HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP/KDKA) — Gov. Tom Wolf followed through on his threat to yank COVID-19 funding from a county that defied his shutdown orders, while his administration targeted bars, restaurants and large gatherings statewide Thursday in an effort to prevent a wider resurgence of the virus that officials say could jeopardize students’ return to school.
Wolf withheld nearly $13 million in funding from Lebanon County, where local Republican leaders voted in mid-May to lift pandemic restrictions in defiance of the Democratic governor. Pennsylvania distributed $625 million of its federal coronavirus relief allotment to counties that did not get direct aid from the federal government. Wolf’s decision left Lebanon as the only one of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties to have not gotten any of the federal money.
Asked about it at a news conference Thursday, Wolf blamed the county’s GOP-controlled Board of Commissioners and suggested that Lebanon residents should kick them out of office.
“Don’t come and say you want something from the state when you haven’t followed the rules. There are consequences. These are the consequences. I think I’m being consistent here,” he said.
The region’s congressman, GOP Rep. Dan Meuser, said Wolf lacked the legal authority to withhold the money and implored him to release it, writing to the governor: “Lives and livelihoods are at stake.” The local chamber of commerce called it an “unacceptable exclusion of just one county” and said Wolf’s decision unfairly punishes small businesses, nonprofits and others.
Lebanon County Commissioner Robert Phillips, the board’s chairperson, declined to respond directly to Wolf’s comments, saying he didn’t want to “add fuel to the fire … and put that money at further risk.”
Pennsylvania lawmakers recently clashed with Gov. Wolf, with the state’s high court ruling against an effort by Republican lawmakers to end his shutdown orders.
Amid the partisan fight over funding, Pennsylvania reimposed statewide restrictions Thursday on bars, restaurants, and larger indoor gatherings — now limited to 25 people, down from 250 — in response to what Wolf has called an “unsettling climb” in virus infections.
Under Wolf’s order, nightclubs are shut down, bars are closed unless they also offer dine-in meals, and bars and restaurants are limited to 25% capacity.
Businesses impacted by the order said they’re barely hanging on.
“It’s been pretty up and down like a seesaw, wishy-washy, just absolutely devastating for our industry and our business itself,” bar owner Susan Williams told KDKA.
The Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association says it needs help, and it wants the state to come up with a bailout package to help struggling restaurant and bar owners.
The Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association is calling on the state to develop a bailout package specific for the industry, saying “at a time when the industry is already struggling, this makes matters worse.”
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