Pennsylvania COVID Relief Package Signed into Law

By Katie Herrmann

This week, both chambers of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly unanimously approved Senate Bill 109, a COVID-19 relief bill allocating funds of $912 million dollars to Pennsylvania citizens and businesses. Governor Wolf was quick to sign the bill into law, which will provide aid to restaurants, renters, and schools.

The funds come from federal aid that was approved by Congress in December. Of the $912 million, $570 will go to landlords and tenants. The money will be divided among counties based on population to help those struggling to pay rent or utilities with priority given to low-income or unemployed households.

About $197 million will be distributed to private schools and other educational institutions that are unable to access federal relief money. Congress has already provided for $2.2 billion in coronavirus aid for public schools and charter schools.

Finally, around $145 million will go to the state’s hospitality industry. These funds were authorized by Governor Wolf to be transferred from the Workers’ Compensation Security Fund at the Pennsylvania Insurance Department to the General Fund so that the money could be appropriated by the state legislature to help businesses negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This money will be available in grants of up to $50,000 for bars, restaurants and hotels. To be eligible for relief funding, businesses cannot be publicly traded and can only have up to 300 employees.

The bill also clarified a previous uncertainty regarding the taxability of federal pandemic aid. According to the bill, aid such as Paycheck Protection Program loans and direct federal payments to taxpayers are not considered taxable income. The Department of Revenue, however, has raised concerns that the loans may be taken as deductions and result in a $220 million hit to state tax collections.

While many business owners are glad to get help from this latest wave of funding, many are concerned that it is nowhere near enough to recover the financial devastation experienced by businesses in 2020.

The executive director of the Pennsylvania Licensed Beverage and Tavern Association, Chuck Moran, said the bill is a good start but that lawmakers must do more to help the industry when the grant program is exhausted. He expressed that restrictions in place in Pennsylvania such as early last-calls, reduced capacity limits, mandated food purchases, and a ban on bar top seating are putting a heavy strain on the industry.

The restaurant industry employs more than 500,000 people in Pennsylvania, but federal data shows that this number decreased by 29.4 percent in 2020.

Nevertheless, Governor Wolf applauded the General Assembly for its efforts to push this legislation through and stated, “We need to get this money into the hands of the Pennsylvania business owners who need it as fast as possible.”

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