(The Center Square) – Gov. Tom Wolf gathered with Democratic lawmakers at a Philadelphia community center on Thursday to urge the Republican-controlled General Assembly to spend Pennsylvania’s remaining federal relief funds.
Wolf touted his $1.7 billion plan to spend the bulk of the commonwealth’s remaining American Rescue Plan Act funding at the North Light Community Center, where he stressed the ongoing struggles facing many Pennsylvanians due to the pandemic.
“Our commonwealth is sitting on billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief money that is meant to help our citizens,” Wolf said. “It is past time to use that money for its intended purpose — to improve the lives of Pennsylvanians. Like helping Pennsylvanians afford child care and after-school care, like the program here at North Light Community Center.
“We know the positive impact quality child care has on future generations, as well as the economic impact child care has on a guardian’s ability to remain employed. A lot of households across the commonwealth are still recovering financially from the pandemic, and this money would go a long way to helping the people who are still hurting.”
Wolf pointed to his plan unveiled earlier this month to pump hundreds of millions into a variety of programs for families, businesses, health-care workers and climate change-focused revitalization projects.
The plan includes $500 million in direct payments through a PA Opportunity Program to assist families with child care, job training, broadband, transportation and after-school programs. Wolf contends the program will provide needed relief from household expenses and child care, while providing opportunities to complete a degree or other training to increase income.
Wolf’s proposal also includes $225 million for the COVID Relief Statewide Small Business Assistance Program to provide grants between $5,000 and $50,000 to small businesses impacted by the pandemic. The program allows businesses to use the money to cover operating expenses and technical assistance, with a focus on prioritizing women- and minority-owned businesses, and rural communities. The governor estimates the money would help about 11,000 businesses.
Another $204 million would go toward a one-time doubling of payments through Pennsylvania’s existing Property Tax Rent Rebate program, which would benefit an estimated 466,000 residents with an additional average rebate of $475.
Wolf also wants to spend $250 million on recruitment and retention incentives for long-term critical health-care workers, $40 million to boost behavioral and mental health programs, and $35 million in student loan forgiveness for health-care workers.
The Wolf plan would spend another $450 million on conservation, recreation, preservation and community revitalization projects that align with the governor’s focus on fighting climate change.
Rep. Pamela DeLissio, D-Philadelphia, and Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, attended the press event on Thursday to support Wolf’s spending plan.
“As minority chair of the Children & Youth Committee, I applaud and support the governor’s proposal to ensure that families who were particularly hard hit over the past two years due to the pandemic have access to additional financial resources to help their families recover and stabilize,” DeLissio said.
“The inaccessibility of high-quality, affordable child care has been a chief obstacle for families, communities and our overall economy as we struggle to recover from the pandemic,” Hughes said. “Years of disinvestment in the futures of our children have been dramatically exposed over the past 24 months and we now have the opportunity to reverse that trend and invest in the next generation.”
Wolf’s event came the same day Senate Republicans introduced bills to spend the federal relief money on fire companies, the Historically Disadvantaged Business Revitalization Program, and the Main Street Business Revitalization Program. Other Republican proposals aim to funnel the funds into school choice programs, water quality improvements, workforce development and other uses.