HARRISBURG – Governor Wolf’s failed leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in Pennsylvania suffering the second-highest percentage of mandated business closures in the nation, according to Senator Camera Bartolotta (R-46).
Recent statistics released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that 30 percent of Pennsylvania businesses were forced to close during the pandemic. Only Michigan had a higher percentage of business closures (32 percent). The national rate was just 19 percent.
Despite the large number of business closures, Pennsylvania ranked outside the top 20 in terms of the percentage of businesses that received a loan or grant tied to payroll during the pandemic. Instead of continuing to collect a paycheck, displaced employees were forced into an outdated Unemployment Compensation system that was unable to handle the volume of new claims.
“The statistics clearly show the Wolf Administration forced too many businesses to close, kept those businesses closed for far too long, and did not do enough to help the business owners and employees who were deeply affected by the Administration’s unilateral orders,” said Bartolotta, who chaired the Senate Labor and Industry Committee during the 2019-20 Legislative Session. “We all recognize that certain precautions must be taken during a pandemic, but Governor Wolf’s mismanagement of the response to this crisis over the past several months is a big reason why many Pennsylvanians have zero faith in the decisions he is making now.”
Governor Wolf’s mandated business closure orders shuttered several industries that were permitted to safely operate in most other states during the pandemic, including outdoor construction and real estate. As a result, the state’s unemployment rate of 7.3 percent still lags the national average of 6.9 percent.
The delayed reopening of these and other industries has left the state’s economy in a worse position to respond to the governor’s latest round of restrictions, Bartolotta said. The draconian shutdowns did not result in a corresponding benefit to public health, as Pennsylvania still has the seventh-highest number of total coronavirus deaths in the country and has the 15th-highest death rate in the U.S. as a percentage of population.
At Bartolotta’s request, the Senate Majority Policy Committee held two public workshop discussions in the spring and summer to examine the steps local businesses could take to safely reopen. The discussions included detailed testimony from various stakeholders regarding extensive mitigation efforts that businesses were taking to protect employees and customers in accordance with recommendations of national health experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The testimony was largely ignored by the Wolf Administration.
“This is why responding to emergencies should be a collaborative effort. Lawmakers, county and local officials, business leaders and public health experts could have worked with the governor to reopen our economy on a more reasonable schedule during the spring and summer,” Bartolotta said. “Instead, businesses were forced to remain closed much longer than necessary, and the businesses that were strong enough to survive the early months of the pandemic now face even greater threats of bankruptcy and financial ruin because of his new shutdowns. We have long said that we can protect lives and livelihoods, and these goals do not need to be mutually exclusive. Unfortunately, the governor’s go-it-alone, one-size-fits-all approach has protected neither lives nor livelihoods.”
Bartolotta joined a bipartisan majority of lawmakers who supported a Constitutional amendment sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward (R-39) that would limit future disaster declarations and prevent emergency powers from being extended beyond 21 days without legislative approval. As a constitutional amendment, the bill must pass again during the 2021-22 Legislative Session and be approved by voters via referendum. The legislation is expected to be a top priority for lawmakers in 2021.
CONTACT: Colleen Greer (717) 787-1463