A $100 million program meant to construct and rehabilitate affordable housing units is now accepting applications.
Senate Democratic Appropriations Chairman Vincent Hughes (D-Montgomery/Philadelphia) announced Tuesday that the Housing Options Grant Program-Multi-family (HOP-MF) Program is now accepting applications.
Established as part of the 2022-23 Pennsylvania State Budget, the $100 million program is funded by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and will be used to construct and rehabilitate affordable housing units. The HOP-MF Program is operated by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA).
The applications follow the historic 22-23 state budget investment in affordable and workforce housing.
“My Democratic colleagues and I were able to work across party lines to deliver major investments in housing in the last budget,” Hughes said in a statement. “We are thankful for the leadership from our former governor, Tom Wolf, President Biden, and our leaders in Congress who helped make this possible.”
Hughes added that investing in affordable housing is a crucial way to restore and rebuild Pennsylvania’s neighborhoods and brighten the future of the state’s communities.
“All families deserve a safe and healthy place to call home,” said Hughes. “Eligible parties should apply now!”
The HOP-MF program is made up of three subprograms – the Emergency Grant Initiative, Preservation Initiative, and New Construction Initiative.
The Emergency Grant Initiative is designed to provide funding for emergency repairs to existing deed-restricted affordable housing throughout the state so existing tenants are not displaced.
The aim of the Preservation Initiative is to provide funding to rehabilitate properties on a non-emergency basis with the goal of creating/extending the affordability period and making certain sufficient repairs to the property to ensure the stability of the building through the affordability period.
The New Construction Initiative/Construction Conversion Initiative is designed to provide financing for the construction of affordable rental properties.
HOP-MF applications are open through 4 p.m. EST on May 23. The application is available online at Housing Options Grant Program-Multi-family Application – HOPMF (hopmfphfa.org).
Grants will be awarded no later than Dec. 31, 2024, and the entire funding must be spent by Dec. 31, 2026.
In his annual budget address on Wednesday, Gov. Tom Wolf outlined a $40.2 billion spending plan he says will reduce taxes for working class families and invest nearly $2 billion in new resources in the public education system.
But, his plan to raise the personal income tax on households earning above $84,000 for a family of four, was quickly denounced by business leaders who say it will crush already suffering small business owners.
Under the governor’s plan, 33% of Pennsylvanians would see their income tax increase 46%, from 3.07% to 4.49%. For example, a married couple with two children would pay no PIT if they make less than $50,000. The same family making $84,000 receive a tax cut.
But a four-person family with household income of $100,000 would pay an additional $1,400 a year.
Rep. Torren Ecker (R-Adams/Cumberland) said that the tax increases are an additional punch to the gut for small businesses attempting to recover after the pandemic.
“The governor’s proposed personal income tax increase of nearly 50% would take direct aim at the paychecks of Pennsylvanians who have been hit hardest by the pandemic,” he said. “I also find it alarming that the governor’s plan would harm the businesses that are already struggling to recover from the closures since most small businesses themselves pay the personal income tax.”
Wolf said that, while Pennsylvania’s personal income tax rates are relatively low and a good deal for residents who are financially secure, lower income residents pay the same rates.
The tax increase would add nearly $3 billion to the general fund budget, which would help pay for increases to basic and special education funding, the state’s subsidized child care program and more.
“When you go to file your taxes every year, you have to pay the same exact rates as I do,” Wolf said. “I want to help working families get ahead by reducing their taxes. If you’re married with two kids, and you earn less than $84,000 a year, I suggest we give you a tax cut.”
The Wolf Administration argues that the tax cut will help more than 400,000 business owners, saving over $240 million. In a statement to the Central Penn Business Journal, Lyndsay Kensinger, Wolf’s press secretary, said that the average tax decrease would be $600.
Wolf’s proposed personal income tax hike is not the only policy that the business community is wary of. Legislative priorities listed in the proposal include raising the state’s minimum wage to $15-an-hour, adding a new tax on the natural gas industry and a requirement that related groups of businesses combine their income for tax purposes.
