Pa. lawmakers OK health care aid, unemployment relief

KYW Staff
March 26, 2020 - 8:07 am

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UPDATED: 4:45 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Gov. Tom Wolf and the Pennsylvania senate have announced $50 million in state funds to help Pennsylvania health care facilities meet the surge in need created by the coronavirus pandemic. 

The money can be used by hospitals, nursing homes, emergency medical services and other health care providers to buy medical and personal protection equipment to meet urgent patient and staff needs.

Related: The latest coronavirus news from Pennsylvania and New Jersey

In a Wednesday conference call with reporters, Republican Jake Corman, the Senate majority leader, said Wolf will be authorized to transfer money from "special funds" under his jurisdiction.

"There's a variety of funds that we have that have balances. And we give the governor the discretion to look through those balances and use whatever he deems necessary to, up to $50 million," he said.

Corman says the legislation allows the governor to move money around but does not allow him to take any of the fund balances into negative territory.

Unemployment compensation

With jobless claims surging due to the coronavirus pandemic, state lawmakers also sent Wolf legislation to relax unemployment compensation rules for workers and employers.

Just before the state House took a final vote on the unemployment compensation relief bill, Republican Frank Ryan, the bill’s sponsor, outlined some of the highlights.

"It does waive the waiting week requirement and job search registration requirements for all claimants for the duration of the disaster emergency," he said.

The bill would also relieve employers of charges they pay into the Unemployment Compensation Fund while the coronavirus emergency continues. The bill makes other temporary changes intended to relieve the stress on businesses and other employers.

Small-businesses relief

Relief is also coming to some businesses that have been struggling lately because of coronavirus restrictions.

Wolf made the announcement Wednesday: “The Covid-19 Workers Capital Access Program, or the CWCA, will provide loans of up to $100,000 to for-profit businesses with 100 or fewer full-time employees,” he said.

The Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority set aside $60 million for these loans, which are expected to become available this week.

The governor encourages any small business that is eligible to take advantage.

Cases and deaths

The Pennsylvania Department of Health on Thursday confirmed an additional 560 positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 1,687 in 48 counties. 

The department also reported five new deaths, bringing the statewide death total to at least 16. 

Case counts in Pennsylvania have been doubling every two or three days. There are 16,441 patients who have tested negative.

Philadelphia announced the first coronavirus-related death in the city on Wednesday. City Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley said the person who died was a man in his 50s with an underlying health condition.

Delaware County officials on Tuesday reported two coronavirus-related deaths: an 85-year-old man from Ridley Park, hospitalized after contracting the virus; and an 86-year-old woman, who was a resident at Rosewood Garden Rehab and Nursing Center in Broomall.

Delaware County Council Chair Brian Zidek said the deaths are a reminder of why stay-at-orders and other mitigation efforts are in effect and should be taken seriously.

“If you’re a 24-year-old and you contract COVID-19 you may recover on your own, but you may come into contact with someone who has a compromised immune system or compromised respiratory system, and they may not recover,” he said.

For most people, coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death. The vast majority of people recover.

A third death in Montgomery County 

Montgomery County officials say a third person — a 62-year-old man from Whitemarsh Township — has died after testing positive for coronavirus.

“What I want most is for this to be over,” said county Commissioner Dr. Val Arkoosh.

Arkoosh says the best way to end this sooner than later is for people to follow stay-at-home orders, pointing out that while the virus can live for a while on surfaces, if a person doesn’t touch it during that time, it dies. 

“So the key here is to keep all of us human beings at home,” she added. 

She says we haven’t reached the top of the plateau yet, and if we were to relax restrictions now, she fears the situation will drag out. 

“Much more dire economic consequences and potentially catastrophic impact on our healthcare system,” she said. 

The county has 92 new positive cases, bringing the total to 313 cases. The rise in positive cases was expected as testing capabilities expanded.

Arkoosh says they’re not tracking how many people have recovered because hospitals aren’t required to report when people get discharged, and for people who aren’t hospitalized, they haven’t figured out a logical point to say they recovered.

More booze in Pennsylvania

Corman said it's his understanding that the state's Liquor Control Board is contemplating a "soft reopening" of shuttered state stores.

"Either possible delivery or curbside pickup kind of thing," he said. "So, I think the LCB is working on that as we speak. I don’t know that they’ve picked a date of yet."

In his call with reporters, Corman said one concern may revolve around mandating state workers to staff wine and spirits stores during the coronavirus emergency.

Wolf ordered the stores closed after March 17 as part of a cascade of shutdowns of nonessential businesses and government services to help stem the spread of the virus.

The Wolf administration has not publicly discussed any plans to reopen the roughly 600 state-owned wine and liquor stores.

Primary date delay

Pennsylvania lawmakers voted to delay its primary election by five weeks to June 2, potentially past the spike of the state's spreading coronavirus cases.

Both chambers of the state Legislature approved it Wednesday, and the Democratic governor said he will sign it.

The measure had support from top Republicans in the GOP-controled Legislature.

Under the bill, Pennsylvania will hold its primary election June 2, instead of April 28.

In addition to delaying the primary date, the legislation gives county election offices a head start on processing and tabulating mail-in ballots, newly allowed under a five-month-old election law.

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KYW Newsradio's Tony Romeo, Jim Melwert and the Associated Press contributed to this report.