HARRISBURG – Local employers and employees detailed the serious damage caused by Governor Wolf’s COVID-19 business shutdown orders during a workshop discussion of the Senate Majority Policy Committee today. The meeting was held at the request of Senator Scott Martin (R-Lancaster).
“Pennsylvania has experienced a roller coaster economy since the Governor’s shutdown. We went from a period of record low unemployment to a period of high unemployment and economic turmoil,” said Committee Chair Senator David G. Argall (R-Schuylkill/Berks). “It’s time to safely rebuild our economy so that our citizens can once again re-invest in their communities and re-invest in their lives.”
“We have heard many frustrations about navigating the regulations and stipulations put in place for local businesses to open up again. What that means to our local facilities is something of great interest to us as we push forward,” Senator Martin said. “The bottom line is that, given how critical all our local economies are, it is very important to hear the thoughts from the people who are on the ground about what it will take to get that spark going again and get people back to work.”
A number of panelists criticized Governor Wolf’s business shutdown orders and delayed reopening process, which left many employers and employees without income for months. Spooky Nook Sports owner Sam Beiler noted that the shutdown not only affected his employees, but also other surrounding businesses that rely on additional traffic from the facility.
“The shutdown for medical reasons without consideration for the waterfall effects was – and is – unconscionable. For our Governor to take these extreme actions without the participation of the people we elected is equally unconscionable,” Beiler said. “Imagine our frustration when calling the governor’s office and asking and pleading with them to involve our legislators, only to be told ‘we don’t have to.’ That was the literal reply from the governor’s office – ‘we don’t have to.’”
Smith Land & Improvement Corporation President and CEO Rick Jordan said that business owners should have been allowed to play a stronger role in the process and make decisions in the best interests of employees and customers. “I believe we will look back at this in a year and realize the grave error we made in shutting down our economy and our lives,” Jordan said. “Keeping young people in isolation after knowing how little the virus affects them will prove to be the decision with the worst outcome of this entire pandemic.”
A panel of manufacturing business owners detailed numerous issues they have dealt with during the shutdown, including supply line distributions, inability to access necessary personal protective equipment, workforce issues, unclear guidance and an inconsistent and unfair waiver process.
“There are many of us in Franklin County who are absolutely amazed at how intelligent this virus is. Apparently it would never show up at Lowes, Home Depot, Walmart, Rite Aid, Giant, Target or Sheetz,” said Brain Harbaugh of Precision Manufacturing & Engineering Co, Inc. “However, if you are a self-employed hairdresser, small restaurant owner, or a three-man construction crew, you were a target for COVID and were deemed non-essential and were forced to close.”
Matt Neff of Sight & Sound Theatres also noted that his business was not eligible for assistance due to its number of employees, in spite of the fact that they were losing approximately $2 million a week in revenue and had to issue refunds totaling approximately $5 million. He said that businesses could find creative solutions to reduce the risk of COVID-19 if they are given the chance to do so.
“These are problems we can solve. Let us solve them,” Neff said.
Andrea Shirk, General Manager of Rock Lititz, pointed out that even in the green phase of Governor Wolf’s color-coded reopening plan, many employers would continue to struggle.
“Even as locations go green, gatherings are still being limited to 250 people. Our events typically bring in thousands. We expect to be the last sector to return to ‘normal,’” Shirk said. “While we fully understand the scale of this emergency, we need to express the severity of this situation on the immediate economic survival of our industry. Many companies have had to lay off entire teams, or even close their doors.”
Real estate agency Kelly Salla detailed several instances in which families experienced serious hardships due to the Wolf Administration’s shutdown of the real estate industry, including military families separated and other buyers caught between home sales for months.
“Housing is essential. To say that we had a challenge as realtors would be an understatement,” Salla said. “We can safely practice real estate. We’re doing it now.”
National Fitness Partners President and CEO Stephen Kindler, Jr. said that only 39 of his company’s 78 locations have reopened.
“Through this process we have found extreme confusion of what constitutes an ‘essential’ business. The fact that the physical, mental and emotional benefits of gym usage is not deemed essential is quite dumbfounding,” Kindler said. “If health and wellness is not essential, I am not quite sure what is.”
Testifiers urged lawmakers and the Wolf Administration to provide clear and consistent guidelines that allow all businesses to operate with commonsense infection prevention measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Video of the full workshop discussion is available here: https://policy.pasenategop.com/063020/
Joshua J. Paul – Executive Director, PA Senate Majority Policy Committee, 717-787-2637
Terry Trego, Chief of Staff, Senator Scott Martin, 717-787-6535