Pair of Lehigh Valley business approved for state loans

Two Northampton County companies have been approved for low-interest loans through the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority.

Gov. Tom Wolf announced the approvals this week, along with four other PIDA loans to support business growth.

Continental Cup Co. LLC, through Lehigh Valley Economic Investment Corp., will receive a 10-year $210,000 loan at 3.75% fixed interest rate to buy machinery and equipment, including a lid automation system; dome lid mold; die cutter and punching machine; forklifts; racking system; pumps; and other small equipment, which will be installed at its manufacturing facility at 1920 Spillman Drive, Bethlehem.

Total project cost is $491,562, and Continental Cup has committed to create 44 full-time jobs and retain 27 employees within three years.

Green Leaf Productions Inc., through Lehigh Valley Economic Investment Corp., will get a 10-year $945,000 loan at a 3% reset interest rate to acquire a 10,450-square-foot office building at 161 North Commerce Way, Hanover Township. The project site, which will be used as a full-service multimedia production facility, will provide Green Leaf with more production space and allow it to expand.

Total project cost is $2.1 million, and the company has committed to create 25 full-time jobs within three years.

So far this year, a release said, PIDA has approved more than $41.5 million in low-interest loans, producing almost $91 million in private investment and supporting 998 created and retained full-time jobs.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

SNAP expanded to assist nearly half-million Pennsylvanians

More than 420,00 Pennsylvanians and 174,000 households in the commonwealth are receiving increased food assistance due to expanded eligibility through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Updated October 1, 2022, those newly eligible for SNAP will receive an average of $63 per month to aid in the purchase of produce, meats, dairy, and additional groceries.

“Being able to eat and nourish yourself every day is one of the most essential building blocks to living well and doing everything else in life,” said Pennsylvania Department of Human Services (DHS) Acting Secretary Meg Snead. “It’s easy to take for granted, but for too many people, being able to afford your next meal isn’t a given. SNAP helps to make that possible. Expanding eligibility for SNAP allows us to extend a reprieve to people who may be struggling so we can help more Pennsylvanians meet this most essential need that literally fuels us to live, work, grow, and thrive, and I strongly encourage Pennsylvanians not currently using this program to apply and see if SNAP can help them make a little extra room in their monthly budget.”

SNAP eligibility is being expanded through Broad-Based Categorical Eligibility (BBCE). A federal program, SNAP’s benefits are funded through the federal budget with states administering eligibility and the issuance of benefits.

BBCE allows states to determine income thresholds that are appropriate and extend SNAP benefits to families and individuals whose low income causes them to struggle to purchase food.

“For years, we’ve gotten calls on a daily basis from folks who are hoping to qualify for SNAP but don’t,” Ann Sanders, Public Policy Advocate for Just Harvest, said. “They include parents who are trying to feed their kids, people who are struggling between skyrocketing rents and rising food prices. Often, they’re just a few dollars over the limit, so we’re thrilled that the Wolf Administration found a way to allow more of these households to qualify for some help.”

More than 2 million Pennsylvanians, including one in seven children, experience daily chronic hunger and food insecurity. Increased risks for disease, hospitalization, and increased health care costs can result from chronic nutrient deficiencies. SNAP and other programs help provide access to food for working adults, individuals with disabilities, older adults, and children. Expanding purchasing power means individuals will not have to choose between eating a meal or paying for a doctor’s appointment.

Grocery stores, food retailers, and various farm markets across the commonwealth accept SNAP. Applications for SNAP and additional public assistance programs can be submitted online at www.compass.state.pa.us.

Lehigh Valley projects awarded $2.5 million in state redevelopment money

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Tuesday the approval of a $10 million to support 15 community, economic development and revitalization projects throughout the state, including two in the Lehigh Valley. The money is from the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program.

“Hyper-local investments are the building blocks to success,” Wolf said in a release. “These dollars have the potential to transform neighborhoods and the lives of those who live there.”

In Lehigh County, $500,000 will be used for the following amenities and renovations at Allentown’s Coca-Cola Park: expanding the clubhouse, locker rooms, training facilities, hydro space and center field entrance. The venue is the home field of the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Phillies’ Triple A minor league affiliate.

