Wolf and Democrats present proposal for $1.7 billion in pandemic funds
Pennsylvania’s governor and his Democratic allies in the Legislature introduced a proposal on Wednesday to spend federal pandemic relief money on workers, environmental and climate change programs as well as a one-time grant from the property tax for low-income homeowners and renters.
The plan was announced less than a week before Governor Tom Wolf presented his 2022-23 state budget proposal to the Republican-majority General Assembly. Lawmakers would have to approve the spending for the plan to take effect.
“We need to do something now to meet the needs of Pennsylvanians,” Wolf said at a Capitol press conference flanked by Democratic lawmakers.
Wolf pointed out that the state still has $2.2 billion in federal funds from the U.S. bailout signed by President Joe Biden last March. But, he said, the money is just “sitting” and not helping people recover from the pandemic when it could be doing some good.
Republican lawmakers, however, have argued that keeping the money in reserve is necessary to help balance the state budget over the next two and a half years.
House Republican leaders released a statement that the Democratic spending proposals “were crafted in a fiscal fantasy land where concern for future fiscal years apparently does not exist.”
Wolf criticized the Republican stance as doing nothing to help people, saying “right now, nothing is the only plan I’ve seen from the other side.”
“We need to get this money out so people who are hurting right now get the relief they need right now,” Wolf said.
The largest category in the $1.7 billion Democratic proposal is $500 million to help families pay for childcare, household expenses and tuition, training and licensing to gain better skills and increase their income.
Wolf and Democrats also want to provide $225 million in small business grants between $5,000 and $50,000. The money would help pay for operating expenses, technical assistance, training and advice on how to stabilize and grow. An estimated 11,000 businesses would be eligible, and women and minority-owned businesses, as well as rural businesses, would be given priority.
The property tax relief would provide nearly half a million low-income homeowners and renters with an average of nearly $500, a one-time addition to the existing property tax rental rebate program.
The state’s health care sector would receive $325 million, much of it to help recruit and retain workers at long-term care facilities.
Wolf’s plan would also spend $40 million to expand county-based mental health programs and send $35 million to student loan forgiveness programs for healthcare workers through Pennsylvania Higher Education. Assistance Agency.
The Growing Greener Program, agricultural conservation and other conservation, recreation, preservation and community revitalization efforts would receive a $450 million boost.
“Climate change is already harming communities in Pennsylvania, and we cannot afford to delay our work to mitigate that damage,” Wolf said.
Wolf’s proposal for spending state taxpayers’ money will be featured in the governor’s budget speech on Tuesday.
Last week, Wolf signed fast-track legislation to spend $225 million in federal pandemic relief, mostly for hospitals to make retention and recruitment payments to workers.