Week Ending Sept. 11, 2020

Sep 11, 2020


COVID-19 Funding Bills on the Move in Senate

The state Senate moved on several COVID-19-related funding bills. Pennsylvania has $1 billion remaining from the federal CARES Act enacted last March.

Senate Bill 1226, sponsored by Sens. Christine Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia) and Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), would allocate $130 million in federal CARES Act funding to help higher education institutions manage financial hardships caused by the pandemic. The legislation proposes to grant $35 million to Pennsylvania’s community colleges; $25 million each to Temple University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Penn State University; and $10 million each to Lincoln University and Thaddeus Stevens College of Technology.

Senate Bill 1307, sponsored by Sen. Tom Killion (R-Delaware), allocates $150 million from the federal CARES Act to assist residential and small-business customers with utility payments. Under the bill, $25 million is allocated to assist individual and small businesses with delinquent water and wastewater payments; $100 million is allocated for a low-income energy assistance residential utility payment program; and another $25 million is allocated to public utilities to provide small-business assistance grants to qualifying businesses for utility expenses. The funds will be distributed on a pro rata basis to each public utility.

Senate Bill 1314, sponsored by Sen. Judy Ward (R-Blair), establishes a statewide competitive grant program of $200 million to be run by the Commonwealth Financing Authority for eligible community-based, human service nonprofit organizations impacted by the pandemic. Maximum allowable grants will not exceed $500,000 per eligible nonprofit.

House Bill 2513, sponsored by Rep. Garth Everett (R-Lycoming), would allow food and beverage establishments to have indoor operations within certain guidelines, prohibit requirements that a meal must be purchased to buy alcoholic beverages, and allow the extension of liquor-licensed premises to additional outside serving areas during the COVID-19 disaster emergency.

These bills are all before the Senate for consideration.

 

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Measure Giving Local Schools Final Say on Fall Sports Goes to Wolf

The state Senate approved legislation granting school districts the final say on whether to allow school sports, extracurricular activities, and spectators during the 2020-2021 school year. The bill passed the state House on Sept. 2.

House Bill 2787, sponsored by Rep. Mike Reese (R-Westmoreland), would allow school districts to develop their own health and safety plans to reflect the realities facing schools during the COVID-19 pandemic. The health and safety plans would be required to be posted online and submitted to the Department of Education. The bill would prohibit any individual who has COVID-19 in a transmissible stage from participating in any sporting event or extracurricular activity.

Most recently, Gov. Tom Wolf abruptly called for the cancellation of all fall sports this year. However, the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association voted to allow school sports to continue after discussing the issue at length with stakeholders.

House Bill 2787 was sent to the governor for his signature, but Wolf announced that he will veto the legislation. 

 

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Senate Approves Bill to Provide Expanded Broadband Access

The state Senate unanimously approved legislation that would establish a grant program to extend deployment of broadband services in underserved areas of the state. Lawmakers also positioned a measure for a final vote requiring public notice of information breaches.

Senate Bill 835, sponsored by Sen. Wayne Langerholc (R-Cambria), will provide funding to improve access to high-speed broadband internet in rural areas of the state. Additionally, it would limit funding to entities that have demonstrated the ability to construct and administer internet services and require that they provide 20% of the funding for the project. The bill goes to the House for consideration.

A similar bill was approved this week by the Senate Communications and Technology Committee. House Bill 2348, sponsored by Reps. Martin Causer (R-McKean) and George Dunbar (R-Westmoreland), would create the Unserved High-Speed Broadband Funding Grant program and reappropriates an existing tax credit of $5 million to the fund per year. It will be managed by the Commonwealth Financing Authority. The bill is before the full Senate for consideration.

Sen. Dan Laughlin’s (R-Erie) Senate Bill 487 was also approved by the committee. His bill updates the Breach of Personal Information Notification Act to require state agencies victimized by a breach involving personally identifiable information to report the incident to those affected within seven days. Senate Bill 487 is now before the Senate for consideration.

 

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Bill Requiring Legislature’s Approval of Greenhouse Gas Controls Goes to Governor

The state Senate approved legislation that would increase the legislature’s say on proposals to have Pennsylvania join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). The bill now moves to Gov. Wolf's desk.

House Bill 2025, introduced by Rep. Jim Struzzi (R-Indiana), creates the Pennsylvania Carbon Dioxide Cap and Trade Authorization Act. The legislation establishes a series of steps that the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) would be required to follow to ensure the public is informed and involved before it could submit an RGGI proposal to the General Assembly for consideration. In addition, it also prohibits the DEP from joining RGGI without legislative approval.

On Oct. 3, 2019, the governor issued an executive order directing DEP to commence RGGI regulations. RGGI would establish a regional cap on the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution that power plants can emit by establishing a trading system. Power plants in RGGI member states can trade allowances, preventing the total amount of CO2 emissions in the region from increasing. RGGI would also establish a carbon tax on fossil fuel users for the resulting CO2 emissions.

 

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Additional Unemployment Compensation Payment Applications Available

Unemployment compensation claimants who apply and qualify for the federal Lost Wages Assistance (LWA) program will begin receiving an extra $300 weekly benefit as early as Sept. 14, 2020. Under the federal LWA program, only individuals who are fully or partially unemployed due to COVID-19 disruptions may apply for this benefit.

To qualify for the extra $300, the LWA program requires that eligible individuals must have a benefit rate and dependence allowance totaling $100 or more per week in benefits, and must receive a benefit payment for each week from one of the following qualifying programs:

  • Regular Unemployment Compensation
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance
  • Pennsylvania Extended Benefits
  • Shared Work or Short-Time Compensation
  • Trade Readjustment Allowances

With the exception of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Shared Work, individuals receiving benefits from these programs will need to apply for LWA by certifying that their unemployment is due to COVID-19. Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claimants do not have to apply because they previously certified they were unemployed due to COVID-19 and will receive payments automatically. Employers in a Shared Work program must provide the required certification on behalf of all participating employees.

The temporary LWA program runs through December or until federal funding is depleted. Pennsylvania will make public announcements when the final payment date is known.

 

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COVID-19 Revenue Losses Place Municipalities at Risk

The University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Metropolitan Studies, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, has posted potential revenue losses to Pennsylvania municipalities due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers estimate that revenue losses range from $833 million to $3.4 billion, or a 4% to 16% reduction in total municipal revenues in fiscal year 2019-2020 across a low, medium, and high impact scenario.

According to the post, the medium impact scenario projects that between fiscal years 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 an estimated 150 municipalities will face cash insolvency and may not have sufficient revenues to continue operations. For fiscal year 2019-2020, the primary driver of this outcome is the projected reduction in earned income tax revenues, with an estimated shortfall of $526 million. Other revenue sources, including amusement tax (-25%), parking revenue (-20%), and business tax (-20%), are projected to record the largest percentage declines. 

 

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Pennsylvania Demographic Outlook

The Independent Fiscal Office (IFO) has released its demographic outlook, a forecast of state population growth through 2030. In prior years, the information contained in this report was presented within the IFO’s Five-Year Economic and Budget Outlook. Demographic projections presented in the Pennsylvania Demographic Outlook September 2020 report are based on tabulations from the 2019 population estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau, various other census products, and data supplied by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

 

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