General Assembly Approves COVID-19 Relief Bill, Emergency Response Constitutional Amendment

HARRISBURG – Lawmakers gave final approval today to a comprehensive $912 million COVID-19 relief package and a potential amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution to mandate greater collaboration in emergency response, according to Senator Camera Bartolotta (R-46), who supported both bills.

“The actions taken today by the General Assembly accomplish two critical goals: provide support to small businesses impacted by the pandemic, and make sure our communities never have to suffer through these kinds of hardships from their state government ever again,” Bartolotta said.

Senate Bill 109 allocates $569.8 million for rental and utility assistance, $197 million for education programs, and $145 million to support Pennsylvania’s struggling hospitality industry as it copes with the devastation created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Governor’s mandated closings and restrictions.

The bill would provide county block grants to assist the hospitality industry, including restaurants, bars and hotels. The grants, which range from $5,000 to $50,000, are prioritized for businesses that did not receive assistance through previous state and federal programs.

Under the measure, federal funding for rental and utility assistance would be proportionally distributed to counties based on their population.

The $197 million for education, which is also supported by federal funding, would be used to create a $150 million competitive grant program under the Department of Education to assist non-public schools that have been impacted by the pandemic and have not received government assistance.

The remaining $47 million would provide:

  • $20 million for Career and Technical Centers.
  • $14 million for Community Colleges.
  • $8.075 million for Private Residential Rehabilitative Institutions, charter schools for the deaf and blind, and approved private schools.
  • $5 million for the State System of Higher Education to support its restructuring initiative.

The House of Representatives also approved a Senate-led bill today that would amend the Pennsylvania Constitution to limit the length of future emergency disaster declarations unless an extension is approved by the General Assembly.

Senate Bill 2 would limit emergency declarations to 21 days unless the General Assembly approves a longer duration. The measure was approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives in two consecutive legislative sessions, meaning the question will now be decided by voters via referendum in this year’s primary election on May 18.

Under current law, a governor’s emergency declaration can last up to 90 days and be renewed by the governor indefinitely. Governor Wolf has used his emergency powers to take a number of steps without the authorization of the legislature, including shutting down businesses, suspending state laws and spending money without legislative approval.

The legislation also provides for a constitutional amendment prohibiting the denial of equal rights based on race or ethnicity, bringing the Pennsylvania Constitution in line with the U.S. Constitution.

 

CONTACT: Colleen Greer (717) 787-1463