In This Update:
COVID-19 Relief Bill Signed into Law
Last week, the Senate and the House of Representatives gave final approval to a bill that would provide financial relief for restaurants, schools, employers, and tenants impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The $912 million package allocates $569.8 million for Rental and Utility Assistance and $197 million for education programs through the use of federal funding, as well as $145 million in state funds to support Pennsylvania’s struggling hospitality industry.
Much of the funding in the COVID-19 relief package is targeted to individuals, employers and institutions that have not benefited from previous pandemic support programs.
The bill, which drew bipartisan support, was signed into law as Act 1 of 2021 last week. Guidelines on how to receive funding for rental and utility assistance, education funding and grants for restaurants and hospitality businesses are expected to be available in the weeks ahead.
Furthermore, in an effort to support Pennsylvania’s struggling hospitality industry as it copes with the devastation created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Governor’s mandated closings and restrictions, I have also sponsored my own package of bills aimed at providing the industry with both immediate and long-term relief.
Read my full press release on the COVID-19 relief bill here.
Senator Aument Appointed to Joint COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force
Earlier this week, I was chosen to be one of four members of the General Assembly to serve on a COVID-19 Vaccine Joint Task Force. This position will give me the opportunity to have conversations with members across the aisle, communicate, share ideas, solicit feedback, and work in a bipartisan way to provide oversight for Pennsylvania’s vaccine rollout.
From the outset of this pandemic, I have been calling on the Wolf Administration to collaborate and more effectively share critical information with members of the General Assembly. I am pleased that the Administration is taking steps to improve bipartisan collaboration and communication through this Joint Task Force, and I am humbled to be able to serve as a conduit for information to my colleagues in the Senate and my constituents in the 36th Senatorial District who rightfully have many pressing questions about the state’s vaccine rollout.
There is no doubt that Pennsylvania’s vaccination plan has thus far lagged behind that of many other states. The citizens of this Commonwealth expect results, not partisan infighting that blocks progress. As such, I look forward to working with my colleagues through this collaborative approach to address the challenges in distributing the vaccine in an efficient, effective, and equitable manner to any Pennsylvanian that wants it.
More information on the Joint COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force can be found here.
ICYMI: Senator Aument Hosts Facebook Live Town Hall
Last week, I hosted a Facebook Live Town Hall event where I answered questions and gathered feedback from community residents on a variety of issues, including Governor Wolf’s proposed 2021-22 state budget, my legislative priorities for the upcoming year, education funding, reopening and restoring Pennsylvania’s economy, term limits, and more.
For those who were unable to tune in to the discussion live, a video recording from the event can be viewed above or on my Facebook page here. Additionally, you can submit written comments to me regarding the 2021-22 state budget or any other issue which is important to you here.
My next Facebook Live Town Hall event will be held Wednesday, March 10 at 4:30pm. I look forward to the conversation!
Hearing Explores Serious Shortcomings in PA Vaccine Rollout
The Wolf Administration’s slow and troubled roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine has raised many questions from Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike. The Senate Health and Human Services Committee and the Senate Aging and Youth Committee held a public hearing last week to take a closer look at these issues and learn about the challenges in getting the vaccine to eligible Pennsylvanians who want to receive it.
The hearing covered a wide range of issues, but the struggles of long-term care facilities to vaccinate residents and staff was the most prominent area of discussion. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control data tracker, Pennsylvania ranks 41st in the percentage of received COVID-19 vaccines administered.
In response to many of the issues raised during the hearing, Governor Wolf recently announced the creation of a new COVID-19 Vaccine Joint Task Force to ensure more accurate and timely information sharing between the Executive and Legislative branches of government.
Constitutional Amendment Limiting Emergency Declarations to be Decided by Voters
Voters in the May 18 primary election will decide whether future emergency declarations should be limited to 21 days unless an extension is approved by the General Assembly. The question will appear on the ballot this spring after the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the proposed constitutional amendment in two consecutive legislative sessions.
The change would prevent the kind of situation we have seen during the COVID-19 emergency, in which the governor has used the emergency declaration to suspend laws, shut down businesses and spend money without the authorization of the General Assembly.
The bill would not impact a governor’s ability to respond quickly to emergencies, nor would it jeopardize federal emergency aid. It would only ensure that the governor and the General Assembly work together to respond to a crisis and ensure all Pennsylvanians are represented during an extended state of emergency.
The bill also provides for a constitutional amendment prohibiting the denial of equal rights based on race or ethnicity, bringing the Pennsylvania Constitution in line with the U.S. Constitution.
Watch a video explaining my support for this measure here.
Lawmakers Receive Update on PASSHE Redesign Efforts
The General Assembly approved a bill last year that allows the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) to modernize its operations in the face of declining enrollment and new financial pressures. The Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Education Committee held a public hearing with PASSHE Chancellor Dan Greenstein this week to discuss changes to the system, including integrating several universities and leveraging their collective strengths to boost career readiness for system graduates.
PASSHE is expected to present its system redesign proposal in April of this year, to be followed by a public comment period and phased implementation set for fall of 2022. The changes are expected to include uniting several universities within geographic regions, while keeping all campuses open, retaining programs and accreditation for students, and expanding learning opportunities for students.
HuntFishPA Platform Aims to Make Licensing More Convenient
Hunters, anglers and boaters will have a new way to purchase licenses, report harvests and more with the launch of the new HuntFishPA licensing platform. Visitors to www.HuntFish.pa.gov can purchase hunting and fishing licenses, permits, boat renewals and more from any device at any time and benefit from 24/7 call center support and new instructional videos.
The new platform replaces the previous licensing system known as The Outdoor Shop. All profile, purchase and user information was transferred to the new system, so prior users should be able to log in using their existing credentials.
PennDOT Offices CLOSED for Presidents Day Holiday
Please be aware that the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) has announced that all driver license and photo centers will be closed Saturday, February 13, through Monday, February 15, for the Presidents Day holiday. More information here.
Provide Your Input – Respond to This Week’s Survey Question
Some residents of the 36th Senatorial District are anxiously awaiting their turn to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, while others have expressed hesitation. To help me better understand the perspectives of my constituents, please respond to the following poll questions regarding the COVID-19 vaccine.
Have you received the COVID-19 vaccine?