In Northampton County, $2 million in RACP funding will support Easton’s Marquis Parking Garage project, demolishing a deteriorating parking garage to create a seven-story, mixed-use, multifamily development with apartments, retail space and parking.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer

Through May, state’s general fund revenue sets record pace

With the May totals now in, Pennsylvania has collected a record $43.9 billion in general fund revenue for the first 11 months of the current fiscal year, Gov. Tom Wolf announced

The $3.2 billion in general fund revenue that came into the state’s coffers last month was $402.4 million, or 14.2%, over estimate. Year-to-date general fund collections are 12.5% above

Here are more May numbers from the release:

• Sales tax receipts were $1.2 billion, or $129.1 million above estimate.

• Personal income tax revenue was $1.1 billion, or $126.9 million more than expected.

• The corporation tax revenue totaled $510.9 million, or $129.5 million more than

• Inheritance tax revenue was $132.3 million, or $15.6 million above estimate.

• Realty transfer tax revenue was $69.3 million, or $13.9 million more than expected.

• Other general fund tax revenue, including cigarette, malt beverage, liquor and gaming taxes, totaled $176.3 million, or $3.1 million less than anticipated.
• Non-tax revenue was $29.7 million, or $9.4 million below estimate.

Outside general fund collections, motor license fund collections – which include gas and diesel taxes, as well as other license, fine and fee revenues – were $301.1 million in May, or $10.7
million more than expected.

Also, the state’s rainy day fund, a separate account to protect Pennsylvania against emergencies, now contains a record $2.8 billion.

“We have the money in the bank to pay for the historic investment I want to make in K-12 education, as well as the corporate net income tax cut and reforms I have proposed to bolster
Pennsylvania businesses, and still have $1.8 billion left over,” Wolf said in the release. “At a time when Pennsylvanians are hurting and state government is not, there is no excuse not to
use this huge pot of money to improve education, lower costs for taxpayers, and build a stronger economy.”

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer.

Deadline approaches to apply for Hurricane Ida disaster loans

The U.S. Small Business Administration is reminding businesses in Pennsylvania that were affected by the remnants of Hurricane Ida from Aug. 31 to Sept. 5 of last year to apply for working capital loans before the June 10 deadline.

The federal Economic Injury Disaster Loan program is available to small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives, small businesses engaged in aquaculture, and private nonprofit organizations, an SBA release said.

The loans, not intended to replace lost sales or profits, are for working capital needs caused by the disaster and are available even if the business did not sustain physical damage. Loan amounts range up to $2 million with interest rates of 2.855% for small businesses and 2% for private nonprofits, with terms up to 30 years.

In Pennsylvania, the disaster declaration covers the counties of Adams, Bedford, Berks, Blair, Bucks, Cambria, Carbon, Chester, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Fulton, Huntingdon, Lancaster, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, Somerset and York.

Also falling under the declaration are New Castle County, Delaware; Allegany, Baltimore, Carroll, Cecil and Harford counties in Maryland; and Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Mercer and Warren counties in New Jersey.

Business owners may apply online, under SBA declaration No. 17166, using the electronic loan application form at DisasterLoanAssistance.sba.gov/ela/s. Information and application forms can also be obtained by calling the SBA at 800-659-2955.

Paula Wolf is a freelance writer.

Central Pa., Lehigh Valley airport projects get state money 

Five airports in central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley were among the recipients of $10 million total in state investments, announced Monday by Gov. Tom Wolf, through the Aviation Transportation Assistance Program. 

Overall, funds were earmarked for 12 projects at 10 airports. 

“Aviation plays a vital role in keeping our state’s economy moving,” Wolf said in a release. “These investments will help Pennsylvania’s airports operate safely, expand to meet current demands, and sustain growth well into the future.” 

