In This Update:
Senate Leaders Urge Governor to Classify Residential Construction As Essential
Governor Wolf’s order to close all non-essential businesses two weeks ago idled numerous construction projects throughout the state. Senate leaders wrote a letter to Governor Wolf this week encouraging him to reclassify residential construction activities as an essential business and allow these projects to resume – as long as social distancing protocols are followed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security recently classified residential construction as an essential business. Pennsylvania is the only state to shut down all active public and private construction sites as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. New Jersey, California, Illinois and New York have issued shelter-in-place orders, but provide an exemption for construction personnel and construction activities.
The letter from Senate leaders is available here. Several lawmakers have also announced plans to introduce a bill to allow construction activities to resume with the proper protections in place to protect workers. More information on that bill is available here.
Online Auto Sales Should Resume in PA With Proper Precautions in Place
Transportation is a critical need, especially for the workers in the healthcare industry and other life-sustaining businesses who need a way to get back and forth to work. My colleague Senator Ryan Aument and I recently called on Governor Wolf to add automotive sales to the list of life-sustaining businesses permitted to operate during the coronavirus pandemic. To date, Pennsylvania is the only state that has halted online auto sales.
Public health and safety should remain our top concern. All auto sales could be conducted remotely with proper social distancing protocols in place to minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19. I am hopeful Governor Wolf will allow auto sales to resume with the proper CDC guidelines in place to protect workers and consumers. More details are available here.
Educational Resources Available for Students During Indefinite School Closures
Governor Wolf recently announced that all schools in Pennsylvania will remain closed indefinitely in order to limit the spread of COVID-19. A number of resources have been developed to provide a continuity of education for Pennsylvania students.
Schools that are interested in offering new courses or supplementing existing programs can subscribe to the online learning platforms Odysseyware and Edgenuity. These resources are available at no cost to school districts through their local intermediate unit.
The Department of Education also plans to provide grants for schools to purchase computer equipment to support online learning programs. Applications will be available through the department’s e-grants system by April 6 and must be submitted by April 10.
In addition, Pennsylvania’s seven Public Broadcasting Station (PBS) channels will also provide instructional programming for students. The Learning at Home resources are available to families and educators at https://learningathomepa.org/.
More information about continuity of education for Pennsylvania students during the COVID-19 shutdown is available here.
Major Disaster Declaration Issued in Pennsylvania
President Trump issued a major disaster declaration in Pennsylvania this week, freeing up federal money that can be used to help fight against COVID-19. The federal assistance will bring money to state and eligible local governments as well as certain private nonprofit organizations for emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance.
In addition to providing direct support, the declaration also ensures that eligible expenses related to the COVID-19 response – including materials and supplies to support state and local response efforts – will be partially reimbursed by the federal government.
The President’s statement on the disaster declaration is available here.
PA 2-1-1 Steps Up COVID-19 Information Efforts
The United Way of Pennsylvania and PA 2-1-1 are ramping up efforts to keep Pennsylvanians connected to verified sources of information on the coronavirus and resources to help households struggling with a loss of income.
PA 2‑1‑1 is part of the national 2‑1‑1 Call Centers initiative that provides an easy-to-remember telephone number and web resource for anyone seeking health and human services information – for everyday needs and during crisis situations.
Pennsylvanians can now text “PACOVID” to 898-211 to receive text messages with links to vetted sources of factual information. Pennsylvanians can also visit www.uwp.org/211gethelp for information on statewide, regional and local resources.
Text and website are the quickest ways to access help since PA 2-1-1 has seen more than double its normal contact volume over the past week. However, Pennsylvanians can also dial 2-1-1 on their land line or mobile phone to be connected to a resource navigator.
USDA Waiver Will Ensure All Children Qualify for Free Meals
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will allow all schools to provide free meals to children during statewide COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Previously, only a limited number of schools were permitted to offer free meals community-wide.
Thanks to the USDA waiver, local education agencies (LEA) – including school districts, charter schools, intermediate units and career and technology centers – can operate their food distribution sites under the Seamless Summer Option or Summer Food Service Program. LEAs can begin applying for a waiver from the Pennsylvania Department of Education immediately. The department is prepared to expedite reviews and approvals.
USDA has also authorized the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture to operate a Disaster Household Distribution program to provide critical food supplies to Pennsylvanians adversely affected by statewide COVID-19 mitigation efforts. More details about that announcement are available here.
Utility Providers Offer Special Programs for Families Affected by COVID-19
Coronavirus mitigation measures have had an enormous impact on many household budgets, leaving many families struggling to pay all of their bills on time. Many utility providers throughout the state are working to help families during this difficult time by offering modified payment plans and other programs to support affected families.
I strongly encourage community residents to contact their utility providers as soon as possible to learn what programs and services may be available.
Visit The State Museum of Pennsylvania Online
Coronavirus mitigation efforts mean we can’t visit museums, but we can access their entertaining and thought-provoking online exhibits. The State Museum of Pennsylvania has several virtual exhibits to explore.
Penn’s Treaty features the text, art, artifacts, and documents related to Commonwealth founder William Penn’s establishment of a “firm league of peace” with Native Americans.
Made in PA includes a sample of the many products for which the Commonwealth has been distinguished.
Steel: Made in Pennsylvania photos of abandoned and active Pennsylvania steel mills document a moment in the history of one of Pennsylvania’s most important historic and contemporary industries.
Check out the rest of the museum’s online exhibits.
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