“Many of the policies recently outlined by the governor as among his top legislative priorities for the year… will only increase the cost of doing business in the state and make the Commonwealth less competitive overall,” said Gene Barr, CEO and president of the Harrisburg-based PA Chamber of Business and Industry.
While many businesses may see a decrease in taxes through Wolf’s plan, businesses that are small enough to receive the cut would also be the most likely to see adverse effects from an increase to the minimum wage.
Wolf’s budget plan also calls for a 25% decrease in Pennsylvania’s Corporate Net Income Tax, an increase of funding to the state’s workforce development system to help workers impacted by the pandemic find work, and the legalization of recreational cannabis.
While he is glad to see the Wolf Administration acknowledge the state’s high corporate net income tax of 9.99%, Barr said that the state would need to enact further decreases to stay competitive with other states.
Gov. Tom Wolf extended the state’s Proclamation of Disaster Emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic for another 90-days.
In this week’s proclamation, Wolf noted that 314,401 Pennsylvanians have tested positive for the virus and 9,870 have reportedly died from it.
“With cases and hospitalizations increasing, we cannot afford to let down our guard,” Wolf said in a press release. “This renewal will allow the commonwealth to maintain its response and support efforts as we face increasing case numbers and decreasing hospital capacity.”
Wolf signed the first proclamation on March 6, following the announcement of the first two presumptive cases of COVID-19 and has since renewed the declaration in June and August.
The extended disaster declaration will allow the state to continue to waive the one-week waiting period to receive unemployment compensation and work search requirements. It also gives the state the power to provide relief from charges for employers and suspends numerous training requirements, certifications and licensure renewals for health care professionals, child care workers and more.
“The renewed disaster declaration will continue to support all of these efforts, as well as allow the commonwealth to rapidly scale response efforts and employ new intervention tactics, such as the administration of a vaccine,” The governor’s office wrote in the release.
Hospitals in counties transitioning to the green phase of Pennsylvania’s reopening plan may reopen their facilities to visitors at their own discretion, according to updated guidance released Wednesday by the Wolf administration.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s most recent update to his green-phase guidelines notes that visitation to both prisons and hospitals can resume if they are in one of 18 counties transitioning to green status Friday.
Many hospitals enacted their own visitation rules as early as mid-March. The state’s new guidance gives facilities the option to open their doors to visitors, but reminds those visitors to be diligent about hygiene.
York-based WellSpan Health prohibited all visitations to its hospitals on March 21 save for a few exceptions such as minor patients and patients nearing the end-of-life.
WellSpan plans to begin lifting restrictions at its hospitals when nearby counties begin transitioning to the phase, said Matthew Heckel, a spokesperson for the hospital system.
“Our number one priority during this COVID-19 pandemic has been to keep everyone in our hospitals safe,” Heckel said. “As counties continue the reopening process, the visitation policy for our hospitals and outpatient settings will likely become less restrictive; however, healthy and approved visitors would continue to be required to follow guidelines in place including the wearing of a face covering when in a WellSpan Health facility.”
A new order from Gov. Tom Wolf offers more guidance on what businesses may and may not do as their counties transition from yellow to green under Pennsylvania’s reopening plan.
The updated guidance detailed additional guidance for restaurants in both phases of the plan.
Here’s what it says:
Starting June 5, restaurants in yellow counties will be permitted to offer dine-in services in outdoor seating areas but must continue to keep indoor areas, including bar seating, closed.
Self-service options such as buffets, salad bars and drink stations must also remain closed, and condiments must be dispensed by employees upon request.
Restaurants in green counties may now provide indoor and outdoor seating as long as they provide physical barriers or six feet of distance between customers.
Customers may also sit together at a bar, but must have four or less individuals in their party.
Restaurants in either yellow or green counties have three options when adhering to occupancy limits under the guidance, according to information from the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association.
The businesses can decide their occupancy limits by either limiting the number of customers to 50% of the stated fire capacity, to 12 people for every 1,000 square feet or by arranging the restaurant’s layout so customers aren’t sitting within six feet of another seated table.
The updated orders also specify that personal care services, including hair salons and barber shops can operate by appointment, and gatherings of 250 individuals or more will remain prohibited until further notice.
