POLS ON THE STREET: To Be in Business, or Not to Be?

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GOV. TOM WOLF is running into headwinds from Republican law makers who think his “non-essential business” shutdown order has gone too far.

BY JOE SHAHEELI
Sweet harmony didn’t last long on Capitol Hill in Harrisburg.

Republicans have begun to push back on Gov. Tom Wolf’s executive order for all businesses deemed “non-life-sustaining” to shut down.

Senate GOP leaders sent a letter to Wolf calling for revisions to his list of companies that may stay open. Topping their list was residential construction, noting that the federal Department of Homeland Security considers residential construction essential. They also referred more vaguely to “critical infrastructure” projects.

House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) stated he would introduce a measure to reopen all construction projects. He has the backing of 60 Republicans and should not find it hard to recruit Democrats as well. Observers are betting Wolf will fold his hand long before this measure comes to a vote. Already the Commonwealth has conceded that highway construction is essential.

One lawmaker proposes a solution that may provide the governor an elegant way out.

State Sen. Doug Mastroianno (R-Adams) has unveiled a plan to allow “all businesses to reopen if they agree to abide by Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Dept. of Labor’s Occupational Safety & Health Administration mitigation measures to contain the spread of the virus.”

This tug of war will be decided by opposing sets of numbers.

On the pro-business side is the number of Pennsylvanians out of work. A University of Pittsburgh researcher estimates that two-fifths of the state’s workforce are impacted by the governor’s restrictions. Unemployment compensation and a federal check will only go so far to assuage their anxiety.

The GOP got a boost when it was learned that Wolf’s family business had been granted a waiver for its life-sustaining activity: building kitchen cabinets. The governor hastily canceled that waiver but lost trust anyway.

THIS IS the façade that will greet admissions at Philadelphia’s first emergency hospital. Temple University’s Liacouras Center was retrofitted by the Army Corps of Engineers with 200 hospital beds and other gear to meet an expected surge in COVID-19 patients citywide. Photo by Wendell Douglas

On the other side are the medical stats. As March ended, 4,843 Keystone Staters had contracted the COVID-19 virus; 63 had died from it. Initially concentrated the Democratic heartlands of Southeastern Pennsylvania and Allegheny County, it is already spreading toward the center where Republicans hold sway.

We anticipate a muddle through the middle, with constant tweaks, throughout the month of April.

Trump Signs Pa.’s Disaster Request

President Donald Trump swiftly declared a major disaster exists in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, answering Gov. Wolf’s call within 24 hours. Federal assistance will back up State and local recovery efforts against the virus – meaning dollars will start flowing to public as well as private nonprofits for COVID-19 control.

New pools of federal funds will support Community Disaster Loans, Crisis Counseling, the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Program, the Disaster Unemployment Assistance and Statewide Hazard Mitigation.

City Council Okays Millions in Relief

City Council signed off on an emergency relief measure of $85 million for a wide range of sudden municipal reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic. This will be in business like lightning.

CITY COUNCILMAN Curtis Jones, Jr., State Sen. Vincent Hughes and State Representative Morgan Cephas joined Executive Director George Matysik and other volunteers and staff from the Share Food Program to distribute food boxes to the public at Overbrook W. neighbors. Food distributions like this are taking place twice a week at locations across Philadelphia.

A smart part of the package was an additional $400,000 for councilmembers to conduct coronavirus information campaigns. Getting the word out to their constituents about all manner of things is, after all, one of the core parts of their job description. And Philadelphia will not survive this pandemic without mass information.

For Relief Money – Who You Gonna Call?

There have been grumblings of late among the city’s – what should we call them, “grumbling class” – about the need to pay extra to City workers judged “essential” by their departments. Certainly understandable at a time when so many citizens are losing pay instead.

But think for a moment. All this money, from Washington and Harrisburg as well as City Hall, has to be processed by someone. Even if they’re working remotely, they’re working in awkward ways in difficult times.

Suppose some of those dollars may shower down on you, even without your knowing about it ahead of time? Nobody can move this amount of money around without study, organization and control – not in the private sector, not in the public sector.

Consider, then, that the hard-working bureaucrat who cut you that check may, in fact, be “essential.”

COUNCILMAN Bobby Henon, L, and FOP President John McNesby congratulated the owners of a convenience store at Frankford & Cottman Avenues for donating boxes of supplies to their largely Asian immigrant clientele. Photo by Wendell Douglas

City Workers Plan for Peace This Year

FOP Lodge 5 has welcomed a one-year contract extension in light of the pandemic. The agreement includes 2.5% for the Police Department, 2.25% for the Sheriff’s Office and 2% for the Register of Wills.
Observers expect the Kenney administration to come up with similar amiable agreements with all other City unions in short order.

Violent Crime Is Down Around Town

We cannot end without a tribute to some seldom-appreciated Philadelphians: our violent-criminal community.

A study of a late March week found violent crime down 14% compared to the same week in 2019. Apparently, assailants are trying to practice social distance like the rest of us. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen!

An unfortunate finding was that gun homicides remained high. Shooters are not inhibited by social distancing, it seems.

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