Steve Letavic
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Posted Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Governor Wolf Press Conference

Today, Governor Tom Wolf held a press conference to introduce new funding for small businesses, and to discuss the economic impacts from the COVID-19 public health crisis.

Today, Governor Wolf stated the following:

  • As we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, we want to make sure we are remaining vigilant and safe, but with every county in Pennsylvania that has moved to the Yellow or Green Phase this past Friday, we want can start to focus on recovery.
  • At the beginning of the pandemic, the State developed a $60 million business loan program, which has helped 745 businesses in Pennsylvania.
  • The State has worked with businesses and the Federal Government to monitor programs like their Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to learn how those loans could help businesses and figure out where there might be any gaps.
  • Over the last several months with the Administration being led by the Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED), has had an ongoing dialogue with businesses and associations about how they can help all businesses participate in a strong recovery.
  • The Governor announced a new program that they developed in partnership with the Legislature, which will provide $225 million for grants to small businesses, who can use the grants to cover operating expenses during the shutdown and to help them in their transition to re-opening.
    • The grants will also cover technical assistance, including training and guidance for business owners as they stabilize and re-launch their businesses.
    • The grants will also provide debt relief for qualified borrowers, while helping institutions build up their lending portfolios.
      • The funding will be broken down in three ways:
        • A main street business revitalization program which will be given $100 million to help businesses that experienced losses caused directly from the COVID-19 shutdown.
        • A historically disadvantaged revitalization program will also receive $100 million, this program will focus on businesses that are too often left behind – and it’s focus is on businesses owned and operated by socially and economically disadvantaged owners. These are often hit the hardest and due to structurally inequality, they need to be helped during this difficult time.
        • There will be $25 million for loan deferrals and losses for those who have been lending during this time.
    • He thanked the Legislature for working with the Administration to allocate the funding from the Federal CARES Act, and it has been a bi-partisan effort.
      • He specifically thanked Senator John Blake (D – Lackawanna) and Rep. Jared Solomon (D – Philadelphia) and Rep. Jake Wheatley (D – Allegheny), and thanked Sen. Jake Costa (D – Allegheny), Sen. James Brewster (D – Allegheny), Sen. Pam Iovino (D – Allegheny), Sen. Killion (R – Delaware), Rep. Frank Dermody (D – Allegheny), Rep. Morgan Cephas (D – Philadelphia), Rep. Christina Sappey (D – Chester), Rep. Melissa Shusterman (D – Chester).
      • The Governor stated that they focused on helping communities get back on their feet, and these programs is an important step in that direction.
  • He wants to make sure that their focus remains on building businesses back up and keeping people healthy.
  • After months of coming together as a Commonwealth to protect our communities and ourselves, the light is finally at the end of the tunnel.
  • He asks that everyone assist small businesses to make sure that they have a viable path forward. 

Below please find the questions and answers from today's press conference. 

Questions asked to and answered by Governor Wolf: 