Places of worship, such as churches and synagogues, are specifically excluded from the limitations in the order, but are encouraged to enforce social distancing.
Real estate businesses and workers are allowed to resume operations across the state under industry-specific social distancing guidelines, the Wolf administration announced Tuesday afternoon. This amendment to the statewide closure of “non-life-sustaining businesses” goes into effect immediately.
“This industry [real estate] impacts numerous types of businesses and Pennsylvania homebuyers who are in the process of, or considering, purchasing a home,” Wolf said Tuesday afternoon. “It’s critical that these businesses, regardless of whether they are in red phase or yellow phase counties, strictly adhere to all appropriate guidelines and guidance.”
The real estate industry is permitted to conduct in-person functions in counties categorized as yellow and red under the state’s three-phase reopening plan, as long as companies and workers observe newly released guidelines from Wolf administration officials. The guidelines state that when a county turns green, its businesses do not have to follow the guidelines any longer but will be subject to more general statewide regulations set forth by state officials for safely reopening commerce in the commonwealth.
The latest revision to the governor’s plan to reopen the commonwealth’s economy comes after weeks of lawmakers and private sector trade groups pressuring the Wolf administration to exempt real estate work from statewide business closure orders, citing such exemptions in every U.S. state but Pennsylvania.
A bill even made it to the governor’s desk this week for approval that would have allowed real estate work to commence in red counties but Wolf vetoed it Tuesday, saying it would have infringed on his executive authority as governor, according to Wolf’s veto message.
New real estate industry guidelines require individuals to use separate transportation to property showings, schedule and record in-person meetings and office visits, limit in-person activities to no more than the real estate professional and two people inside the property and conduct settlements and closings procedures with remote technology when possible. Read the full guidance document here.
Under the guidelines, businesses and employees in real estate are prohibited from providing food during in-person functions and conducting group showings in person — open houses, broker opens and office tours included.
The guidelines state that “failure to strictly adhere to the requirements of this guidance may result in disciplinary actions up to and including suspension of licensure.”
State Senators this week challenged Wolf administration officials on their plan to reopen Pennsylvania’s civic life, citing an alleged lack of transparency and “arbitrary” metrics used to determine when counties may begin easing social distancing restrictions.
After new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the commonwealth plateaued at around 1,500 new cases a day in mid-April, Gov. Wolf announced last week his administration would implement a phased transition back to work for Pennsylvanians. On May 8, 24 northwest and northcentral counties are slated to resume certain in-person operations as part of their move from the state’s “red” to “yellow” phase, Wolf announced last week.
However, state officials haven’t issued a timeline for the remaining parts of the state.
“Over the past several weeks, one of the challenges we have faced as we have helped the business community is our inability to provide clear and unambiguous answers to them,” said Senator Scott Martin, R-Lancaster, during a hearing of the Senate Local Government Committee. Martin is the chairman of committee. “The people that we work for deserve answers to their questions, especially during the course of this pandemic.”
State Health Department officials say they will watch for the rate of coronavirus incidence in counties in the coming weeks to drop below 50 confirmed cases per 100,000 people, at which point it’s eligible to transition from red to yellow.
“The metric that we set is necessary but not sufficient,” state Health Secretary Rachel Levine said in her testimony Monday. To determine a county’s ability to safely reopen, Levine said health department officials are monitoring intensive care unit capacity rates, population density, population-age risk and reopening contact risk — for which northwest and northcentral counties have the lowest rate.
Levine said it’s critical that the commonwealth’s transition to its “new normal” in the green phase is gradual, because of the lingering threat of an outbreak and a resurgence of COVID-19 cases, which would cause the state to re-initiate a shutdown process.
“One of the biggest risk factors to seeing a surge in June or July is if we open up too soon, if we go from red to yellow too soon,” Levine said. “That’s why a county like Lancaster cannot go to yellow at this time.”
Sen. Bob Mensch, R-Montgomery County, asked why an entire county has to be shut down when the incidence of COVID-19 is centered largely in densely populated regions and long-term care facilities. Why not use more specific geographic markers such as zip codes instead, he asked.
“People travel significantly between different zip codes,” Levine responded. “We’re not going to take it by zip code because of the amount of traffic and movement when people go out and go shopping.”
