Senator Ward, J E-Newsletter

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Senate Approves a Better Process for COVID-19 Mitigation

For weeks, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have given Governor Wolf significant leeway as he pursued various mitigation plans to prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

This virus poses serious risks to the health and safety of Pennsylvanians, and we strongly believe that mitigation measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 must remain a big part of our strategy going forward.

However, it should be apparent to everyone that several actions taken by the Wolf Administration have been clearly ill-considered and damaging to the Commonwealth.

Every business is life-sustaining to someone – whether employers or employees.

The governor’s waiver process for employers that wanted to stay open was an unmitigated disaster: no clarity, no consistency, no transparency and no accountability. The system is completely broken, and Governor Wolf has offered no indication about how he plans to fix it, or if he’s even capable of doing so.

We must fix this broken system before many of these jobs disappear for good. We can do that by allowing local officials to assess their community and ensure the proper protections are in place.

We need a path forward that continues to protect the lives of vulnerable Pennsylvanians without sacrificing the livelihoods of more than a million workers.

We need to create a process that is fair and transparent, that truly protects the health of state residents and mitigates the spread of this virus.

Governor Wolf’s decision to partner with other governors in the northeast to open our local employers on a shared schedule is very troubling. When making critical decisions about when businesses can operate safely, New York and New Jersey should not have a stronger say than local business leaders and PA elected officials.

The governor has not been fair or transparent about the decisions he is making, and workers are suffering as a result.

He has refused to provide a clear answer to critical questions, such as:

  • Why his guidance has differed from the CDC or CISA standards.
  • Why his standards differ from decisions made by his friends in New York and New Jersey.
  • When employers can reasonable expect to re-open.
  • What benchmarks need to be reached in order for us to move forward.
  • Why some businesses that were deemed life-sustaining were allowed to remain open without safety measures in place.

The governor’s arbitrary decisions about what businesses are essential has resulted in a quarter of the state’s working population being unemployed, leaving the state’s Unemployment Compensation system severely overwhelmed.

As a result, hundreds of thousands of displaced workers are struggling for hours on end to file claims, and tens of thousands more who are self-employed don’t even have a way to file for new federal benefits that were approved recently by Congress. 

SB 613 and SB 327:  A Better Path Forward and Local Control

The bills approved by the Senate today would create a better process for determining which businesses can reopen or continue to remain open, provide clarity on mitigation strategies necessary to protect the health and safety of both customers and employees, and give county leaders a stronger voice in which mitigation measures should be implemented locally.

Senate Bill 613 would require the governor to create clear guidelines for businesses to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses that are able to operate safely under the new guidelines would be permitted to re-open as long as they comply with mitigation strategies.

The bill would require COVID-19 mitigation plans to be developed by the Wolf Administration based on guidelines issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia follow CISA guidelines.

To restore local control, Senate Bill 327 would give county governments the option to develop and implement their own plans to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, following CISA guidelines. Under the bill, businesses already identified as essential could continue to operate. However, counties would also be given the authority to develop plans to allow other industries to operate if it is safe to do so.

The bill also creates a COVID-19 Cost and Recovery Task Force made up of representatives of all three branches of government to identify and address issues related to the COVID-19 public health emergency together. The panel would be responsible for developing a recovery plan to restore public services and economic activity when it is safe to do so.

These bills should not be misconstrued as an attempt to put profits over people. It is a recognition that counties should be able to make decisions for the people they represent with the proper guidance of health officials – not businesses being shuttered at the governor’s whims. I spent much of my adult life working to protect the lives of patients as a nurse, so I fully understand the need to mitigate the spread of this virus. I also understand that we need a better way forward that addresses the needs and realities of our local communities so businesses that can operate safely and responsible can be allowed to do so.

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