Trump Administration – President Trump issued an Executive Order pausing the issuance of some green cards.
US Congress – This week the US Senate and House passed a $484billion supplemental coronavirus relief bill. President Trump is expected to sign it into law immediately. Highlights of the legislation are:
$310 billion for Paycheck Protection Program.
$10 billion in funding for the Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, which allows businesses to borrow up to $2 million with an initial grant of up to $10,000.
$75 billion for hospitals to cover treatment for coronavirus patients and lost revenue from canceled elective procedures.
$25 billion in funding to develop and expand access to tests for COVID-19,
$11 billion for state and municipal governments to develop, run and process COVID-19 tests, boost laboratory capacity, trace contacts and help employers test workers for the virus.
Reopening - Governor Tom Wolf announced on Wednesday during a rare evening broadcast that he would start opening up the state using a data-driven phased approached by regions. The data is in conjunction with Carnegie Mellon and other University, which determine when a region is ready to reopen and return to work by evaluating the incidence rate of COVID-19 cases per capita. A county can make the list for consideration to open if they, on average for the past 14 days, had 50 or less new cases per 100,000 residents per day. In addition, to reopen a region, the Administration would want to ensure the following:
Enough testing available for individuals with symptoms and target populations such as those at high risk, health care personnel, and first responders.
Robust case investigation and contact tracing infrastructure is in place to facilitate early identification of cluster outbreaks and to issue proper isolation and quarantine orders.
Identification of area’s high-risk settings including correctional institutions, personal care homes, skilled nursing facilities, and other congregate care settings, and assurance that facilities have adequate safeguards in place such as staff training, employee screening, visitor procedures and screening, and adequate supplies of PPE to support continued operations.
The Phases based on this data are labeled Red, Yellow and Green” but the Governor made clear that counties are currently in the “red” phase. He does hope to relax restrictions on counties in the northwestern and north-central by May 1st first by allowing them to enter into his Yellow Phase which his website describes as the following:
WORK & CONGREGATE SETTING RESTRICTION
Schools Remain Closed for In-Person Instruction
Congregate Care and Prison Restrictions in Place
Child Care Open with Worker and Building Safety Orders
Businesses with In-Person Operations Must Follow Business and Building Safety Orders
Telework Must Continue Where Feasible
Restaurants and Bars Limited to Carry-Out and Delivery Only
Indoor Recreation, Health and Wellness Facilities (such as gyms, spas), and all Entertainment (such as casinos, theaters) Remain Closed
In-Person Retail Allowable, Curbside and Delivery Preferable
Large Gatherings of More than 25 Prohibited
Stay at Home Restrictions Lifted in Favor of Aggressive Mitigation
Unemployment Compensation – The Administration announced that self-employed individuals, contractors, gig workers and others who do not traditionally qualify for Unemployment Compensation can now apply for benefits through the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. Payments ranging from $195 to $572 per week will be available to qualifying individuals who are unable to work due to COVID-19. Payments will be available for up to 39 weeks and will be backdated to January 27 or the first week the individual was unable to work due to COVID-19. Claims can be filed online here. Individuals collecting PUA benefits will also be eligible for the extra $600 per week from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program. Loan Forbearance Announced for Businesses Impacted by COVID-19
Business Loans - In order to help businesses that have been affected by the coronavirus, the Department of Community and Economic Development recently announced the forbearance of May and June payments for many loans administered by the department. Deferrals will also be requested for borrowers with the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority, the Commonwealth Financing Authority (excluding PENNWORKS program loans), the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority, and the Pennsylvania Minority Business Development Authority. More details about the announcement are available here.
Passed This Week - The Legislature was in Session earlier this week and sent several bills to the Governor:
HB 1869 – Would address Basic Life Support Services staffing issues for many rural EMS agencies. Would also insure first responders, law enforcement and active Pennsylvania National Guard members under the Enforcement Officer Disability Benefit Law if they miss work due to being tested for, quarantined for or infected with COVID-19. Passed unanimously and awaits Wolf’s signature.
SB 613 - Would have required the Administration follow federal guidelines when deciding which businesses are “essential” and “non-essential” and allowed essential businesses the choice of whether or not to open during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those businesses would have to adhere to guidelines for safety and security established by the CDC and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). Vetoed by the Governor.
SB 841 Approved by the Governor as Act 15. An “Omnibus” bill passed which allow local governments to provide greater flexibility on property tax deadlines, permits local governments to conduct remote meetings and gives notaries emergency authorization to notarize documents remotely with communications technology.
SB 857 - Requires private insurers to cover telehealth services and that they be reimbursed at the same rate as in-person care. It also would provide for a regulatory framework for telemedicine going forward, but Governor Wolf has indicated he would veto the bill due to some abortion limitation language inserted by the House.
Upcoming Sessions Days - The House returns Monday April 27th and the Senate returns May 4th, but is currently on 12-hour call. Bill under consideration between both Chambers related to the COVID crisis include:
HB 1189 - for COVID-19 healthcare professionals & for volunteer emergency responder’s employer tax credit; and, in general provisions, for extensions for COVID-19 disaster emergency.
HB 1822 - Would extend workplace protections related to COVID-19, but also would allow several funds to be frozen. Passed to the state Senate for consideration.
HB 2369 Job Enhancement Act/small business emergency assistance
HB 2370 Titles 42 and 57/COVID 19 -- Electronic Notarization of Documents
HB 2376 - Would allow retail stores of all sizes to open if they follow Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) guidelines for personal protective equipment and social distancing. Passed to the Senate for consideration.
HB 2386 COVID-19 Disaster Emergency Business Interruption Grant Act.
HB 2388 - Would allow all vehicle dealer activities that can adhere to the social distancing practices and other mitigation measures defined by the CDC. Passed to the Senate for consideration. Passed by House and sent to Senate
HB 2400 – Would allow all public and private construction activities the choice to resume activities, provided COVID-19 social distancing practices and other mitigation measures defined by the CDC are adhered to. Passed to the Senate for consideration.
HB2408 - Fiscal Code/exempting CARES Act cash payments from state and local taxes. On House Calendar.
HB 2412 - Administrative Code/allowing real estate services to continue during COVID-19. On House Calendar.
HB 2413 -Fiscal Code/COVID-19 financial assistance to Fire and EMS. On House Calendar.
HB 2415 Administrative Code/COVID-19 emergency statutory and regulatory suspensions and waivers. On House Calendar.
HB 2416 Administrative Code/emergency regulatory tolling and extensions. On House Calendar.
HB2418 - Administrative Code/COVID-19 debt cost reduction review. On House Calendar.
HB 2419 Administrative Code/establishment of the COVID-19 Cost and Recovery Task Forces. On House Calendar.
SB 327 –Would require any regulation not finally approved or disapproved to be suspended in place until 90 days after the emergency order is lifted. Waiting on a concurrence vote by the Senate.
SB1108 - Fiscal Code/exempting CARES Act cash payments from state and local taxes. Passed by Senate and sent to House
Budget Projections– As with many other States, Pennsylvania is looking at a major budget shortfalls that will substantially exceed what they faced during the great recession. States are looking to the federal government for help and there is a call from anywhere from $300 billion to $1 trillion to help balance state budgets. This is because states, including PA, cannot conduct deficit spending such as the federal government and must balance their budgets. Indeed, PA is already looking at a $5 to $6billion deficit that could lead to cuts to social and economic development programs, when those very items are needed more than ever. Another possibility is a tax increase, which will hurt home budgets when so many are already suffering due to the COVID crisis.