Asked why some industries were required to close while others were considered “life-sustaining,” Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director Randy Padfield said mandated closures were based on modeling and projections at the start of the pandemic, which didn’t account for mitigation efforts.
Initial projections, he said, suggested roughly 20,000 Pennsylvanians would die from COVID-19 and hundreds of thousands more would be infected. As of Monday, 50,092 people in the commonwealth had tested positive, and 2,458 died, according to the latest figures from the state Health Department.
“As I usually tell people, our crystal ball was very clouded,” Padfield testified Monday. “If this was a natural disaster, we’d be able to forecast where we’d be three or four weeks into it.”
There’s still a disagreement between Republican lawmakers and the Wolf administration about the closure of non-life-sustaining businesses for the past month and a half, said Martin in a Tuesday morning interview. Martin said the state’s modeling should have been adjusted as mitigation kept the number of cases lower than expected and centered in long-term care facilities, potentially allowing businesses to reopen sooner under social distancing best practices.
“At least they’re admitting that the model was wrong at the beginning, that things didn’t materialize like they thought they would in the beginning,” he said.
Pennsylvania ranks fifth among states with the most restrictive social distancing orders, according to a WalletHub study. Pennsylvania also has the distinction of being the only state that doesn’t allow its real estate industry to function, according to Martin.
Health and emergency officials said the commonwealth’s approach to social distancing allowed Pennsylvania to avoid the levels of stress to its health care system seen in New York and New Jersey by implementing strict social distancing measures.
“We have not overwhelmed [state hospital facilities],” Levine said. “That’s a great success of our mitigation and prevention efforts. We did not see the situation that happened in New York, New Jersey or even Italy because of the governor’s stay-at-home orders and other mitigation efforts.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect a change in the number of deaths that the Pennsylvania Department of Health has confirmed on Wednesday.
Gov. Tom Wolf unveiled more details for a three-phased plan to ease social distancing guidelines that will apply to individual regions of the commonwealth, beginning with north-central and northwest counties.
As of Wednesday, 35,968 coronavirus cases have been confirmed in the commonwealth, with the hardest hit counties in the eastern part of the state. A total of 1,622 Pennsylvanians have died from the virus, health officials say.
To determine when a region is ready to reopen and return to work, the state will evaluate the rate of coronavirus cases per capita. When the health department verifies an average of less than 50 per 100,000 people sustained over 14 days, that county will be eligible to transition to the “new normal,” where close monitoring of public health indicators of resurgence of cases will be in effect.
The Wolf administration has partnered with Carnegie Mellon University to create a data-driven information and support utility, which state officials say is designed to strike a balance between mitigating public health risks and minimizing the economic strain to businesses.
“We will not just be flipping a switch and going from closed to open, and ultimately the virus is going to set the timeline,” Wolf said Wednesday. “There is no single tool we will be using to determine reopening. Rather we will look at several pieces to ensure that our case count is under control and that we have the local support to manage the cases and outbreaks.”
State House Republicans, who have criticized the Wolf administration’s alleged lack of transparency and unwillingness to ease restrictions on small businesses, applauded the governor’s statement Wednesday.
“We look forward to continuing to engage with the administration and all branches of government to rebuild and recover our economy,” House Republicans said in a statement. “We must continue to help the millions of Pennsylvanians who are out of work as a result of this pandemic by processing unemployment compensation claims in a timely manner and getting funds to self-employed residents.”
Right now, the entire state is in the “red” category, meaning only businesses deemed life-sustaining are open, travel is restricted for to life-sustaining purposes and large gatherings are prohibited. But using a tentative timeline, state officials set May 8 as the target date to transition north-central and northwest counties, which have seen the state’s lowest levels of COVID-19 cases, into the “yellow” phase.
In the yellow category, companies have to use telework when possible, but operations can resume in-person while abiding by building and business safety orders. Retail services will be permitted, although state officials urge businesses to continue to prioritize curbside and delivery options. Stay-at-home orders will be lifted in favor of other mitigation tactics.
However, indoor recreation and health fitness areas and entertainment facilities will remain closed, and restaurants and bars will be restricted to carry-out and delivery only.
