In This Edition:
Legislation to Reopen Bucks County Safely Introduced by Senators Tomlinson and Mensch
Over the last two and half months, our world has changed. We followed the Governor’s orders and directions to flatten the curve. We listened as our businesses closed, families were separated, and employees were laid off. We did this because our medical experts were concerned about the spread of COVID-19, which could have completely overwhelmed our local hospitals. For nearly 10 weeks we have heard the stories from business owners who are on the verge of losing everything. We have heard from thousands of constituents who applied for unemployment in March but have yet to receive a dime from the State.
In response and in an effort to work with the Administration, we have voted to reopen our economy in a safe manner following CDC guidelines and social distancing protocols. This was vetoed. We voted to reopen certain businesses such as the real estate industry and the automotive sales industry both in a bipartisan manner. They were vetoed. We voted not once, but twice to allow counties to reopen in a safe manner as they see fit. This was vetoed. All efforts to move Pennsylvania forward have been defeated. As other states, even those with significantly worse case numbers and increased deaths, move forward with plans that allow businesses and industries to operate, Pennsylvania has continued to fall behind. While other states have empowered and trusted their business owners to operate in a safe manner, Pennsylvania continues to lock them down.
Over the last 10 weeks we have waited for a plan to reopen our counties. We have heard nothing. In a bipartisan effort with the Bucks County Commissioners, we asked the Governor and Secretary Levine to reconsider including the numbers of long term care facilities in our new case count. This was denied. This reasonable request was due to the significant decrease of community spread and the acknowledgment of the problem we had in our long term care facilities. A problem the Secretary of Health didn’t even acknowledge we had until a Senate hearing earlier this month. Our local medical experts know what is going on here in Bucks County. They have the data. They conduct contact tracing. They have acquired PPE and implemented plans to combat COVID-19. Just last night, our Director of Bucks County Department of Health said, “Bucks County is ready for the yellow phase.” Dr. Damkser, and the County Commissioners have done an incredible job. We should listen to them.
Senate Bill 1165 will do just that. This common sense proposal will empower county governments that have their own or a DoH- approved contracted County Department of Health to develop and implement a plan to reopen their respective counties and economies. I have full faith that these locally elected officials and local medical experts will create a safe and effective plan that will move our counties towards opening instead of relying on a metric that doesn’t take the real world impact of what is going on here in Bucks County.
This is a reasonable common sense proposal that respects the science and the opinion of our local medical experts. I hope this legislation will garner support of my fellow elected officials. The Republicans in the House led by Representative Frank Farry have introduced the same legislation. I applaud their efforts to reopen Bucks County in a safe manner. This is not a political issue, this is a people issue. I stand ready to work with any elected official, Republican or Democrat, on this legislation that will allow Bucks County to reopen in a safe manner.
Honoring America’s Heroes on Memorial Day
This Memorial Day, I encourage all community residents to pause and reflect on the service and sacrifice of the heroes who answered freedom’s call and paid the ultimate price so others could live under better conditions. We are forever in their debt.
Governor Wolf Vetoes Bills Designed to Help 200,000 Pennsylvanians Get Back to Work Safely
A package of bills to help more Pennsylvanians get back to work safely and responsibly was vetoed by Governor Wolf this week. Despite the fact that the bills included numerous safety measures to protect the health of workers and customers, more than 200,000 state residents will remain out of work due to the governor’s vetoes.
Senate Bill 327 would have given county governments the option to develop and implement individual plans to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and allow residents to return to work safely under guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and state Department of Health.
House Bill 2388 would have required the Department of Community and Economic Development to issue waivers to the governor’s business closure order to vehicle dealers, lawn and garden centers, cosmetology salons, barber shops, messenger and agent services, animal grooming services and manufacturing operations.
House Bill 2412 would have required waivers be issued to allow legal services and real estate sales activities to resume. The governor reversed course on the real estate industry just hours after his veto, allowing limited sales to resume.
Although the governor’s actions are a bitter disappointment for many state residents who want to get back to work safely, I will continue the fight to allow Pennsylvania workers to once again start earning a paycheck to provide for their families with the proper safety measures in place.
Legislature, Public Pressure Push Wolf to Allow Real Estate Sales
After vetoing a bipartisan bill that would have allowed real estate sales to resume in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, Governor Wolf abruptly reversed course and issued guidance that will allow the real estate industry to conduct limited sales statewide.
Under the new guidance, real estate activities can resume if proper precautions are taken, including minimizing in-person contact, staggering scheduling and limiting time spent in the property for face-to-face conversations. Providing food and conducting in-person group showings would be prohibited.
The new guidance comes as the governor faced the prospect of a potential override of his veto of House Bill 2412, legislation that would have allowed real estate activities to continue with proper safety measures in place. A near-veto-proof majority of lawmakers approved the bill, and leaders on both sides of the aisle encouraged the governor to sign the legislation into law.
New Law Allows Property Tax/Rent Rebates to Arrive Early
Low-income seniors and individuals with disabilities face unique challenges during the COVID-19 public health emergency. I supported a new law passed by the Senate last week that will allow these individuals to receive property tax and rent rebates sooner than the previously scheduled date of July 1.
The state’s Property Tax/Rent Rebate program provides rebates of up to $650 on property taxes or rent paid in 2019. Supplemental rebates for qualifying homeowners can boost rebates to $975. Instead of the Department of Revenue paying out a large number of rebates on July 1, the new law ensures rebates will be processed on a first-in, first-out basis beginning this week.
Applicants can check the status of their Property Tax/Rent Rebate here or by calling 1-888-222-9190.
USDA Approves Online Grocery Purchasing for SNAP Recipients During COVID-19 Crisis
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) authorized Pennsylvania to join a pilot program permitting recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, to purchase groceries online through participating retailers during the COVID-19 crisis.
After the program is active in early June, eligible food items normally paid for by SNAP will be able to be purchased online with Amazon, Walmart, and ShopRite. Retailers that are interested in participating must contact USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service to review the requirements to be added to the program.
Memorial Day Reminders from PA Fish and Boat Commission
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) is reminding state residents to wear a life jacket if they plan to head out on the water over the Memorial Day holiday weekend. Boaters and kayakers are also advised by PFBC to practice social distancing.
In addition, May 24 (Sunday) is one of PFBC’s two Fish-for-Free days during which a fishing license is not required. Anglers must still follow all other rules and regulations. More information is available at www.fishandboat.com.
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