A message is printed on bales near a farm is in Lebanon, Pa., Tuesday, May 12, 2020.
(The Center Square) – Two Pennsylvania Republican state senators sponsored a bill this week that would compel the release of Lebanon County’s federal disaster aid from state coffers.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Pat Browne, R-Lehigh, and Lebanon County Republican Sen. David Arnold said their proposal would force the Department of Community and Economic Development to distribute the county’s $12.8 million in federal CARES Act relief funding that was previously appropriated by the Legislature in May.
Gov. Tom Wolf said he withheld the funds after Republican county commissioners voted – albeit symbolically, local officials said – to lift pandemic restrictions a full six weeks before the Department of Health said it was safe to do so.
Notably, more than a dozen other counties in the central region of the state made similar threats, but backed down after the governor threatened to pull funding and resources needed to respond to the virus.
But for legislative Republicans, Wolf’s actions hurt only the residents and business owners in Lebanon County because it results in fewer dollars for social services and economic grants. Besides, Arnold said, it breaks state law.
“Governor Wolf’s refusal to adhere to the law is concerning, not only for Lebanon County, but for the Commonwealth,” he said. “It is obvious that the withholding of these federal dollars is political retaliation for rebelling against his arbitrary and ever-changing guidance.”
“Lebanon County and its residents will not be bullied by Wolf and will stand up for their freedoms when challenged,” he continued. “The governor is not hurting his political opponents, he’s hurting the people he claims he’s been trying to help … It is the intent of this legislation to rectify this injustice to Lebanon residents.”
Arnold and Browne introduced the legislation, Senate Bill 1245, the same day county commissioners sued the state for access to the funds, arguing that Wolf can’t withhold money already appropriated by the Legislature.
Browne said both actions will force the governor to respect statutory language and “guarantee that the citizens of Lebanon County are not penalized for political reasons.”
“The governor’s decision to deny Lebanon County residents much needed financial support for vital mental health and substance use disorder treatment services, small business and non-profit assistance and other support programs individuals, families and business owners need while managing the effects of this devastating health crisis is unacceptable,” he said.