In This Update:
COVID-19 Restrictions Relaxed on Businesses, Gatherings
After weeks of dedicated advocacy from lawmakers, employers and employees, Governor Wolf finally announced that several restrictions on businesses and gatherings would be relaxed effective April 4. Some of the changes include:
In addition, occupancy limits will be increased to 25 percent for indoor venues and 50 percent for outdoor venues, regardless of size.
Although this is positive news for industries impacted by Governor Wolf’s unilateral orders and restrictions, the fact that these restrictions are still in place today speaks to the dangers of allowing one branch of government to control all the power during an extended emergency declaration. Lawmakers approved potential amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution that would give the people a stronger voice in emergency response through their elected officials. An explanation of the amendments – and how Governor Wolf is working to sabotage them – is available in this editorial.
New Package of Bills Seeks to Prioritize Pennsylvania Small Businesses
Many smaller employers have been devastated by Governor Wolf’s business closures and ongoing restrictions over the past year – and many more could be impacted by the proposed tax hikes in the governor’s budget. As business owners struggled through the past year, their employees were also forced to get by with smaller paychecks or were thrust into an Unemployment Compensation system that was unable to handle the increased volume.
In order to help these small businesses and their employees recover and thrive in the years ahead, I recently joined with my colleagues to introduce the Prioritize PA: Small Businesses initiative. The package of bills includes immediate financial assistance, tax reforms and regulatory relief to reduce burdens on small employers.
My colleagues and I hosted a news conference this week to focus on how these bills could create a stronger environment for job growth in the future. Highlights from this event are available in the video above.
Senate Continues Bipartisan Review of Election Issues Next Week
The Special Committee on Election Integrity and Reform will continue its comprehensive review of the 2020 General Election with a hearing on Tuesday at 10 a.m. The hearing will include testimony from the Pennsylvania Department of State, local election officials and county officials to gather state and local insight on the administration of the election.
The committee held its first meeting on Monday to review best practices of election integrity and security from other states. State residents are encouraged to submit their thoughts and comments through the online form.
Updated Guidance on Visitation in Skilled Nursing Facilities
The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) recently issued updated guidance regarding visitation in nursing homes. The revised visitation guidance reflects the positive impact that COVID-19 vaccinations are having on residents and staff in those facilities.
The updated guidelines provide that skilled nursing facilities should allow responsible indoor visitation at all times and for all residents, regardless of vaccination status of the resident, or visitor, unless certain scenarios arise. The updated guidance also speaks to outdoor visits, indoor visitations during an outbreak, visitor testing and vaccination policies, compassionate care visits, access to the Long-Term Care Ombudsman, and other items.
Lancaster County Community Vaccination Center Expands Call Center Hours
The Lancaster County Community Vaccination Center announced this week that it has expanded its call center hours to accommodate increasing demand from the community.
The COVID-19 vaccination registration and scheduling call center is now staffed 10 hours a day during the week and will offer new Saturday hours beginning March 27. The call center is now open during the following hours: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Effective March 27, the call center will also be open Saturdays, from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Individuals can register for a future appointment online at VaccinateLancaster.org. Click on “Lancaster Co. Community Vaccination Center” and then click on “Register for a Vaccination Appointment.”
The call center is available for those with limited Internet access or other barriers to online registration. Individuals seeking a first-dose vaccine appointment may call 717-588-1020. Those seeking a second-dose vaccine should call 717-588-1026.
For more information on the expansion of call center hours, click here.
Budget Hearings Continue with Discussion on Education
The Senate Appropriations Committee’s series of hearings on Governor Wolf’s budget proposal continued this week with a discussion regarding the future of education in Pennsylvania with the Department of Education and representatives from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education.
Some of the topics of discussion included the importance of returning students to in-person instruction safely, the need for schools to use federal stimulus funding prudently, and redesigning PASSHE to provide a quality education to students at an affordable price. Key Points
Budget hearings will continue Monday, March 21, with the Department of Corrections and Board of Probation and Parole at 10 a.m. and the Department of Community and Economic Development at 2 p.m. The hearings will be streamed live at www.PASenateGOP.com.
Senate Approves Bill to Open Career Opportunities for Individuals in Recovery
Individuals in recovery for substance use disorders could stand a better chance of breaking the cycle of addiction by maintaining meaningful employment under a bill approved by the Senate on Wednesday. The bill would create a Recovery to Work pilot program to connect individuals suffering from substance use disorders with high-priority occupations.
The pilot program would allow state agencies to work with local workforce development boards, treatment and recovery providers and employers to find job training and employment opportunities for individuals in recovery.
Unemployment Compensation Programs Extended
The federal government recently extended all Unemployment Compensation programs, including the additional $300 weekly Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payments, through September 6. The maximum number of weeks of eligibility for the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program was also extended from 24 weeks to 53 weeks, and the maximum number of weeks of eligibility for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance is extended from 50 weeks to 79 weeks.
In addition, up to $10,200 of unemployment benefits for an individual (or $20,400 for a couple, if both members received unemployment benefits) will not be considered federal taxable income in 2020, assuming the individual or couple earned less than $150,000 in adjusted gross income for the year.
World Down Syndrome Day is March 21
March 21 is designated as World Down Syndrome Day by numerous states and countries in recognition of the incredible achievements of the individuals living with this condition. Each person with Down syndrome has different talents, abilities and needs – and that makes every person living with this condition special and unique.
More information on World Down Syndrome Day is available here.
PA Extends Tax Filing Deadline to May 17, 2021
The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue announced earlier this week that the deadline for taxpayers to file their 2020 Pennsylvania personal income tax returns and make final 2020 income tax payments is extended to May 17, 2021. This means taxpayers will have an additional month to file from the original deadline of April 15. The Internal Revenue Service also announced earlier this week it would extend the federal income tax filing deadline to May 17, 2021.
This extension means the Department of Revenue will waive penalties and interest on final 2020 personal income tax returns and payments through the new deadline of May 17, 2021.
More information is available here.