Approved aviation projects included: 

  • Berks County, Reading Regional/Carl A. Spaatz Field – $3 million for air operations hangar complex infrastructure to accommodate the growth of an existing airport tenant.
  • Cumberland County, Carlisle Airport – $524,000 for design and construction of a terminal building to further continued economic development.
  • Lancaster County, Lancaster Airport – $750,000 to complete corporate hangar infrastructure to accommodate the growth of an existing airport tenant and provide space for a new operation relocating there.
  • Lehigh County, Lehigh Valley International Airport – $1.76 million to continue terminal connector and security checkpoint expansion and to enhance terminal commercial development connectivity.
  • York County, Capital City Airport – $150,000 for rehabilitation of airfield hangar roofs and structural reinforcement to repair rusted sheeting.

Senate bill looks to make cocktails-to-go permanent

A bill introduced in the state Senate last week would permanently allow the sale of cocktails-to-go in Pennsylvania after they were temporarily allowed for sale during the pandemic. 

Senators Daniel Laughlin, R-Erie and John Yudichak, I-Carbon and Luzerne, introduced Senate Bill 1138 last Friday, which would allow taverns, bars and licensed restaurants to permanently sell cocktails-to-go. 

The bill was written by Tom Tyler, president of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association (PLBTA) and could provide a needed boost in revenue for Pennsylvania businesses, according to the PLBTA. 

Gov. Tom Wolf signed a temporary cocktails-to-go bill into law in May 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 shutdown. The bill allowed businesses with valid R licenses from the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to sell cocktails-to-go if they lost at least 25% of their revenue because of the pandemic. 

Under the law, bars and restaurants could sell mixed drinks to-go in a sealed container no greater than 64 fluid ounces, including alcohol and mixers in a single transaction. Businesses lost the authority to sell to-go cocktails when Wolf’s pandemic disaster emergency declaration ended last June. 

While cocktails-to-go served as a lifeline during the COVID-19 emergency declaration, it also provided a way for family-owned establishments to expand their product offerings and increase customer convenience,” the PLBTA wrote in a statement on Monday. “Unfortunately, the end of the emergency declaration also meant the end to these products. This was a loss to both our industry and our patrons.” 

SB 1138 would help restaurants and bars maintain cash flow and expand their offerings, Laughlin and Yudichak wrote in a memo to Senate members in January.  

The memo goes on to say that 33 states adopted alcohol-to-go programs in the early days of the pandemic. Fifteen of those states have extended approval of those programs and 16 have passed laws to make the programs permanent. 

New York Governor Kathy Hochul just called to make drinks-to-go permanent, and New Jersey passed legislation last year allowing local governments to authorize cocktails to go.,” the senators wrote in the memo. “We need to continue to support our businesses in Pennsylvania with this type of legislation. It will create revenue for businesses that continue to struggle and aid in their recovery.” 

Wolf joins four Democrat governors to request pause on federal gas tax 

Gov. Tom Wolf, along with four other Democratic governors, is urging Congress to pass legislation that would pause the federal gas tax until the end of the year. 

In a joint letter to leaders in the US Senate and House, the governors said that the move would address rising gas prices amid international crises and rising inflation. 

Currently tax prices across the country exceed $4 per gallon. A pause on the federal gasoline tax would decrease that cost by 18.4 cents-a-gallon. 

The letter, addressed to Nancy Pelosi, Charles Schumer, Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell, asks for the approval of The Gas Prices Relief Act, legislation recently introduced in the House and Senate that would alleviate the consumer cost of rising gas prices. 

The letter was signed by the governors of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico and Wisconsin. 

“Like most Americans, Pennsylvanians are grappling with rising gas prices as they navigate paying for other household needs, from their rent or mortgage to groceries and other necessities,” said Wolf. “A federal gas tax holiday would ease some of that pain on Pennsylvanians’ wallets without impacting important infrastructure projects that are funded through the federal Highway Trust Fund.” 

Pennsylvania receives $6.8 million to promote access to unemployment compensation system 

Pennsylvania was awarded $6.8 million in grant funding to help promote fairer access to the state’s unemployment compensation system, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Wednesday. 

The Department of Labor & Industry will use the money to assist underserved populations by hiring more CareerLinks staff; adding iPad technology available to staff and claimants; and hiring staff to eliminate the backlog of pending Pandemic Unemployment Assistance appeals for the population targeted by the grant. 

