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As the House returned to legislative session last week, our focus remained on creating a plan to reopen Pennsylvania safely–and in a smart, transparent way. The latest news is that Allegheny County will join 12 other counties in moving to the Yellow Phase of COVID-19 mitigation effective 12:01 a.m. on May 15. More on that below.

Among the legislative action we took up last week was House Bill 2643, which would require transparency from the governor that my colleagues and I have been fighting to restore.

We continued to put pressure on the governor to reopen industries that have demonstrated they can follow CDC guidance and OSHA requirements.

To this end, we have voted to reopen the real estate, and auto sales industries, along with garden centers. We have also taken action to reopen certain medical professions such as dentistry, optometry and podiatry, who are more than capable of conducting their operations safely and in line with health standards.

Fortunately, the governor and his administration have followed our lead on many of these items, announcing today he would ease his business closure order to remove the prohibition on “elective,” i.e., non-urgent and non-emergent, dental procedures.

Please know, I am working to provide you with the most up-to-date information relevant to you and your family. For real-time updates, www.facebook.com/RepGaydos or visit www.RepGaydos.com/coronavirus for consistently updated resources and materials. 


Valerie Gaydos

In this edition:
  •   Allegheny County to Move to Yellow Phase
  •   Legislative Session Update
  •   Join My Telephone Town Hall on Education in PA 
  •   Wolf Wants a Coronavirus Corps 
  •   Demanding Transparency in Our Government, House Approves Bill to Require State Agencies to Answer Public’s Questions
  •   Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Now Available 
  •   SNAP Benefits Extended to Students, Families  
  •   DCNR Announces Plan for Reopening State Park, Forest Facilities 
  •   PennDOT Further Extends Expiration Dates 
  •   COVID-19 Employment Opportunities 
Allegheny County to Move to Yellow Phase

On Friday, Governor Tom Wolf announced that Allegheny County will move to the Yellow Phase of COVID-19 mitigation on May 15, as the process of reopening parts of Pennsylvania officially began.

As outlined by the governor, the phased reopening plan is structured like a stop light. For the last several weeks, the entire Commonwealth has been in the “red phase” with stay-at-home orders and all but life-sustaining businesses closed.

Details of the governor’s plan are available here.  

On May 1, the governor announced the two dozen counties that would be first to move into the “yellow phase.” He indicated the counties were deemed ready to move because of low per-capita case counts, the ability to conduct contact tracing and testing, and appropriate population density to contain community spread.

Ultimately, the goal for each region is to reach the “green phase,” which eases most restrictions by lifting the stay-at-home and business closure orders to allow the economy to strategically reopen while continuing to prioritize public health. At each stage, data will be analyzed to detect any new spike in cases. Residents are encouraged to continue practicing social distancing, frequent cleaning and hand washing, and wearing masks.

Guidance for businesses now permitted to operate under the yellow phase status is available here for review. 
Legislative Session Update

Continuing our commitment to address both current COVID-19 challenges and plans for moving the Commonwealth forward, the House returned to session week, debating several bills to address our response to the pandemic.

  •   Recognizing that testing is the key to moving forward after COVID-19, the House approved House Bill 2455 to require the governor to review statewide COVID-19 testing capacity, and issue a plan to test Pennsylvania’s first responders, health care workers and other vulnerable populations.  

The House also recognized the significant impact the virus and subsequent mitigation efforts are having on citizens’ mental health and adopted two bills to better ensure access to care.

  •   House Bill 1439 would require a certification of compliance by an insurer with federal and state law ensuring mental health coverage is equal to medical or surgical benefits.
  •   House Bill 1696 would require insurers to file an annual report with the Insurance Department detailing mental health parity compliance.  

In response to the challenges elected officials, news reporters and members of the general public have had in getting answers from the governor and his administration about their COVID-19 response, we passed House Bill 2463 to require state agencies to answer questions and respond to right-to-know requests during emergency declarations.

Finally, the House approved legislation last week that would prevent economic impact checks being distributed by the federal government from being subject to state or local income taxes.

Additionally, we continued our efforts aimed at safely reopening businesses. While the governor has wanted to only open what he perceived as life-sustaining businesses, the criteria for identifying such businesses has not been explained and it also doesn’t take into account the many, many industries that could easily adapt to state and federal guidelines to protect against the spread of COVID-19.

Bills to open real estate (of which PA is reportedly the only state in the nation restricting the industry), hair salons and barbershops, animal groomers, messenger services and more are in various stages of the legislative process. Giving business owners the option of reopening when they can do so safely will help reopen our economy and get people back to work, easing the extreme backlog of approximately 1.7 million unemployment claims.
Join My Telephone Town Hall on Education in PA

Sign up for my upcoming telephone town hall on COVID-19
and the response from Pennsylvania’s education system.

Parents all over Pennsylvania are wondering when their children will be able to return to school. While parents at home with their kids are doing their best to support their child’s studies, kids are still missing out on a variety of educational and social opportunities. To make matters worse, Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera recently stated he was uncertain if the state’s schools would reopen this fall.

I have asked the governor’s office and the Department of Education to contemplate the next steps in getting our state’s children back to the classroom while also considering health and safety standards. As we move cautiously forward, our first priority is to protect the children of the Commonwealth; then we will focus on getting them back to a safe, traditional educational environment.

