In this update:
How to get state-related assistance during the coronavirus shutdown
I really appreciate everyone’s patience during this time. While our offices are still not able to accept in-person office visits or take in-person meetings, my staff and I are still handling constituent-related issues during this time.
Here are the various ways you can contact me:
District Office – 717-741-4648 (leave a voicemail)
Capitol Office – 717-787-7085 (leave a voicemail)
Email – SenatorKristin@pasen.gov
Contact Form – SenatorKristin.com/contact-me.
Resource guides for employers, employees, and other individuals affected by COVID-19 are also posted at SenatorKristin.com.
Please note: You and your concerns are very important to me! Our office continues to receive a high volume of inquiries. Please only contact our office one way as this will ensure we handle your matter and can assist others in a timely manner. Again, I really appreciate everyone’s patience during this time.
If you have a specific inquiry regarding unemployment compensation, you can fill out a form here: SenatorKristin.com/contact-me. Select “Unemployment Compensation” from the drop-down menu. This will expedite your claim with our office.
Information specific to unemployment compensation can be found at SenatorKristin.com/unemployment.
Pausing to say thank you to those who paid the Ultimate Sacrifice this 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.
While our nation is more divided than ever over the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I encourage us to all thank those brave Americans who paid the ultimate sacrifice so we can live in a nation where we can have different opinions.
Our freedoms are certainly under attack, but we will get through this together. Our comeback will be greater than the setback.
Twelve more counties, including York, set to move to “yellow” phase of reopening tomorrow (Friday)
Beginning on Friday, a dozen new counties, including York County, will move to the yellow phase of reopening, bringing the total number of counties in the yellow phase to 49.
The yellow phase will allow businesses with in-person operations to open under strict health guidelines and building safety orders to reduce the risk of infection. Telework must still continue where feasible. School closures and restrictions on congregate care, prison visits and large gatherings of more than 25 people will remain in place. Indoor recreation, health and wellness facilities and entertainment venues will remain closed, and restaurants and bars will still be limited to carry-out and delivery only.
The counties added to the yellow phase are: Adams, Beaver, Carbon, Columbia, Cumberland, Juniata, Mifflin, Perry, Susquehanna, Wyoming, Wayne and York.
While moving more counties into this limited phase of reopening is a positive step, we need to do more to repair the enormous damage that has been caused by Governor Wolf’s extended COVID-19 shutdown order. Many more local businesses believe they can open safely under the guidelines developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
York County’s metrics make strong case for “green” phase – here’s why
To date, Governor Wolf has not released what metrics and benchmarks are required to move into the “green” phase of his reopening process. I called on Governor Wolf yesterday to develop and publicly share those metrics to put our county and commonwealth on a path to rebuild the economy.
With local businesses shutting down for good and school districts announcing furloughs, we are well past the tipping point. I laid out why York County has defied most statewide odds in flattening the curve, ensuring our hospitals are not overrun and that our most vulnerable in the nursing homes have been very well protected by the hardworking frontline employees.
You can read my letter here.
The vast majority of correspondence I have received (phone calls and emails) has been very supportive of efforts to safely, responsibly and intelligently reopen.
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.
Senate hearings hold Wolf Administration accountable for COVID-19 response
Over the past two weeks, Senate committees have held a series of hearings to take a closer look at the Wolf Administration’s response to COVID-19 – and to chart a better path forward for our Commonwealth. Pennsylvanians are united in our desire to protect our vulnerable populations and prevent the spread of this virus; our goal is to ensure we can do so in a way that makes sense for local communities and does not cause needless suffering.
The hearings have exposed numerous problems that have impacted local residents. In some cases, drawing attention to these flaws has already yielded positive results. Full video of each hearing is available below.
Some of the state’s leading medical experts testified that risks of more serious outbreaks are low, and most communities in the state can begin to reopen safely with proper social distancing measures and steps to protect vulnerable populations in place. The Senate Local Government Committee and the Senate Aging and Youth Committee also heard testimony from county leaders about the need to create a clear path to reopening.
Approximately 30 percent of all Pennsylvanians who have submitted claims in the Unemployment Compensation system have yet to receive any payments from the state. A hearing of the Senate Labor and Industry Committee and the Senate Communications and Technology Committee, which I chair, drew attention to the flaws leading to long delays, egregious mistakes and mass confusion for thousands of claimants.
More than $1 billion in revenue losses to the state’s transportation system were uncovered during a hearing of the Senate Transportation Committee. Governor Wolf’s statewide stay-at-home order was the only one in the country that shuttered construction, leaving 50,000 highway contractors unemployed.
The Senate Education Committee focused on efforts educate students during the school shutdown and establish a clear plan of action to help schools reopen safely in the fall.
More than two-thirds of all COVID-19 deaths have occurred in nursing homes and personal care facilities. A hearing last week exposed gross inadequacies in the Wolf Administration’s treatment of nursing homes during the crisis, including shortages of testing and Personal Protective Equipment. As a result of the hearing of the Senate Aging and Youth Committee and the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, the Wolf Administration reversed course and announced they would begin widespread testing of residents and employees of personal care facilities.
A Senate Law and Justice Committee hearing revealed that the state’s Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores were closed without any official action by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board or the Governor.
The Senate Local Government Committee and the Senate Health and Human Services Committee highlighted a number of problems with Governor Wolf’s slow reopening plan, including the fact that Pennsylvania’s guidelines are more restrictive than any other state in the nation. The hearing also covered inconsistencies in the plan have led counties with higher case counts to reopen sooner than counties with low infection rates, as well as the lack of clear guidelines for counties to move from the yellow phase of reopening to green.
Since the hearing, a total of 25 more counties have been added to the yellow phase of reopening.
Earlier this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the Wolf Administration’s release of certain prisoners from State Correctional Institutions amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
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.
Unemployment benefits extended 13 weeks
Pennsylvanians who have an expired Unemployment Compensation claim or have exhausted their benefits under an existing claim can receive an additional 13 weeks of payments through the new Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program. The extended benefits will be available through December 26 for claimants who have exhausted regular benefits.
If a claimant’s benefits have expired, they must submit an application for the extended benefit online or mail a paper application. If an individual has an open claim and exhausts their benefits, the additional 13 weeks will be automatically added to their existing claim. Applicants will receive the same weekly benefit as their regular rate, including the additional $600 per week from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program. Benefits will be available retroactive to the benefit week ending April 4.
More information on the program is available here.
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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