Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf renewed his call on Thursday to give up to $2,000 to households earning $80,000 or less by tapping into unspent funds from the US federal bailout law.
Wolf originally unveiled his proposal in February, calling on the General Assembly to take action with $1.7 billion in surplus federal funds that will have to be returned to the federal government by the end of 2024 if a plan is not made. approved to spend the money.
Wolf also wants to use the money to provide small business grants and property tax relief, and to fund healthcare and conservation programs.
The US $1.9 trillion bailout law, passed in March 2021, included $195.3 billion for states known as the Coronavirus State Fiscal Recovery Funds. Pennsylvania received $7.29 billion and allocated about $4.6 billion for the 2021-22 fiscal year, leaving more than $2 billion in the state’s general fund for the next fiscal year.
All ARPA funds must be committed to a purpose by the end of 2024 and expended by the end of 2026.
“Pennsylvanians shouldn’t have to choose between paying for utilities or groceries, childcare or gas. We have the opportunity and the means to make sure they don’t struggle, to ensure their success,” Wolf said. “I ask the General Assembly to unite across the aisles on this for the good of every Pennsylvanian — for when they succeed, our Commonwealth succeeds. Let’s get that money out of our coffers and into the pockets of Pennsylvanians.”
Wolf $1.7 billion proposal would commit $500 million to the PA Opportunity program, which would make direct cash payments to households similar to the federal coronavirus stimulus checks that were issued in three rounds in the first two years of the pandemic.
“For people who have faced the most severe economic hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Governor’s PA Opportunity Program would provide such a boost,” said State Rep. Maureen Madden. , D-Monroe. “Even as the economy recovers in record fashion and the number of unemployed continues to fall, we still face global inflation, and the rising cost of living is hampering the recovery of working-class families who are the cornerstone of our communities.”
Wolf and other Democratic lawmakers urged Republicans in the state legislature to work with them to reach a deal that uses ARPA money.
In March, Republican Senator Pat Browne of Allentown said morning call that he thinks there is room for a compromise on the use of certain federal funds.
“We may not be able to accept all the things he comes up with,” said Browne, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Pennsylvania’s choices for ARPA funds come against the backdrop of an impending 2022 gubernatorial election. That makes the $2.2 billion surplus an attractive resource for a new administration. if Wolf is unable to get Republicans to back a plan to allocate the money this year.
Some Republican lawmakers say keeping ARPA funds in reserve is necessary to ensure the state budget remains balanced over the next two and a half years. The money would disappear after that point, however, and any concrete benefits it might bring to the state in the meantime would not materialize.
Wolf argued that the state’s general fund balance of $8.8 billion, which includes about $2.2 billion in ARPA money, is at a safe level for lawmakers to use the funds.
In addition to direct cash payments, Wolf’s $1.7 billion plan would include $225 million in support for small businesses. Grants ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 would be available to help businesses affected by the pandemic cover operating expenses and access technical assistance.
About $204 million would go to help low-income renters and homeowners, including an expanded property tax rebate on rents that would provide an average of $475 to about 466,000 Pennsylvania residents.
A $325 million investment in the state’s health care system would include $250 million for long-term care recruitment and other workforce development programs that can address a shortage skilled health workers. An additional $40 million would go to expanding county mental health programs and $35 million would go to student loan relief for those working in health care.
Finally, $450 million would be dedicated to conservation programs that support agriculture, recreation, community revitalization and initiatives that prepare the state for extreme weather events and the long-term impacts of climate change.
Contacted Friday morning, representatives from the Republican House and Senate caucuses did not immediately respond when asked about the current status of GOP lawmakers on direct payments to Pennsylvania households.
Pennsylvania is far from the only state to have acted cautiously spend ARPA funds. A number of states have yet to allocate federal funds, and the weight of the money varies from state to state according to the share of the annual state budget that it represents.