The goal is to increase public awareness so more people apply for unemployment compensation; improve service delivery so claimants receive their first benefits in a timely manner; and develop a better understanding of the equity challenges. 

Funding comes from the American Rescue Plan Act through the U.S. Department of Labor. 

“Particularly during the pandemic, unemployment compensation became a lifeline for Pennsylvanians, but it’s critical that all Pennsylvanians who need it have access,” the governor said in a release. 

“I’m grateful that this funding emphasizes efforts to ensure equitable access to the UC system and that it will support our Department of Labor & Industry’s ongoing efforts to ensure that our UC system is accessible and secure.” 

Pennsylvania, Oregon, Virginia and the District of Columbia were the first applicants awarded a total of $20.5 million during this first funding round. 

Wolf urges Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board to remove Russian-made products from state-owned stores 

In a letter to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board on Sunday, Gov. Tom Wolf urged the state board to remove Russian-sourced products from Pennsylvania’s Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores. 

Wolf’s letter follows Russia’s attack on Ukraine this month. 

“I urge you to remove Russian-sourced products from stores and cease selling them as quickly as possible as a small show of solidarity and support for the people of Ukraine, and an expression of our collective revulsion with the unprovoked actions of the Russian state,” Wolf wrote in the letter. 

Removing Russian-made vodkas off the shelves of state stores was seconded by the Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, which called the option reasonable. 

“This is a reasonable option for the Commonwealth to take to show its disapproval of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the damage the attack has done to world peace,” said Chuck Moran, executive director of the association. 

Russian liquor sold at Pennsylvania’s state liquor stores includes Russian Standard and Ustianochka. If the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board does follow through with Wolf’s request, the move would not include Russian-themed liquors. 

The association recommended a number of American-made vodka brands for taverns, bars, clubs and licensed restaurants to use instead of Russian-made vodkas including Texas-made Tito’s Vodka and locally made vodkas such as Holla Spirits in York. 


Gov. Wolf’s 2022-23 budget proposes $4.5 billion spending increase 

In his final budget speech before the General Assembly on Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolf looked back at how the state has recovered from the budget deficit it was in during his first budget address in 2015 and highlighted plans for a $43.7 billion budget that he says can leverage the state’s current surplus. 

Wolf’s budget looks to invest in job training and employee retention with a series of provisions including increasing the minimum wage, reducing the corporate net income tax, funding childcare options for state employees and more. 

It also includes a significant emphasis on pre-k through college education with $1.9 billion in allocated funds. 

“Over the past seven years, we’ve turned a $2-3 billion structural budget deficit into a $2-3 billion budget surplus. We’ve built our Rainy Day Fund to more than $2.8 billion—more than 12,000 times what it was when I took office,” Wolf said in his address on Tuesday. “We are no longer digging out of a hole. We’re ready to build. And this year’s budget does exactly that, by making new investments that will build a brighter future for Pennsylvania families.” 

The budget would increase spending by $4.5 billion and would come at the expense of Pennsylvania’s long-term financial security, according to a statement released by Senate Republican Leaders, who said the budget was less about Pennsylvania and more about Wolf’s legacy. 

“While this year’s revenues continue to outpace estimates, the long-term financial picture for the Commonwealth remains uncertain. The Governor’s revenue and spending projections over the next several years are unrealistic, do not align with traditional rates of growth and will make worse our existing structural imbalance,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Pat Browne, R-Lehigh. 

The budget continues an effort by the Wolf Administration to increase Pennsylvania’s minimum wage, which would increase to $12 per hour on July 1, 2022, with annual increases of $0.50 until reaching $15 in 2028. 

Wolf’s annual push for increases to the minimum wage has been met with scrutiny by business associations that say that a minimum wage would harm small businesses in rural regions and that the majority of Pennsylvania businesses have moved away from the state minimum of $7.25 an hour. 

“Governor Wolf again called for increasing the minimum wage to an eventual $15/hour. The median wage in Pennsylvania increased from $16.50 in 2020 to $17.00 in 2021. The market continues to move wages far beyond $7.25/hour, demonstrating little need for new government wage mandates,” the National Federation of Independent Businesses wrote in a statement on Tuesday. 

