May. 08, 2020 / Weekly Roundup

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The Weekly Roundup
#Listrak\DateStampLong#  The latest news from the State Capitol
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Reopening PA Safely

Continuing our commitment to address both current COVID-19 challenges and plans for moving the Commonwealth forward, the House was back in session in Harrisburg this week debating several bills to address our response to the pandemic.

  •   Recognizing that testing is the key to moving forward after COVID-19, the House approved House Bill 2455 to require the governor to review statewide COVID-19 testing capacity, and issue a plan to test Pennsylvania’s first responders, health care workers and other vulnerable populations.

The House also recognized the significant impact the virus and subsequent mitigation efforts are having on citizens’ mental health and adopted two bills to better ensure access to care.

  •   House Bill 1439 would require a certification of compliance by an insurer with federal and state law ensuring mental health coverage is equal to medical or surgical benefits.
  •   House Bill 1696 would require insurers to file an annual report with the Insurance Department detailing mental health parity compliance.

In response to the challenges elected officials, news reporters and members of the general public have had in getting answers from the governor and his administration about their COVID-19 response, we passed House Bill 2463 to require state agencies to answer questions and respond to right-to-know requests during emergency declarations.

Finally, the House approved legislation that would prevent economic impact checks being distributed by the federal government from being subject to state or local income taxes.

Additionally, we continued our efforts aimed at safely reopening businesses this week. While the governor has wanted to only open what he perceived as life-sustaining businesses, the criteria for identifying such businesses has not been explained and it also doesn’t take into account the many, many industries that could easily adapt to state and federal guidelines to protect against the spread of COVID-19.

Bills to open real estate (of which PA is reportedly the only state in the nation restricting the industry), hair salons and barbershops, animal groomers, messenger services and more are in various stages of the legislative process. Giving business owners the option of reopening when they can do so safely will help reopen our economy and get people back to work, easing the extreme backlog of approximately 1.7 million unemployment claims. 
Pandemic Unemployment Now Available

The PA Department of Labor & Industry this week announced that the state's Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) system is now fully operational.

Claimants who previously filed their applications for benefits can now visit the site to complete their weekly certification and receive benefits. Over 162,000 claimants with completed applications on file were notified via email that they could now file for benefit payments.

Additionally, the Department has created this helpful guide to walk applicants through the PUA claim filing system. 
COVID-19 Employment Opportunities

Have you lost employment due to COVID-19? The PA Department of Labor & Industry in cooperation with Pennsylvania CareerLink, has launched an online job portal for those seeking employment during these difficult times.

Life-sustaining business throughout the Commonwealth have posted available positions on the job portal to provide opportunities to those affected by coronavirus response measures.

The portal is updated daily, so continue to check back often if you don’t find a position that fits you right away. 
Education in PA: What’s the Plan?

Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera recently stated he was uncertain if the state’s schools would reopen this fall. While parents at home with their kids are doing their best to support their child’s studies, kids are still missing out on a variety of educational and social opportunities. Despite the best efforts of teachers, many school districts were ill-prepared to switch fully to online learning.

I have asked the governor’s office and the Department of Education to contemplate the next steps in getting our state’s children back to the classroom while also considering health and safety standards. As we move cautiously forward, our first priority is to protect the children of the Commonwealth; then we will focus on getting them back to a safe, traditional educational environment.
SNAP Benefits Extended to Students, Families

Federal approval has been granted for the state to provide Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to students who are eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals at school through the National School Lunch Program.

Under the temporary Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program, the state Department of Human Services will issue benefits through EBT cards provided to qualifying families. A family’s benefit will be determined based on the federal reimbursement rate for the daily rate of free school breakfasts and lunches, or approximately $5.70 per child. This benefit will be calculated for the remainder of the school year, leading to an approximate benefit of $370.50 per child if they were receiving free or reduced-price school meals when school closures began.

Benefits will begin to be issued to qualifying families within approximately 15 business days. If a family’s economic situation has changed since school closures began, they can still apply for the National School Lunch Program and, if determined eligible, receive P-EBT benefits.

Families can apply online at Click here for more information.  
DCNR Announces Plan for Reopening State Park, Forest Facilities

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has outlined its plans for a phased reopening of some state park and forest facilities.

  •   Public golf courses at Caledonia and Evansburg state parks and Michaux State Forest, which are operated by private concessions, reopened last Friday, May 1.
  •   At least one restroom in day use areas and in marinas at state parks and forests statewide will be open to the public on May 8 with additional cleaning protocols in place.
  •   All nine marinas in state parks will be open to the public on May 8, or their typical designated opening date.

This is in addition to shoreline mooring sites at all state parks. State park and forest facilities in counties entering the “yellow phase” of mitigation will be open to the public on May 15. This includes offices, campgrounds and the Nature Inn at Bald Eagle. Cabins in these areas will not open until June 12, to allow returning staff the ability to thoroughly clean them and prepare them for use. Campgrounds and cabins in all other state parks will remain closed.

For more details on the phased opening plan, click here. 
PennDOT Further Extends Expiration Dates

Expiration dates for driver licenses, identification cards and learner's permits are being extended again due to the statewide COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Any of these items that are scheduled to expire between March 16 and May 31, 2020, are now extended through June 30, 2020.

You may, however, renew your driver license or identification online anytime at Driver License Centers, Photo License Centers and the Harrisburg Riverfront Office Center remain closed until further notice. For more information about PennDOT actions related to COVID-19, click here.  
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