In This Update:
Vaccine Schedule Accelerated Again: All Pennsylvanians Now Eligible
Earlier this week, the COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force announced another acceleration of the timeline of distributing vaccines to Pennsylvanians who wish to receive them. As a result, all Pennsylvanians are now eligible to schedule an appointment to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
This week, the Pennsylvania Department of Health notified all COVID-19 vaccine providers that the pause in administering doses of the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine will be extended until April 24 or until updated guidance is provided from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Individuals who have appointments scheduled to receive a Pfizer or Moderna vaccination should keep those appointments. If you are not aware of which vaccine type you are scheduled to receive, be assured that effective immediately, providers will not be administering the Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) vaccine. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations remain available.
More information about participating providers, vaccine safety, allocation, eligibility and other resources are available at a special webpage created by the Department of Health.
Committees Explore Education Reforms, COVID-19 Impacts, Infrastructure
Although the Senate will not return to session until next week, several Senate committees studied issues this week that could set the stage for future action in the General Assembly.
The Senate Education Committee held a hearing on Monday to review potential education reforms, including accountability, school choice and charter school reforms. The hearing featured testimony from teachers, students, parents, administrators and other stakeholders in both public and private education.
On Tuesday, the Senate Majority Policy Committee held a public hearing on the economic impact of COVID-19 business closures on the tourism and hospitality industries. The hearing highlighted the consequences of closures and restrictions for bars, restaurants, amusement parks, resorts and many other businesses during the pandemic.
The Senate Community, Economic and Recreational Development Committee held two days of hearings in southeastern Pennsylvania on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss the economic impact of the technology and energy infrastructure industries in Pennsylvania. Lawmakers also toured the Philadelphia Steamfitters Local Union 420.
Committee meetings and hearings scheduled next week are available online.
Reminder: Independent, Third-Party Voters Can Participate in May 18 Election
Pennsylvania’s independent and third-party voters are eligible to vote on proposed amendments to the state Constitution in this spring’s primary election.
Current law does not permit Independent or many third-party voters to cast ballots in most primary elections. However, all registered voters are eligible to weigh in on Constitutional amendments in any election.
Three proposed amendments to the state Constitution will appear on the May 18 ballot, including a measure to prohibit discrimination based on race or ethnicity, and two amendments to limit the length of emergency declarations and require more collaboration between the different branches of government during a disaster. A fourth ballot question will also allow voters to decide whether paid fire and rescue organizations should have additional borrowing power.
More information about these Constitutional amendments is available here.
Scavello Chairs Hearing on Impact of COVID-19 Business Closures on Tourism and Hospitality Employers
This week I chaired a virtual public hearing on the economic impact of COVID-19 business closures on tourism and hospitality employers.
The Senate Majority Policy Committee heard from representatives of restaurants, hotels, tourist destinations and others from across the 40th Senatorial District and the commonwealth.
The business closures aimed at mitigating the spread of COVID-19 had a devastating effect on businesses and workers across the board, but hit the tourism and hospitality sectors especially hard. This hearing brought together a broad array of employers from across Pennsylvania to share their first-hand experience and ideas for how to safely move forward.
Independent Fiscal Office Director Matthew Knittel told the committee that small business revenue in the leisure-hospitality sector is down 55 percent since January 2020, compared to 33 percent for all small businesses. Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President Gina Martens said 12 Lehigh Valley member restaurants have closed as a result of pandemic-related restrictions. Her organization supports legislation to suspend the remittance of sales tax on food and beverages for restaurants and bars until they are allowed to have 100-percent capacity again.
Pocono region tourism employs over 35,000 individuals and generates over $282 million in state and local tax revenues yearly and contributes over 64 percent of the regions total labor income. Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau President and CEO Chris Barrett testified that during March of 2020 tens of thousands of individuals in the Pocono hospitality industry lost their jobs literally overnight.
He told the committee that lack of communication in the form of clear guidelines surrounding the Wolf administration’s mitigation plans was an incredible source of stress and anxiety for thousands of individuals in the Pocono Mountains.
Joseph J. Ruvane, co-founder of Barley Creek Brewing Company in Tannersville, offered hopeful testimony and a request. With the vaccine rollout and increased dining capacity limits to 75 percent, businesses like his can grow stronger. Still, he said, further assistance from the state Department of Community and Economic Development would be appreciated.
Election Survey Responses Due by April 30
There is still time for Pennsylvanians to share their experience from last year’s election with the Senate Special Committee on Election Integrity and Reform. Election surveys for Pennsylvanians who voted by mail or in person will be accepted through April 30.
The committee is expected to use the survey responses and testimony gathered during its series of public hearings to produce a report with recommendations that will be presented to the General Assembly.
Scam Alert: New Fraud Targets PUA Recipients
Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claimants have been targeted by new fraud attempts in recent weeks. Scammers are asking PUA claimants to verify their identity via text messages and web forms, and then using that information to steal benefits and commit other forms of identity theft.
As a reminder, the only way to verify a claimant’s identity is via ID.ME – never via text messages or web forms. Community residents who have been targeted by these or other cases of fraud should report the scam attempt to the Department of Labor and Industry.
Free PHEAA Webinar Offers Financial Aid Advice for Students, Families
Navigating the financial aid process for higher education can be complicated and confusing for many families. The Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) will host a free Financial Aid 101 webinar on April 21 at 6:30 p.m. to help families learn more about higher education costs, the types of financial aid available and how Pennsylvania families can apply.
You can register to participate in this free webinar here.
Special Electronic Collection Event for Monroe County Residents
The Waste Authority will have a special electronic collection event on Saturday April 17th at the Military Road Recycling Center located at 1114 Military Road and Shaffer Schoolhouse Road in Stroudsburg. Proof of residency is required and only Monroe County residents can drop off acceptable electronic items. If you are unable to make this event, you can always bring your electronics to the Blakeslee Office location at 183 Commercial Blvd. Monday-Friday from 8:30-4:00 pm. There is no charge to recycle electronics. Full details are available here or you can call 570-643-6100.
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