Wolf’s post-pandemic plan includes millions for health care, unemployment help, testing

Justin Henry//April 20, 2020

Wolf’s post-pandemic plan includes millions for health care, unemployment help, testing

Justin Henry//April 20, 2020

Gov. Wolf outlined working plans on Friday for a sector-specific, regionally based approach to reviving civic life in the commonwealth. – PHOTO/PROVIDED

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.”