In This Update:
Senate Approves Bills to Support Safe, Responsible Reopening of Many Employers
As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to decline, it is important for businesses to begin reopening safely and responsibly in a way that protects employees and customers. I supported passage of a package of bills this week that would give county leaders a strong say in the process and allow more industries to operate under strict guidance from state and federal health experts.
One of these bills would give county governments the option to develop and implement individual plans to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Under the bill, counties would have the authority to reopen some industries shuttered by the governor if they can do so safely.
Other bills in the package would authorize waivers for a number of businesses to operate under guidelines that have been proposed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Industries included in the bills are: vehicle dealers, lawn and garden centers, cosmetology salons, barber shops, messenger and agent services, animal grooming services, manufacturing operations, legal services and real estate sales activities, as well as the sale of prepared beverages and mixed drinks for off-premise consumption.
The package of bills would bring back 200,000 jobs across the state.
It is disappointing that as more counties and businesses move forward with plans to safely reopen, Governor Wolf has issued threats against these entities instead of offering support and guidance. I joined several of my colleagues at a news conference this week in support of businesses that are being threatened and controlled by the governor. Video of our press conference is available below.
PA Senate COVID-19 Hearings Explore Impacts on Education, Transportation and Safety
This week, Senate committees continued to examine the Wolf Administration’s response to COVID-19 in regards to education and transportation, as well as the ability to protect vulnerable populations while reopening various industries throughout the state.
The Senate Local Government Committee and the Senate Aging and Youth Committee, which I chair, held a joint hearing on Wednesday to hear testimony from medical experts and county officials about how to protect older Pennsylvanians and others at the highest risk from COVID-19 as counties begin the process of reopening.
During the hearing, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s (UPMC) Chief Medical and Scientific Officer and Chair of Emergency Medicine both testified that it is safe for many businesses to reopen, so long as they can follow state and federal safety guidelines and special precautions are taken to protect vulnerable populations. The full hearing is available in the video below.
A hearing of the Senate Education Committee on Monday focused on continuity of education for young people during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the path forward for schools to reopen in the fall. Video and Testimony
On Tuesday, the Senate Transportation Committee explored the impact of the COVID-19 shutdown on transportation projects, as well as the cost of the shutdown to taxpayers. Video and Testimony
After Senate Hearing, Department of Health Reverses Course on Nursing Home Testing
As Chair of the Senate Aging and Youth Committee, I hosted a Senate hearing last week that uncovered gross inadequacies in the Wolf Administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic as it pertains to care in nursing homes. To date, more than two-thirds of all COVID-19 deaths in the state have been residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. In response to this hearing, the Department of Health announced this week that it would ramp up testing of staff and residents of long-term care facilities.
While the Department of Health’s new emphasis on protecting residents and staff of these facilities is a step in the right direction, more work remains to be done to ensure they get the resources and supplies they need.
New Funding Provided to Long-term Care Facilities, First Responders
Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have been a hotbed of activity for COVID-19, and a Senate hearing last week found that these organizations have not been prioritized by the Wolf Administration for testing and Personal Protective Equipment. I voted this week on a bill that would provide critical financial support to long-term care facilities, as well as first responders who risk exposure to the virus every day.
The bill would dedicate an additional $507 million to nursing homes and other facilities and programs serving seniors. In addition, a new grant program totaling $31 million would be created to provide a one-time funding boost to fire and EMS companies during the pandemic. The money would come from Pennsylvania’s share of funding from the federal CARES Act.
PennDOT Driver Licenses and Photo IDs Can Use Existing Photos
In order to limit the number of people who must visit PennDOT Photo License Centers, the department recently announced that they will use existing photos on file for customers who renew driver licenses and photo ID cards. All customers who renew their driver’s license or photo ID card online or through the mail will receive a new product using the most recent photo of that individual that exists in PennDOT’s system.
Individuals who completed a renewal form prior to May 10 will still receive a camera card in the mail and will need to have an updated photo taken. A list of PennDOT office locations that have been reopened is available at www.dmv.pa.gov.
Additional Federal Funding Available for Schools
Local education agencies can apply now for a share of $523.8 million in one-time emergency funds from the federal government to help schools respond to the COVID-19 crisis. The funding can be used for food service, professional training, technology purchases, sanitization and cleaning supplies, summer and after-school programs and mental health supports.
More information and applications are available here.