  • How many businesses in the State have shut down due to the pandemic?
    • I don’t have the number off of the top of my head. I don’t have an update because this is a work in progress, and we want work as quickly and comprehensively as possible to help as many businesses that have been affected. 
  • Regarding this funding, is this using Federal CARES Act funding?
    • Yes. 
  • How will the funding be distributed? How will a small business owner need to take advantage of this?
    • We’re working through October 15th and this will go to for profit companies, and will be distributed through local community organizations. We’ve chosen to do it that way and have the Department of Community & Economic Development have some oversight into the program. We want the money to get out faster so we are working with organizations, and hope to get it out by the end of this week – that’s how fast we want to move. We’re still working with the Legislature to make sure that we have the guidelines, but the goal is to get this out to businesses that need it, that are the most vulnerable, and have suffered the most throughout this pandemic. 
  • Which organizations will you be working with on this?
    • We want to make sure that we are looking at organizations that are more minority focused. 
  • For businesses that have already taken advantage of the PPP, can they take advantage of this as well?
    • We’ll see. The idea here is that that doesn’t happen, and that we are actually meeting the needs of businesses that have not been helped by the PPP. 
  • Can you clarify that these are grants? And not business loans?
    • Yes, these are grants. It’s Federal CARES Act funding, so these will be grants. 
  • So the process would be to go through the local foundations or whatever the distributing body would be to make the application and then get the distribution?
    • Yes, and the oversight after the fact would be by the DCED to make sure that there is integrity to this process. 
  • Will there be multiple rounds in this process? You mentioned October 15th, or is this a first round and that’s it?
    • No I’m not seeing another round, but I’m just not sure how fast this will go out. We’ve created programs that have been subscribed fairly quickly, and we’ve ran programs throughout the pandemic where the program hasn’t been subscribed fully. We’re looking at a future that we will bob-and-weave and see what the businesses out there say that they need. 
  • Do you have an aspiration as far as the aggregate goal of the jobs you want to save at some point?
    • It’s hard to say because I think that the future is going to look different for every business, some will have more employees or less. Obviously, the idea would be that everyone who wants a job, will have the opportunity to get a good job. And we were fairly close to that with the unemployment rate in Pennsylvania, and the hope is that we move as quickly as possible back towards that – whatever the rate of unemployment is in Pennsylvania, I’d like to get back there as quickly as possible. However, that relies on the entrepreneurship and innovation of businesses, but I’m hoping that this helps. 
  • With the school closures ending July 1st, how close are you to releasing guidelines for high school sports? Who’s involved in that discussion? And what are the parameters of that?
    • The guidelines should be out tomorrow or Wednesday for sports, and we are dealing with two levels: intermural sports within the schools and the PIAA. We’re working with the PIAA on those guidelines and they should be out in the next day or two. 
  • Members of the Minneapolis City Council said that they would de-fund and disband the City’s police department. Would you support that and look at disbanding local policeman in Pennsylvania?
    • I saw that and I don’t understand how you do that. I’ll have to learn more about that, I thought that they were just considering that. De-funding is much different than shutting it down. I’ll look at all kinds of things, it’s one thing to take a look at it versus supporting it, and I don’t support it. 
  • Would you consider diverting some of the funding from the State Police for other priorities?
    • I don’t think we spend much on the State Police, but I am for spending more money on education and things that get to the quality of life for some folks. I’m not sure that involves reducing anyone’s slice of the pie. 
  • How concerned are you that there might be a fair percentage of businesses that might not make it and survive going forward from the impact of the pandemic?
    • I think that’s a legitimate concern, there is a constant turnover of businesses that come in and go out. I owned a business that we had to shut down in bad weather and take on construction, but I don’t think that businesses ever faced the extended shutdown that they have during this pandemic. I know even in a small amount of time it creates all kinds of dislocations, so I’m absolutely confident that this virus has forced us and had a negative effect on businesses. I’m hoping to see a lot of them bounce back with the Federal CARES Act funding with what we are going to do in Pennsylvania. We are hoping to provide the liquidity that businesses need to get through this. 
  • The House Democrats seem to have taken over the rostrum in the Chamber and they are refusing to let Session be held until meaningful police reform bills are taken up and passed. What is your reaction to that happening right now at the Capitol?
    • I think that the Legislative Black Caucus is sponsoring that, and I think that’s fine. I support what they’re doing. 
  • What have you been told that assures you that there won’t be overwhelming resurge from re-opening parts of the State? Especially in rural areas.
    • There are two counties that we have our eye on, and I wouldn’t necessarily call “rural.” I would reserve that question for Secretary Levine this afternoon. 
  • I know that a lot of small businesses are concerned that there will be a resurgence in the fall and they will be forced to shut down again, but I know a few weeks ago you said that the goal is “not to shut down again.” Do you still think that can hold true?
    • Keep in mind why we did what we did – we needed to buy time and stop our healthcare system from being overwhelmed. We’re not in that same situation now, and there are clear consequences to shutting down the economy, and to the extent that we can use contact tracing and robust testing, we will make sure that we do everything we can to co-exist with this new post-infectious world that we are in. 
  • Have you moved away from the one metric – 50 cases per 100,000 residents in a 14 day period?
    • Yes we have. We didn’t have much data back then, and we were flying into new territory and new airspace. We were doing the best we could then, and the metrics we are using now are more sophisticated. 
  • What is your best advice to Pennsylvanians on finding mutual understanding on racial issues moving forward?
    • I think we have to start by making sure that we aren’t in denial, and that we have to recognize that the State is divided. If you look at the criminal justice system, the prison system, the unemployment rates, healthcare, they’re divided between people who are white versus people of color. We need to get out of denial and recognize that we have a problem here that effects people of color, and it says a lot about the society and the political system that we live in, and it isn’t operating fairly. Unless everyone is given an equal opportunity, there’s a problem with the system. We all have a vested self interest in making this as fair of a society as we can make it, but we’re not there yet. 
  • Clearly your movement to the Reggie program didn’t sit well with the Legislature, and one of the members of the house is drafting legislation saying that you would have to get Legislative authority before entering into such a program. If that bill would land on your desk, would you veto it?
    • Yes I would, because I have the Legislative authority through the Clean Air Act that the Legislature passed. And Reggie actually is a business approach that says that we should put a price on this extraneity and the price will be included in the cost of whatever comes out of that. I think that it’s a very reasonable free market solution to the issue of climate change, and one that Pennsylvanians should support to put into place. 
  • A lot of plant workers at coal and natural gas plants have been expressing significant reservations about what the Reggie proposal would mean for their life. Is this Administration going to take any action to aid those workers that will close as a result?
    • Dislocation happens for many reasons and this would be one of them, and one of the roles of State Government should be to make sure that those transitions are as easy and seamless as possible, in all aspects. We have to address the problem of climate change and we’re kept from doing that because the real self interest of the workers in the short run is not seen in line with that. It’s a problem for all of us, but we all need to address the issue of climate change. 
  • Can you say anything else regarding the historically disadvantaged business program? And what the criteria will be to apply to that?
    • No, but I can get you the specific information. 
  • On social media earlier you had said that masks are required, but previously you said they were recommended. Is there different guidance on masks going forward when walking into a business?
    • They are not required. I’m not a lawyer, but whether they are required or not, the mask protects other people. We’ll find out what the legality is but we recommend that you do, and we think stores should be requiring that of their customers.