Such aggressive mitigation efforts — stay-at-home orders and non-life-sustaining business closures — will be lifted in the “green” phase. There is no tentative date for this phase. During this time, companies will be required to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.
State officials have not released guidelines for reopening specific industry sectors, although they said the same data-driven approach to determining area-specific re-openings will be applied to the business sector.
Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation Monday that, among other provisions, will provide property tax relief by allowing taxing districts to waive late fees for property taxes as long as they are paid by the end of 2020.
The legislation, proposed by state Sen. Scott Martin, R-Lancaster, includes several provisions that allow government and private sector activity to:
Extend deadlines for property tax discount rates to any date until Aug. 31.
Conduct meeting remotely.
Notarize documents remotely.
“Local governments need the flexibility to continue to conduct their business and help struggling community residents during these extraordinarily difficult times,” said Martin, chair of the state Senate’s Local Government Committee.
The legislation reauthorizes the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council and requires it to study the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on health systems. Under the law, school districts can renegotiate contracts with service providers to ensure payment of personnel and fixed costs amid mandatory school closures.
Amid demonstrations outside the state capitol building and surrounding streets calling for the reopening of the commonwealth’s business sector, Wolf vetoed a bill that would have required state officials to use federal guidelines to determine which businesses can reopen during the pandemic.
The bill would have potentially broadened the number of companies allowed to resume operations by requiring the state Department of Community and Economic Development to conform to an advisory memo from the federal Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency identifying “essential critical infrastructure workers.”
The advisory list of workforce sectors included food and agriculture, energy, water and wastewater, transportation services, communications and information technology and infrastructure support services.
“This is not an easy decision, but it is the right course of Pennsylvania,” Wolf said in a memo accompanying his veto. “Reopening tens of thousands of businesses too early will only increase the spread of the virus, place more lives at risk, increase the death tolls and extend the length of the economic hardships created by the pandemic.”
Angry over the closure of businesses deemed “non-life sustaining,” hundreds of protesters, many carrying signs and hats supporting President Donald Trump, took the streets of Harrisburg to protest the actions of Gov. Tom Wolf to protect public health during the coronavirus pandemic.
Protesters gathered on the steps of the Capitol building in Harrisburg as supporters drove through the city honking their horns in encouragement.
Organizers called on the governor to be more transparent.
“I truly believe that our liberties have been stripped from us with no explanation of how this will end,” said Matthew Bellis, chief communications officer at Lancaster-based Liberty HealthShare and an administrator of “ReOpen PA. “We need more transparency from the government and we need more people to tell us how they are making these decisions.”
Early last week, a number of Facebook groups quickly gathered support online for hosting a space where individuals could share their grievances regarding Pennsylvania’s current stay at home orders.
Pennsylvanians Against Excessive Quarantine and ReOpen PA attracted 50,000 supporters on line in less than a week. Bellis and his fellow organizers had no previous experience in organizing a protest and referred to the effort as a grassroots movement.
“If we tried to do this again it would be like capturing lightning,” he said. “We had folks giving speeches from the capitol steps, many people turned out and many more drove around and showed their support.”
Speakers at the hour-long event included state Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Adams, and state Rep. Russ Diamond R-Lebanon. Both thanked the crowd for coming to the event and criticized the state for its use of business closures to cease the spread of COVID-19
“Never before in the history of this commonwealth has a governor exercised so much power,” said Mastriano. “Never before has a governor decided which businesses he declares essential and nonessential.
“We have a single focus here,” he said, “to reopen Pennsylvania, protect your lives and take this power away from the governor. He should not assign right or wrong, winners or losers.”
Megan Osborne, owner of Meghan Motors in Greencastle, Franklin County, said she will need to lay off her employees this week if she can’t open her business. She would be happy to sanitizing surfaces and maintain social distance if she could keep her business open.
“If we have other individual responsibilities then so be it, but business shouldn’t be closed,” she said.
Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday unveiled a three-phase plan — “relief, reopening and recovery” — for an economic and civic rebound from the coronavirus pandemic that includes hundreds of millions of dollars in aid for the state’s health care sector and plans for a measured reopening to commerce.
