PA Dems propose $4 billion COVID-19 package

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Democrats in the Pennsylvania senate unveiled a plan Friday to borrow $4 billion for a coronavirus aid package.

Called PA CARES, it’s a state-funded version of the $2.2 trillion federal CARES Act, which passed in March. The legislation would flow money back into some of the programs created by the federal stimulus and create new initiatives to address other needs.

“Folks have not seen pandemic-specific relief from the state or federal government since last spring, yet thousands remain unemployed, underemployed and struggle with their housing and utility bills,” Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa said in a statement. “This cannot go on any longer.”

It’s unclear how much traction the proposal has in the GOP-controlled senate and house, which will reconvene Jan. 5.

“Their plan would increase the debt held by the taxpayers of this commonwealth by the billions, drain our Rainy Day Fund for one-time expenses, and includes no long-term solution for how to rebuild and sustain Pennsylvania’s economy,” House GOP spokesman Jason Gottesman told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

In October, senate Democrats introduced a plan to spend the $1.3 billion that remained from Pennsylvania’s CARES Act allocation. Republicans dismissed it, and the money was used to help offset losses to the state’s budget.

PA CARES dedicates $1 billion to extending unemployment benefits and earmarks $800 million for business assistance. It also includes nearly $600 million in aid to local governments; $250 million for K-12 education; $180 million in transportation funding; and $100 million for hospitals.

Of the $800 million in business relief, $300 million will be reserved for bars and restaurants. State Sen. Christine Tartaglione, whose district includes Northeast Philadelphia, said Harrisburg has an obligation to help the industry.

“These businesses are the lifeblood of our communities, our commercial districts, our tourism, and our economy,” she said in a statement. “They employ hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians and have been decimated by COVID mitigation policies like occupancy restrictions and bans on indoor service.”

Senator-elect Nikil Saval, who will begin representing South Philly in January, said the aid package is particularly important in light of rising case counts.

Pennsylvania reported 12,884 new COVID-19 cases Saturday, all-time, and Philadelphia hit its single-day pandemic peak of 1,816 on Friday.

“We are entering a stage of the pandemic that is, by virtually every measure, worse than the first stage, laying bare and exacerbating inequalities in all our health systems, devastating essential workers, and disproportionately harming Black and brown people,” Saval said in a statement.

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