Thanks to the American Rescue Plan providing grants to all Pennsylvanians, additional funds to Pennsylvania families with children through the child tax credit and higher subsidies for health insurance, we have seen a faster economic recovery than we might have imagined a year ago. And the Infrastructure Bill will help keep the recovery growing by creating 80,000 jobs each year by funding massive new investments in roads, bridges, and public transit, as well as the in the clean energy we need to limit climate change.
But while the federal government has done its part, the state government has not. The economic recovery of thestate lags behind that of other states. Our unemployment rate is well above the national average. And there are many needs that the state could and should be meeting with ARP funds. And many people are still suffering from both the hangover of the pandemic recession and the recent surge in prices—which we expect will be temporary.
That’s why the We The People–PA campaign supports the Brighter PA plan put forward by Governor Wolf and the House and Senate Democrats. The Brighter PA plan has critical elements that, together with our proposal to help Pennsylvanians afford higher gas prices, will go a long way to give Pennsylvania families the help they need at this still difficult economic time.
- The Brighter PA plan calls for a $204 million investment in the Property Tax Rebate program which would give a one–time bonus to both renters and homeowners those with low incomes. This program will give an estimated 466,000 Pennsylvanians an average additional rebate of $475
Families are centered around their homes. And thus affordable housing is the critical need for all families. However, the pandemic has made it harder for many families to afford rent or to pay their mortgage just as housing is becoming more and more expensive.
While this program is important, We The People–PA believe that it is not enough. The emergency rental assistance program has provided critical support for Pennsylvanians all over the state. Yet while Philadelphia provides these funds through has a nationally recognized Eviction Diversion Program, other parts of the state have not been as effective in getting rental housing assistance to families that need it. And some parts of the state did not get their fair share of funding. Philadelphia has already run out of emergency rental assistance funds and Allegheny County will do so soon. So we call on Governor Wolf and the General Assembly to add more funds to the emergency rental assistance program and require every county to develop a program similar to Philadelphia Eviction Diversion Program
- The Brighter PA plan calls for investing $250 million in recruiting and training and providing retention incentives for critical health care workers
Health care workers have been on the front lines of the pandemic since the beginnings. And, as the omicron variant of COVID-19 led to a rapid raise in hospitalizations, they are still there. But they are exhausted and warn out. And their ranks are growing thinner as many nurse and other health care providers burn out.
- The Brighter PA plan calls for instituting a $500 million PA Opportunity program which will provide help to about 3 million Pennsylvanians, giving a family of four an average of close to $700. This plan will help Pennsylvanians deal with the higher costs they face as the economy returns to normal
The economy is recovering but it is doing so unevenly. Since the beginning of COVID we have seen billionaires grow richer. Most professionals and managers have kept their jobs and their incomes. The burden of the economic crisis created by COVID has fallen on low-income and moderate-income working people. It is imperative that we use ARP funds to help them, not just as a matter of economic fairness but in order to ensure that the economic recovery continues. For we should remember that when we help low-income and moderate-income workers we help the small businesses at which they spend their money.
We also call for this program to be available to all families in Pennsylvania, including those of undocumented immigrants who worked so hard in mainly front-line jobs during the pandemic and who provide a growing share of the workforce in Pennsylvania.
- The Brighter PA Plan would invest an additional $225 million in the Covid Relief Statewide Small Business Assistance Program which will provide grants, ranging from $5000 to $50,000 to 11,000 small businesses that have been hurt by Businesses can use these grants to cover operating expenses and access technical assistance, including training and guidance to stabilize and relaunch their businesses. The program would prioritize women- and minority-owned businesses and rural communities.
Small businesses, are the backbone of the state’s economy. They create most of the new jobs and provide critical goods and services to people in every community
The COVID pandemic has been hard on small businesses. Many had to close temporarily. Some have never reopened. Many are still struggling to survive. The help they got from the federal and state government was critical to our survival. But the pandemic has lasted far longer than many had thought and that help is long gone.
We saw above that helping low and moderate income families helps small businesses. That’s true. And the reverse is true as well. Helping small businesses will enable them to hire workers and reduce our unemployment rate
- The Brighter PA plan calls for a $50 million investment in the county mental health workforce that is part of the Brighter PA plan. This investment in mental health care workers will Pennsylvanians all over the state get the mental health care they need during this difficult time.
The COVID-19 has not just threatened our physical health but our mental health. The isolation and economic uncertainty created by the pandemic as well as the loss of family members to the disease has made life difficult, and in some cases, unbearable for all of us, and especially for our kids. New funding is necessary to ensure that mental health care is accessible to all.
- The Brighter PA plan would expand the Pennsylvanian Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) student loan forgiveness program for nurses, which was created in September 2021, to additional health care workers. This program provides student loan relief up to $2,500 for each year of work in this critical field for up to three years with a maximum benefit of $7,500.
Largely because Pennsylvania does so poorly in supporting higher education—and state college costs relative to the median income are among the highest in the country tuitions, we believe the state should be doing more to help provide relief for everyone repaying student loans.
Extending the student loan forgiveness program to health care workers will reduce the burden of student debt for workers our health care system desperately needs.
And, we hope, it will set the stage for a further expansion of loan forgiveness to even more recent college graduates in other fields of work.
- The Brighter PA Plan calls for $450 million in new funding for the Growing Greener conservation and recreation program as well as for agriculture conservation programs, such as the Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program and the existing Agriculture Conservation Excellence Grant Program.
After experiencing record-breaking rainfall and flooding events this past year, this program would make Pennsylvania more resilient in the face of more extreme and frequent weather events caused by climate change. It would support our economy, enhance our communities, and improve quality of life for all Pennsylvanians.