The state’s plan for a transition to a post-COVID-19 existence seeks to fill many of the gaps in the $2.2 trillion CARES Act aid package, with expanded services for food-insecure Pennsylvanians, student loan debt relief, a “pandemic unemployment assistance” program and health plan coverage for coronavirus diagnostic testing.
Wolf made it clear that during the relief period, non-life-sustaining businesses are still required to shutter in-person operations.
“I asked for you to close schools and businesses, cancel large events, stay at home, all in an effort to simply keep our friends, our neighbors, our families, our coworkers, alive,” Wolf said. “I will be forever grateful for your courage, compassion and speed. Despite uncertainty, Pennsylvanians acted collectively, not because of any order, but because we care deeply for each other. Now I am asking again for you to believe in our commonwealth.”
The Wolf Administration pledged a $450 million Hospital Emergency Loan Program (HELP) to provide low-interest bridge loans for the state’s health care facilities. With approval from the Pennsylvania General Assembly, Wolf said he would purchase $50 million in medical equipment for hospitals, nursing homes and emergency workers.
The governor signed an executive order that would allow state officials to transfer personal protective equipment and supplies between health care facilities. He said the state is working to make 1.8 million N95 masks, 136,000 gowns, 912,000 procedure masks, 730,000 gloves, 990 goggles and 147,000 face shields available to health care workers.
Wolf instituted measures to bolster the health care workforce: retired medical professionals would be able to quickly re-activate licenses to support the health care workforce, the governor said, having waived many of the requirements that would slow down the process; license renewal deadlines have been expanded along with administrative requirements for new and temporary health care licensees.
State officials haven’t released a timeline for the implementation of the plan nor a date of when social distancing guidelines are expected to be lifted. However, the Wolf administration released a statement saying state officials will work toward a “data-driven” approach “reliant upon quantifiable criteria to drive a targeted, evidence-based and regional approach to reopening Pennsylvania.”
Plans for a transition to a post-pandemic economy would include “vigorous” financial support for small businesses with the reopening of the Working Capital Access Program and the creation of a grant program for companies that make $3 million or less in gross annual receipts or employ up to 30 full-time employees.
Stated plans also include investments in and tax credits for manufacturing, upgrades to statewide broadband capabilities and support for the state’s food supply chain.
“While the plan for long-term recovery still lies ahead, there are already lessons learned from this disaster that allow us to put markers down for where we need to go once the disaster subsides,” Wolf administration officials said Friday. “There is still much we do not know, including when businesses can begin to reopen safely.”
A statewide order compelling employers to require all employees and customers to wear masks in their facilities will not be postponed despite a lack of available supplies.
Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine signed the order on April 15. The requirement goes into effect on Sunday. Failure to comply could result in fines and citations.
It is unclear how aggressively the state’s departments will enforce the order. In a phone call with press on Thursday, Gov. Tom Wolf referred to the order as a set of guidelines when asked if the order would be enforced by the Pennsylvania State Police.
“Businesses are responsible for ensuring that customers abide by the protocols pertaining to customers, and the appropriate enforcement agencies are responsible for ensuring that employers abide by the protocols pertaining to employers and employees,” said Elizabeth Rementer, deputy press secretary for the Office of the Governor. “Law enforcement has been tasked with ensuring that businesses are aware that the order exists and notifying businesses that a complaint of noncompliance was received.”
During a press conference on Thursday, Levine said she would not delay the start date past April 19 for any industry.
“We recommend that if someone comes to a retailer or a grocery store and doesn’t have a mask, that they be asked to go back home and get a mask,” Levine said. “If the store has extra masks they can certainly give one and that would be great.”
The Department of Health has since released further guidance on the order, noting that masks can be obtained or made by employers or employees but must be approved by the employer in accordance with department guidelines.
Masks can be non-medical-grade and when masks aren’t available, the department also recommends using a scarf or bandana.
Levine’s order also specifies that if an employee contracts COVID-19, businesses must implement temperature screenings before employees can enter the business prior. When asked what a business should do if they purchase no-contact thermometers that cannot be delivered before Sunday, Levine said they can reach out to the department for support.
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