May 15 for the 2020-21 Academic Year. To apply for a PA State Grant, applicants must first complete the 2020-21 FAFSA® (Free Application for Federal Student Aid). Applicants can access this form online at www.pheaa.org/fafsa or www.fafsa.gov. The following browsers have been certified for use with the online FAFSA form: Mozilla Firefox (Version 68 and above), Apple Safari (Version 9 and above) and Google Chrome (Version 76 and above).

The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Tourism Office is encouraging Pennsylvanians to support local restaurants by visiting the CarryoutPA website, which offers a comprehensive list of restaurants offering takeout, curbside or delivery services during the state’s stay-at-home order. CarryoutPA.com was developed by the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association to serve as a go-to resource for dine-out options in support of the Commonwealth’s restaurant industry, which accounts for 10% of jobs statewide. Pennsylvania restaurants that would like to be added to the registry can register at CarryoutPA.com.
 
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Email: dheffley@pahousegop.com
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