Shown is a view of Lebanon, Pa., Tuesday, May 12, 2020.
I spent a lifetime in the Marine Corps and the Marine Corps Reserve and retired as a full Colonel. From decades of service, some in harm’s way, I can tell you categorically that difficult problems require diplomacy, compassion, open-minded leadership. Tom Wolf unfortunately never learned those lessons.
Gov. Wolf recently announced he was purposefully withholding almost $13 million in federal CARES Act funding from Lebanon County – and Lebanon County only – because, he asserts, that elected officials chose to challenge the governor’s arbitrary business closures, changing goalposts and opaque and arbitrary dictates during this pandemic.
He has repeatedly ignored efforts by the legislature to address the pain of the millions of Pennsylvanians for whom the economic toll of his actions on them and their families were equally as damaging to their health as are the ravages of COVID-19.
Gov. Wolf’s actions are a stunning act of petty revenge by the highest elected official in our state.
Local businesses and non-profits throughout Lebanon County have struggled to survive throughout Gov. Wolf’s shutdown – and some sadly won’t make it, closing their doors for good. What began as a two-week effort to “flatten the curve” has morphed into a four-month economic catastrophe that has no clear end in sight.
The curve has been flat in Pennsylvania since April. The hospital system has not come even close to being overwhelmed, and yet Gov. Wolf persists in forcing businesses to stay closed that could be operating safely in accordance with CDC guidelines.
That’s why in May, I joined with other Lebanon County elected officials in choosing to do what’s best for the people we serve and moving to safely reopen businesses and restore livelihoods. We recognized that public health is measured in totality not just one health threat. We recognize that all life-threatening public health issues must be mitigated, not just COVID-19.
Now, Gov. Wolf is seeking to settle political scores. But he’s doing so illegally, as state law specifies how CARES Act funding must be distributed. While Wolf may be angry at Lebanon County for not following his arbitrary rules, he must still abide by the law and cannot withhold funds from our citizens no matter how angry he is that he was not obeyed.
It’s well documented that throughout this pandemic, Wolf refused to work with the General Assembly or county governments in developing mitigation and re-opening plans that work best for each county. Instead, he took – and continues to take – a heavy-handed, go-it-alone approach in imposing statewide dictates that treat Lebanon County the same as Philadelphia County.
The reality is that more than half of the COVID-19 deaths in our county have been in nursing homes and long-term care facilities – elderly residences over which the Departments of Health and Human Services have complete oversight. We’ve lost 37 of our loved ones in these facilities, and over 4,500 statewide, because Gov. Wolf failed to protect the most vulnerable and even mandated that nursing homes admit COVID-19 patients.
Yet instead of addressing these failures, Gov. Wolf plans to punish the 140,000 residents of Lebanon County even more.
Imagine if the situation were different.
What if President Trump – who, for example, recently encouraged all schools to reopen – decided unilaterally to withhold education funds from Pennsylvania because Gov. Wolf thought it best not to reopen schools? The outrage by Congress against this type of vindictiveness and unilateral decision-making would be immeasurable.
Yet, this is exactly what Gov. Wolf is doing. He is sacrificing the well-being of the people of Lebanon County to exact political payback against state and local elected officials who have only sought their citizens’ best interests.
How much suffering does Gov. Wolf need to see to satisfy his anger towards Lebanon County?
I call on Gov. Wolf to recognize that willfully harming the people of Lebanon County is a petty mistake, and it is time to act like a leader, reverse his retaliatory actions, and release the CARES Act funding that will help the people of Lebanon County recover from this pandemic. The people of Lebanon County deserve nothing less.
Rep. Frank Ryan is a Republican member of the Pennsylvania House representing the 101st legislative district.