The budget also seeks to decrease the state’s corporate net income tax rate from 9.99% to 4.99% “as quickly as possible.” Pennsylvania’s historically high corporate net income tax has been pointed to as a harm to Pennsylvania’s competitiveness in the business sector and could drive additional business into the region if it were to fall. 

Funding for Pennsylvania’s businesses and workforce through the budget would also include $1.5 million for Industrial Resource Centers and $8 million for job training through the Workforce and Economic Development Network of Pennsylvania. 

The $1.9 billion in educational funding pledged through the budget would be parsed across pre-k and through colleges with $70 million going to early education, $1.75 billion for general investments in K-12 schools and over $475 million for higher education. 

Regarding health care and long-term care funding, the budget sets aside $91.25 million to increase Medical Assistance rates for skilled nursing facility providers and $14 million for state veteran’s homes. 

Further investments include $50 million to increase the supplementary payment rates for personal care homes, a $36.6 million increase in county mental health base funds and a $14.3 million increase to the SNAP benefit for low-income older adults. 

The Pennsylvania Health Care Association, a statewide advocacy organization for long term care providers, said that the budget was “not enough.” 

“The Governor’s proposed Medicaid funding increase would be a critical step toward sustainability for long-term care – but it’s simply not enough,” said Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the association. “At a time when nursing home providers are questioning their operational viability due to inflation and continued COVID-19 expenses, a workforce shortage has become a full-blown crisis, which has created bottlenecks in hospitals and access to care issues in long-term care facilities.” 

Gov. Wolf announces $1.7 billion COVID recovery plan for Pennsylvania

Gov. Tom Wolf announced a plan on Wednesday to invest $1.7 billion in American Rescue Plan Act funds to help the state recover from the pandemic—a bid that critics say fails to put taxpayers first. 

The plan would invest $225 million into small business support; $204 million for relief for low-income renters and homeowners; $325 million for Pennsylvania’s healthcare system; $450 million for conservation, recreation and preservation; and $500 for a new PA Opportunity Program, which would provide relief to workers and families from the cost of childcare and household expenses. 

“As Pennsylvania endured the pandemic, we strategically invested to support small businesses, frontline workers, agriculture, healthcare, first responders, and more. This ensured that Pennsylvania survived,” said Wolf. “Now it’s time for Pennsylvanians to thrive and investing $1.7 billion in a bright future for this commonwealth will give Pennsylvanians a sense of security and a clear path forward.” 

Wolf was joined by Senate and House Democratic leaders at the capital on Wednesday to reveal the plan, which would be funded solely through federal dollars and not any general fund appropriations. 

The plan would include funding for The COVID Relief Statewide Small Business Assistance Program, which would provide grants ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 to small businesses impacted by the pandemic. 

It would also provide an additional $204 million investment into the existing Property Tax Rent Rebate program. 

For Pennsylvania’s health care industry, the plan sets aside $250 million for long-term care recruitment and retention incentives, $40 million for the behavioral health workforce to expand county mental health programs and $25 million to expand the student loan foreverness program at PHEAA to include additional critical health care workers. 

“Our state’s economy can’t fully recover until all Pennsylvanians can share in its recovery,” said House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Delaware and Philadelphia. “These targeted investments, drawn on a portion of the commonwealth’s American Rescue Plan dollars, will help thousands of Pennsylvania families and small businesses rebound from the repeated challenges caused by COVID-19.” 

The plan has been met with skepticism by House Republicans. 

In a joint statement released Monday afternoon, Speaker of the House Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster; House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre and Mifflin; and House Appropriations Committee Majority Chairman Stan Saylor, R-York, said the proposals were “developed in a fiscal fantasy land where concern for future fiscal years apparently doesn’t exist.” 

Gov. Wolf and his Democratic allies have only put forward the largest cradle-to-grave tax increases in Pennsylvania history and proposals that will increase the cost for Pennsylvania families to heat their homes to fuel their desired unchecked spending regardless of the economic circumstances,” the House leaders wrote in the statement. “In short, the only reason the economic difficulties that have been brought upon the nation by federal Democratic leadership over the last year have not happened in Pennsylvania sooner is because Republican leadership has kept this administration in check.”