Tom Wolf (copy)

 

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf said earlier this week that a COVID relief bill passed by Congress will bring needed help but that the federal government must do more.

“We should celebrate the aid this bill has secured, but we need to continue advocating for the additional support Pennsylvanians – and all Americans – need during these difficult times," Wolf said. "Nine months passed between the CARES Act and this second COVID-19 relief package. For our congressional leaders, I have one plea: do not let your constituents suffer for another nine months without the additional aid they desperately need,” he said.

The $900 billion COVID relief package, unveiled Monday afternoon, sped through the House and Senate in a matter of hours. The Senate cleared the package by a 92-6 vote after the House approved it by another lopsided vote, 359-53. 

The bill combines coronavirus-fighting funds with financial relief for individuals and businesses. It would establish a temporary $300 per week supplemental jobless benefit and a $600 direct stimulus payment to most Americans, along with a new round of subsidies for hard-hit businesses, restaurants and theaters and money for schools, health care providers and renters facing eviction.

Wolf said Congress needs to provide more in direct payments to Americans, as well as help for the restaurant and bar industry and more help for state and local governments.

Advocates for the poor are “relieved” that the COVID package was passed, but worry it doesn’t go far enough, said Ken Regal, executive director of Just Harvest in Pittsburgh.

“These relief measures will not last for the likely duration of this pandemic and its economic impact,” he said. “The eviction moratorium is only extended for one month,” Regal said. While the extension of unemployment benefits only lasts until mid-March.

Gene Barr, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, said that another round of the Paycheck Protection Program was a welcome addition to the package.

“We applaud Congress’ passage of this important COVID-19 relief legislation. As the pandemic rages on, the support for small businesses and nonprofits; as well as additional funding for the Paycheck Protection Program comes at a critical juncture. For months, the economy has suffered as states have implemented mitigation orders in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus,” Barr said. “Many of those that have been able to survive this challenging environment thus far are currently hanging on by a thread,” he said.

Barr said the business community would have liked to see liability protection added to the package, though.

Both of Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senators voted for the relief bill even though they both acknowledged it has shortcomings.

“For the fourth time this year, Congress has passed major spending legislation to help the American people cope with the economic and public health fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic. While there is much in this bill that I disagree with, including wasteful government spending and misguided policies that will dampen the recovery, the good it does outweighs the bad,” U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey said.

Toomey said the legislation will extend unemployment benefits for self-employed and gig workers, reauthorize the Paycheck Protection Program and cover “virtually the entire cost of the distribution and administering of the COVID-19 vaccine.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said that while the relief bill is “welcome and long overdue,” but he added that “the legislation is nowhere near what must be done.”

Casey said the relief package lacks “critically-needed” funding for state and ocal governments to prevent service cuts.

“When a new Congress convenes in January and President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris are sworn in, we must begin work on bold, robust legislation that will allow America to build back better and provide families a full measure of support,” Casey said.

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

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