In This Update:
Aument: Collaboration Should Start At Home
I recently wrote and recorded an op-ed to reiterate my support for the bipartisan, inter-branch COVID-19 Cost & Recovery Task Force established by Senate Bill 327. My comments were in response to Governor Wolf’s recent announcement of the Multi-State Council that he has formed in conjunction with governors from some surrounding states.
Make no mistake – coordinating with other states is certainly prudent, because as many have pointed out, this virus knows no boundaries and our economy is inherently intertwined with those of our neighbors. But we must have a plan to get our own house in order to ensure the needs of our citizens and our communities are understood and met before we can begin to have productive conversations with other states.
We should focus on a Pennsylvania-based solution through a Pennsylvania-based task force before we broaden our scope to include the needs of other states and their constituents. The time will come to seek input from surrounding states, but Governor Wolf should first work with the General Assembly and coordinate with local leaders to solve local problems, because the fact of the matter is, the governors of New Jersey or Rhode Island won’t be concerned with our local issues, as their focus will be broad to cover the whole region.
We must put on our own oxygen mask before we help others put on theirs.
Senate Approves a Better Process for COVID-19 Mitigation
The Senate approved two bills today that would provide some much-needed clarity and common sense to the process of deciding which businesses can safely operate during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Senator Ryan Aument (R-Landisville).
Governor Wolf ordered the closure of all businesses not deemed “life-sustaining” on March 16 in response to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. Although a haphazard waiver system was eventually created for businesses that wished to remain open, that process was riddled with inconsistencies and lacked any sense of transparency or accountability to the public, Senator Aument said.
“While I don’t disagree with the intent behind many of the actions the Wolf Administration has taken to combat this virus, I think it’s clear that many of those actions have been executed poorly, and that poor execution has hurt far too many Pennsylvanians,” said Aument. “A prime example of this is the arbitrary nature of the business closures and the subsequent waiver process. Despite the Governor’s best intentions, the result of these actions has been disparity in the marketplace, disastrous breakdowns in the supply chain, and widespread confusion. There is an obvious need for better coordination at the state level and a smoother, more transparent and impartial process.”
The bills approved by the Senate today would create a better process for determining which businesses can 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.
“Pennsylvania does not need to choose between saving lives and saving the economy – the bipartisan, inter-branch COVID-19 Cost & Recovery Task Force established in Senate Bill 327 will allow us to develop a plan to do both. By coordinating across all three branches of Pennsylvania’s government, the task force will be able to clearly identify a path forward that will not sacrifice public health for economic prosperity or vice versa, because we need both to build a stronger Pennsylvania,” said Aument.
Instead of working with Pennsylvania business owners and lawmakers to develop a recovery plan for Pennsylvania’s economy, Governor Wolf recently joined other northeastern governors in an agreement to open selected industries on a shared schedule. The plan would essentially give unelected bureaucrats in other states more power over Pennsylvania businesses than state lawmakers and local elected leaders.
“While coordinating with other states in our region is certainly necessary moving forward, we should focus on a Pennsylvania-based solution through a Pennsylvania-based task force before we broaden our scope to include the needs of other states and their constituents. The time will come to seek input from surrounding states, but Governor Wolf should first work with the General Assembly and coordinate with local leaders to solve local problems, because the fact of the matter is, the governors of New Jersey or Rhode Island won’t be concerned with our local issues, as their focus will be broad to cover the whole region. We must put on our own oxygen mask before we help others put on theirs,” said Aument.
New Guidance and Training Available for Personal Care Home and Assisted Living Facilities
Educational support and new guidelines will help Pennsylvania’s more than 1,200 personal care homes and assisted living residences better protect patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Department of Human Services offers guidance to keep residents and staff safe, including measures to address dining and scheduled activities, visitation, health screenings for staff, infection control procedures and more. Full guidance from the department is available here.
The Jewish Healthcare Foundation also offers weekly webinars on timely topics like infection control best practices and proper use of personal protective equipment. More information on these and other educational materials are available at www.tomorrowshealthcare.org.
COVID-19 Crisis Line Available for First Responders, Healthcare Workers
The increased stress caused by COVID-19 affects all Pennsylvanians, but our first responders and healthcare workers face even greater pressures in helping the state respond to this public health emergency. Magellan Health recently opened a free national crisis line for all first responders and healthcare professionals who are serving on the front lines of the pandemic.
The hotline is open 24 hours a day and connects callers directly to licensed mental health clinicians for support. The toll-free number is 1-800-327-7451 (TTY 711).
New Web Portal Features Info on Employment Opportunities During COVID-19 Business Closures
Although many businesses across the state remain closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, other employers in life-sustaining industries are hiring workers immediately for thousands of critical roles. A new web portal has been created to help connect displaced workers with new employment opportunities in home health care, shipping, distribution, manufacturing and other industries.
People seeking employment immediately can learn more about available job opportunities through PA CareerLink’s new online COVID-19 job portal. Life-sustaining businesses can feature job openings by submitting an online form here.
COVID-19 Resource Guide for Senior Citizens Now Online
An online COVID-19 resource guide to help older adults find useful information related to their health, safety and well-being is now available.
The guide is available on the state Department of Aging’s website under “COVID-19 Resource Guide for Older Adults” and provides older adults, their families and caregivers with information on a variety of subjects, including meals, prescriptions, protective services, scams, and how to stay active and connected.
Accelerated Sales Tax Prepayments Waived for Three Months
Businesses will not need to make accelerated Sales Tax prepayments over the next three months. Instead, businesses will only need to remit the sales tax they collected in the prior month.
More information on this requirement is available here.
Lancaster County Updates
A number of local entities have reached out to share the following COVID-19-related updates:
Reminder: Aument to Host Tele-Town Hall TOMORROW
Community residents can register to participate in the tele-town hall by visiting www.senatoraument.com/tele-town-hall. This link can also be used for audio streaming, which will be available immediately prior to the event. Additionally, a link to the event page is available on my website at www.senatoraument.com.
The tele-town hall format encourages community residents to participate in a discussion while practicing social distancing to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. Participants can ask questions or simply remain on the line to listen to the discussion.
Guest panelists for the discussion will include a physician to answer medical questions, an unemployment compensation expert to respond to inquiries about the UC system, and a representative from a local economic development board to address questions about the state of our economy in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.