May. 22, 2020 / Weekly Roundup

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The Weekly Roundup
#Listrak\DateStampLong#  The latest news from the State Capitol
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Busy Session Week as House Continues to Advance Policies to Reopen PA

Recognizing the growing strain on our families, communities and the economy, the House returned to session this week to continue our fight for the future of our state. While the governor has again chosen to veto some of our efforts rather than work with us, as your elected representative, it is important I continue to help advance policies that reflect your voices. I hear from so many of you about the struggles and frustrations you are facing as a result of this pandemic and prolonged mitigation efforts. We recognize the harm being done, and we are fighting for you.

Following is a quick rundown of this week’s session.

To help our struggling restaurants, bars and clubs, we passed bills that would authorize these business owners to allow outdoor seating (House Bill 2506) and indoor seating (House Bill 2513) to resume in areas of the state in the yellow or green phases of mitigation. Certain safety guidelines would have to be met. These bills go to the Senate for consideration. In related news, House Bill 327, which would allow the sale of cocktails to go, was signed into law as Act 21 of 2020

We passed House Resolution 867 to set up a special committee of the House to examine various aspects of the state’s response to the COVID-19 public health emergency and make recommendations regarding issues of importance and long-term recovery. A final report of the committee’s activities, findings and recommendations would be due by Nov. 19.

To further aid in assessment of the COVID-19 disaster response, House Bill 2505 would require the administration to retain relevant records for 10 years after the end of the emergency order. The bill goes to the Senate for consideration.

Additionally, House Bill 2517 would require a waiver to allow residential cleaning services to resume operations during the COVID-19 emergency, provided the follow social distancing and other health and safety guidelines. This bill also goes to the Senate.  

House Attempts to Override Governor’s Veto of Plans to Reopen PA Safely
A day after Gov. Tom Wolf opted to veto three measures we championed to help provide more options to reopen the state, the House attempted an override vote on one of the bills. House Bill 2388 would have allowed the following types of businesses to reopen: vehicle dealerships, lawn and garden centers, cosmetology salons and barber shops, messenger services, animal grooming services and manufacturing operations.

Unfortunately, the vote that could have allowed people to get back to work and support themselves and their families failed to garner the two-thirds majority required. The vote was 115-87, 21 votes shy of the 136 votes required under the Constitution to override a veto.

Ironically, another bill the governor vetoed (House Bill 2412) would have helped reopen real estate services in the Commonwealth. Shortly after he announced the vetoes, the governor released new guidance to allow real estate to resume statewide anyway.

This is not the first time the governor has acted in response to actions of the House. The same occurred with the construction industry, online vehicle sales, reopening plans and more. We are helping to drive the agenda toward reopening and will continue to do so.

The third veto was to Senate Bill 327, which would have (among other things) given county officials the ability to develop their own emergency mitigation plans for business. 
 
 
Long-Term Care Data Release Illustrates Need for Senior Protection Act

This week, we sent a bill to the Senate to help stop the tragic COVID-19 death rate occurring at the state’s nursing home facilities, personal care homes and assisted living residences.

The Senior Protection Act (House Bill 2510) is a bipartisan initiative that aims to use regional health system collaboratives to better manage personnel, protocols, testing and expenditures to protect our vulnerable senior citizens who live in these facilities. The legislation was developed with the help of medical experts at UPMC with the goal of saving lives and giving families whose loved ones reside in these facilities peace of mind.

The urgent need for this legislation is well illustrated by the administration’s long-awaited release of data specific to each of the state’s long-term care facilities, available here. More than 3,000 of the state’s COVID-19 deaths – nearly 70% of the state’s fatalities – have occurred among these residents. This is unacceptable.

The bill now goes to the Senate. 
 
 
 
Early Distribution of Property Tax/Rent Rebate Funds Underway for Seniors, People with Disabilities

Legislation advanced by the House Republican Caucus that will allow qualified recipients of Property Tax/Rent Rebate assistance to start receiving their funds sooner has been signed into law by the governor.

Distribution of the rebates is now underway for those who have already filed for the rebate through the Department of Revenue; typically, distribution does not begin until July 1. People who qualify but have not yet applied for their rebates have until Dec. 31 to do so.

The program, which is funded by the Pennsylvania Lottery, provides property tax or rent assistance to seniors age 65 and over, widows or widowers age 55, and over and people with disabilities age 18 and over who meet program income guidelines.

My offices are available to assist with your application at no charge. For more information or to apply for the 2019 program year, click here.  
 
 
 
Unemployment Claims Exceed 2 Million, Extended Benefits Available

Well over 2.1 million Pennsylvanians – approximately one-third of the state’s entire workforce – have now filed for unemployment benefits, either through traditional unemployment or the special unemployment program for self-employed, independent contractors and gig workers.

While lawmakers work to help get our citizens back to work safely, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry this week launched the state’s Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program to provide an additional 13 weeks of benefits to people who have exhausted their regular unemployment compensation. The extended benefits were authorized in the federal CARES Act.

The department reports it has paid out nearly $7.4 billion in total unemployment benefits since mid-March.

A person is eligible for the extended benefits if they are unemployed between March 29 through Dec. 26, 2020; have exhausted regular state or federal benefits with the week ending July 6, 2019, or later; are currently not eligible for state or federal unemployment benefits; and are able and available to work and actively seeking work, except for COVID-19-related reasons including illness, quarantine or “stay-at-home” orders.

Important information about the extended benefits program has been emailed or mailed via the United States Postal Service to all individuals who potentially qualify for PEUC. For more information about this program, click here.

For complete information and the latest updates about unemployment, click here. 
 
      
Assistance Programs Available to Low-Income Families

The Department of Human Services (DHS) is reminding residents of assistance programs that may be available to them as they deal with COVID-19 and its impacts. Among the initiatives are the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance (LIHEAP) Recovery Crisis Program to help with residents at risk of losing access to electricity, natural gas or deliverable fuels; the Emergency Assistance Program to provide a one-time cash benefit to families who have experienced a significant income reduction or complete job loss; and the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer Program to help feed children while schools are closed. To learn more, click here.
   
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