Grants for Pennsylvania small businesses ensnared in political gridlock

Grants for Pennsylvania small businesses ensnared in political gridlock

Three weeks ago, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said he had freed up $145 million in state funds for small business grants – the Legislature just needed to appropriate it.

As of Thursday, the money – originally from the Insurance Department’s Workers’ Compensation Security Fund – sits untouched.

“Constitutionally, I can’t act unilaterally,” Wolf said during news briefing Thursday. “I can’t do this myself. The people who can act on this are in the General Assembly. They need to step up and do their part.”

Democratic leaders from the House and Senate joined Wolf in support of using the transferred funds. But Republicans, who hold strong majorities in both chambers, contradicted the administration’s narrative, saying Wolf has yet to call their leaders, let alone transfer any money for distribution.

“House Republicans said … three weeks ago that we would work with him [Wolf] on relief that accompanies long-term solutions that, among other things, ends the threat of these ridiculous shutdowns,” said Jason Gottesman, House GOP spokesman. “To our knowledge, he has not transferred any money in furtherance of his plan and has not engaged with House Republican leadership on this or any relief initiative on any level.”

“Our doors are open, our phone lines are working, and we await engagement from governor on what ideas he can bring to the table,” he added.

Wolf first proposed using the surplus funds on Dec. 23. The 83-year-old program covers benefits for injured workers’ when their original insurance provider becomes insolvent or shuts down. In November, lawmakers transferred $185 million from the fund to balance the state budget’s $3 billion deficit.

Three in 10 businesses shut down, at least temporarily, at the height of the pandemic in March and April, according to federal data, after the Wolf administration enacted some of the strictest mitigation efforts nationwide.

“All of us are eager to work together, Republicans and Democrats, to get this out the door quickly,” Wolf said. “We are very open to any suggestion, the key is we want to get it into the hands of folks who need it.”

He also rejected claims that his administration hasn’t coordinated with the General Assembly, noting that he was scheduled to meet with Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, on Wednesday before “something came up.”

“He’s on my speed dial,” he said. “So is the speaker. So is the majority leader in the House and the Senate. This is something that is a part of the general political process.”

Republicans have sent a handful of bills designed to thwart’s Wolf’s economic shutdown that were all met with the governor’s veto pen. Party leaders say the administration’s unwillingness to collaborate with them on more targeted restrictions means the state’s measures have been drastic, draconian and devastating for their constituents.

Wolf said the bills threatened public safety, ignored scientific data and shunned guidance from public health experts that supported his administration’s orders. With COVID-19 hospitalizations exceeding 5,000 and community spread prevalent in all 67 counties, the governor said the sanctions in place will prevent health care systems from becoming overwhelmed and save lives.

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