Senate approves comprehensive $912M COVID-19 relief package

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The state Senate approved Wednesday a comprehensive $912 million COVID-19 relief package to assist restaurants, schools, employers, and tenants impacted by the pandemic.

Senate Bill 109 specifically amends the state Fiscal Code as an emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic to allocate $569.8 million for the Rental and Utility Assistance Grant Program, $197 million for education programs, and $145 million to establish the Hospitality Industry Recovery Program.

The bill now heads to the House of Representatives for consideration.

“This legislation is vitally important to drive out these dollars that are literally sitting in our state treasury right now,” Sen. Joe Pittman (R-41), the prime sponsor of the bill, said. “We’ve crafted this legislation very carefully to ensure that we have timelines that make it clear that if funds will not be used by our counties, that we will be able to reallocate them and keep them here in our Commonwealth where they are most needed.”

Funding for the Rental and Utility Assistance program would be provided by federal Coronavirus stimulus money directed through H.R. 133, Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021. Rental and utility funding would be proportionally distributed to counties based on population.

“These federal stimulus dollars are designed to support rental and housing assistance,” Pittman said. “We’re not reinventing the wheel. We’re using the Homeless Assistance Program throughout the Commonwealth, which all 67 counties are already familiar with. This will be critical in making sure it’s done in a timely fashion, making sure the rent and utilities are paid as needed.”

The education funds, which are also supported by federal funding, would be specifically used to create a $150 million competitive grant program under the state Department of Education to assist non-public schools impacted by the pandemic that have not received government assistance.

The remaining $47 million would provide $17.5 million for Career and Technical Centers, $17.5 million for Intermediate Units, $7.075 million for charter schools for the deaf and blind and approved private schools, and $5 million for the State System of Higher Education to support its restructuring initiative.

The Hospitality Industry Recovery Program would see $145 million transferred from the Workers’ Compensation Security Fund to the COVID-19 Response Restricted Account to provide county block grants to aid restaurants, bars, and hotels. Pennsylvania’s hospitality industry has particularly struggled amidst the pandemic and Gov. Tom Wolf’s mandated closings and restrictions.

Recovery grants would be provided in increments of $5,000 up to $50,000 and may not be used to pay for the same operating expenses already covered by a federal Paycheck Protection Program loan or the state’s prior $225 million Small Business Assistance program.