Important Legislative News for Pennsylvania Small Businesses

Date: June 03, 2020

pandemic-related legislation and a short-term state budget

The past several months in Harrisburg have seen a flurry of legislative activity as Pennsylvania’s General Assembly has considered bills to manage the COVID-19 disaster emergency. Many of these bills, supported by NFIB, would have expanded the types of businesses allowed to safely open beyond Governor Wolf’s “life-sustaining” order, including manufacturing, construction, barber shops, salons, car dealerships, garden centers, realtors, and restaurants. One bill would have required the state to abide by the federal definition of “essential” that is used in about 47 other states, rather than the Governor’s “life-sustaining” criteria. While he did relent on several of these business sectors, he still vetoed most of these bills, citing infringement on his executive authority.

Several important bills did pass and were signed by Governor Wolf, including a temporary state budget. Because policymakers are unsure of the total impact the shutdown will have on state tax collections, which were delayed because of the crisis, they enacted a five-month, $25.1 billion budget to ensure that agencies can continue operations. The bill funds most state programs until November at the same level as the current fiscal year, with the exception of education, mandated human services, state pension payments, and debt service, which are flat-funded for the entire fiscal year. This temporary budget gives lawmakers some time to determine how to fund the remaining seven months with tax revenue yet to come in. It is expected that the state will have a significant deficit because of the impact of business shutdowns on tax revenue, so there will likely be hard decisions ahead.

Along with the budget, Governor Wolf signed a bill appropriating $2.6 billion of the $3.9 billion in federal CARES Act funding the state has received. Much of this money will go toward medical and human services as well as emergency response funding, but the bill also includes about $625 million for 60 smaller PA countries that didn’t already receive funding from the federal government, with funds distributed through a population-based formula. Other programs funded with the federal aid include agriculture, education, and mortgage and rental assistance. The remainder ($1.3 billion) is set aside in a special fund for future needs.

Most significant for NFIB members, the federal funding bill includes a $225 million line item for a small business assistance program. So far, no details have been released on how this money will be distributed, whether with a program similar to the state’s COVID-19 Working Capital Access Program (CWCA), which distributed grants early in the crisis, through counties, or by other means. NFIB is monitoring the situation and will inform members about the assistance program as soon as details are available.

Related Content: Small Business News | Pennsylvania

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