I am very excited to host a telephone town hall this coming Wednesday, May 13 at 4:50 p.m. to cover COVID-19, our state’s response and a special discussion of Pennsylvania’s education system with Chairman of the House Education Committee, Rep. Curt Sonney.  

Visit www.RepGaydos.com/broadnetsignup to sign up for the call.

Telephone Town Hall with Rep. Valerie Gaydos
Wednesday, May 13 at 4:50 p.m. 
Wolf Wants a Coronavirus Corps

Gov. Wolf recently announced the creation of the Civilian Coronavirus Corps for Pennsylvania (CCCP) which he plans to use for tracking Pennsylvania residents and will be staffed with jobless Pennsylvanians.

These jobless Pennsylvanians were made jobless by his unilateral decision to shut down the Pennsylvania economy and to keep it shut down.

As House Republicans have moved legislation to safely reopen our economy, time and time again we have been met with the opposition of Gov. Tom Wolf. But now, it is safe for the creation for a new shiny government bureaucracy to employee these same people.

Instead of creating more bureaucracy, he should focus on ensuring the over 500,000 residents who are not receiving their unemployment benefits actual receive them. Furthermore, he should establish hard criteria for reopening Pennsylvania, so we have a clear path forward instead of consistently moving the goal posts.

Again, after a short and non-transparent briefing, we are left with more questions than answers. Pennsylvanians deserve better.
Demanding Transparency in Our Government, House Approves Bill to Require State Agencies to Answer Public’s Questions

Last week, the House approved House Bill 2463 so that the public can rightfully get answers to questions they have. Government transparency cannot stop during times of crisis. The people have the right to petition their government and the media has the right to question government officials.

Unfortunately, Gov. Tom Wolf has taken the opportunity afforded to him by the COVID-19 crisis to allow state agencies to not answer right-to-know requests (RTK) by the media and the general public as required by law. This is unacceptable. The people and the press have a right to question the government and, equally important, to receive answers to their questions.

House Bill 2463 would require state agencies to respond to RTK requests. Under the bill, if an agency has been forced to close its physical location, it must follow procedures established by the nonpartisan Office of Open Records (OOR). These procedures must take into consideration the difficulties faced by Commonwealth agencies due to COVID-19 and any potential future emergency declarations to establish fair policies for responding to an RTK request.

Click here to read more. 
Pandemic Unemployment Now Available

The PA Department of Labor & Industry last week announced that the state's Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) system is now fully operational.

Claimants who previously filed their applications for benefits can now visit the site to complete their weekly certification and receive benefits. Over 162,000 claimants with completed applications on file were notified via email that they could now file for benefit payments.

Additionally, the Department has created this helpful guide to walk applicants through the PUA claim filing system.
SNAP Benefits Extended to Students, Families

Federal approval has been granted for the state to provide Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to students who are eligible to receive free or reduced-price meals at school through the National School Lunch Program.

Under the temporary Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program, the state Department of Human Services will issue benefits through EBT cards provided to qualifying families. A family’s benefit will be determined based on the federal reimbursement rate for the daily rate of free school breakfasts and lunches, or approximately $5.70 per child. This benefit will be calculated for the remainder of the school year, leading to an approximate benefit of $370.50 per child if they were receiving free or reduced-price school meals when school closures began.

Benefits will begin to be issued to qualifying families within approximately 15 business days. If a family’s economic situation has changed since school closures began, they can still apply for the National School Lunch Program and, if determined eligible, receive P-EBT benefits.

Families can apply online at www.compass.state.pa.us. Click here for more information. 
DCNR Announces Plan for Reopening State Park, Forest Facilities

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has outlined its plans for a phased reopening of some state park and forest facilities.

  •   Public golf courses at Caledonia and Evansburg state parks and Michaux State Forest, which are operated by private concessions, reopened on Friday, May 1.
  •   At least one restroom in day use areas and in marinas at state parks and forests statewide will be open to the public effective May 8 with additional cleaning protocols in place.
  •   All nine marinas in state parks are open to the public effective May 8, or their typical designated opening date.

This is in addition to shoreline mooring sites at all state parks. State park and forest facilities in counties entering the “yellow phase” of mitigation will be open to the public on May 15. This includes offices, campgrounds and the Nature Inn at Bald Eagle. Cabins in these areas will not open until June 12, to allow returning staff the ability to thoroughly clean them and prepare them for use. Campgrounds and cabins in all other state parks will remain closed.

For more details on the phased opening plan, click here. 
PennDOT Further Extends Expiration Dates

Expiration dates for driver licenses, identification cards and learner's permits are being extended again due to the statewide COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Any of these items that are scheduled to expire between March 16 and May 31, 2020, are now extended through June 30, 2020.

You may, however, renew your driver license or identification online anytime at www.dmv.pa.gov. Driver License Centers, Photo License Centers and the Harrisburg Riverfront Office Center remain closed until further notice. For more information about PennDOT actions related to COVID-19, click here
COVID-19 Employment Opportunities
Have you lost employment due to COVID-19? The PA Department of Labor & Industry in cooperation with Pennsylvania CareerLink, has launched an online job portal for those seeking employment during these difficult times.

Life-sustaining business throughout the Commonwealth have posted available positions on the job portal to provide opportunities to those affected by coronavirus response measures.

The portal is updated daily, so continue to check back often if you don’t find a position that fits you right away.
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Email: vgaydos@pahousegop.com