In This Update:
Week in Review: Senate Hearings Expose Serious Flaws in Governor’s COVID-19 Response
Senate committees are not only responsible for reviewing legislation, but also providing a critical layer of oversight of state agencies. That oversight has never been more important than during the COVID-19 pandemic as more questions arise about how the Wolf Administration has handled this crisis.
This week, Senate committees held a series of four hearings regarding different aspects of the crisis, including the slow roll-out of the reopening plan, the hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians who are still unable to access Unemployment Compensation payments, serious questions about how state-owned liquor stores have operated during the pandemic and the unique challenges faced by nursing homes.
Some of the major revelations from the hearings include:
Video and testimony from all of the hearings is available here.
Three additional hearings have been scheduled for next week, including:
Committee members and testifiers will participate remotely, and all hearings will be streamed live at www.pasenategop.com.
Guidance Available for Businesses in Yellow Phase Counties Reopening Today
As businesses in 24 counties begin the process of reopening today, new guidelines are available to ensure safe operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses should clean and disinfect high-contact areas, make plans in case the business is exposed to a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19, practice social distancing, and identify employees who have been exposed to the virus and ensure they are sent home.
Other guidance includes requiring all employees to wear masks, limiting non-essential visitors, and avoiding large groups from entering, leaving or congregating together at the same time. Businesses that have questions about these guidelines are encouraged to contact the Department of Health at 1-877-724-3258.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control also has updated guidance for child care centers to protect children, staff and families from COVID-19.
Counties moving to the yellow phase today are: Bradford, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Forest, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, Union, Venango, and Warren.
I am strongly urging Governor Wolf and the Department of Health to allow businesses in more counties to operate under these safety guidelines as soon as possible.
PUA Applicants Can File Now for Benefits
Contractors, gig workers, self-employed individuals and other Pennsylvanians who applied for the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program can file now for weekly benefits.
The program provides benefits ranging from $195 to $572 for up to 39 weeks to qualifying individuals who are unable to work due to COVID-19. Payments will be backdated to January 27 or the first week the individual was unable to work due to COVID-19.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, claims and weekly certifications can be filed online at pua.benefits.uc.pa.gov/vosnet/Default.aspx. Weekly certifications must be filed to continue receiving payments.
More information on filing an initial claim and weekly certifications is available here.
Healthcare Facilities, First Responders and More Could Qualify for Free N95 Decontamination
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved the use of a new decontamination system that allows N95 masks to be cleaned and safely reused. The Battelle Critical Care Decontamination System is capable of decontaminating tens of thousands of N95 masks each day.
The program is available to hospitals, urgent care centers, nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities, cancer centers, pharmacies, dialysis centers, assisted living facilities, clinical laboratories, emergency medical services (EMS), and private practice/outpatient facilities. The service is free for eligible organizations; the only cost is shipping to and from the site.
State agencies and other organizations are distributing information about the new service to eligible organizations now. More details are available here.
Farms, Farm Markets Eligible for Free SNAP Processing Equipment
Farmers and farmers markets who would like to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits from customers can now receive the technology needed for the program at no cost thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
To receive the equipment, vendors must be an authorized SNAP retailer. Those needing authorization can apply through the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. Authorized vendors can contact Conduent, Pennsylvania’s electronic benefit transfer (EBT) provider, at (888) 736-6328 to request the free wireless EBT processing equipment. The federal grant also covers set-up costs and one year of SNAP transaction fees.
Funding Will Support Aging and Disability Resource Centers
A statewide network that provides information and referral services to older adults and individuals with disabilities will receive additional funding to support operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Grant funding will support a variety of different services, including care transition services, food order and delivery, assistive technology and more.
The PA Link to Aging and Disability Resources is available to individuals, family members, caregivers and providers through a helpline at 1-800-753-8827.
Temporary Food Assistance Program Offers Support for Students
Families of students who receive free or reduced-price meals at school through the National School Lunch Program are eligible to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits while schools are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic under a temporary new program.
The Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program provides SNAP funds to households through EBT cards issued to qualifying families. P-EBT will provide funds to cover the cost of breakfast and lunch (or approximately $5.70 per-child, per-day) for approximately 958,000 Pennsylvania school-aged children. The benefit will be calculated for the remainder of the school year, or about $370.50 per-child if they were receiving free or reduced-price school meals when school closures began.
Families can apply online for the benefits at www.compass.state.pa.us.