July 23, 2020
Pennsylvania Legislative Leader, Policy Experts, & Residents Impacted by COVID Crisis Call for Senate Action on Relief Package
House Democratic Leader Dermody and concerned Pennsylvanians cite new report showing tremendous hardship across the state, urge Senate to act quickly to extend expiring pandemic protections and direct federal aid to state and local governments
HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center (PBPC) and the Pennsylvania Health Access Network (PHAN) hosted a press conference call on Wednesday afternoon that featured state policy experts, the top-ranking Democrat in the state House of Representatives, and several Pennsylvanians who have been adversely affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Speakers at the event called for swift action by the U.S. Senate to extend important unemployment and housing protections that were enacted in previous pandemic response bills, which are set to expire by the end of the month. Participants also expressed concern about the COVID-19 relief legislation that is expected to be introduced by Senate Republicans this week, citing recent national media reports about the anticipated key provisions and omissions in the package and pointing to a new report that found there are substantial economic hardships facing many Pennsylvanians as a result of the pandemic.
State Representative Frank Dermody (House District 33 – Allegheny, Westmoreland), the Democratic Leader in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, stressed the need for federal assistance to state and local governments, which, like Pennsylvania, are seeing sharp declines in revenue as a result of the economic recession caused by the health crisis. Rep. Dermody warned that without federal aid to offset revenue losses and fund essential services, Pennsylvania’s state government leaders will be faced with difficult decisions about how to complete the partial budget for fiscal year 2020-21, which began on July 1.
“This next federal stimulus needs to include a new component, and that’s providing for budget relief for state and local governments,” said Rep. Dermody. “We passed a five-month budget that will end in November, and we will likely be facing a well over $5 billion deficit. If states like PA don’t get meaningful help from the federal government, we could be forced to make unprecedented cuts, and cuts where they hurt the most, like Medicaid.”
The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center’s senior policy analyst, Diana Polson, presented an overview of the key findings about Pennsylvania from a report released yesterday by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, titled “More Relief Needed to Alleviate Hardship.” According to the report, a large and growing number of Pennsylvania households are struggling to afford food, and hundreds of thousands of households are behind on rent, raising the specter that evictions could begin to spike as various federal, state, and local moratoriums are lifted.
“In Pennsylvania, close to one million adults report that their households did not have enough to eat in the preceding seven days for the week ending July 7; this is nine percent of our state’s adult population,” noted Polson. “More than half a million households with children in Pennsylvania reported that their children were not eating enough and that they could not afford enough food. That is fifteen percent of adults living with children in the state.”
Crystal Jennings, a housing resource navigator with Pittsburgh’s Hill District Consensus Group, highlighted the report’s findings about the severity of the housing crisis in Pennsylvania.
“One of the findings in the CBPP report is that renters who are parents or otherwise live with children are more than twice as likely to be behind in rent, compared to adults not living with anyone under the age of 18,” Jennings noted.
Robin Stelly, the statewide organizer for the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, underscored the statistics about the large number of newly unemployed Pennsylvanians who have lost their health insurance and are now eligible for Medicaid by talking about the calls that the organization receives via its Help Line (877-570-3642).
“Every day, we get calls from people who have lost their jobs due to the COVID crisis and who are looking for health coverage,” reported Stelly. “They’re either looking for help finding another job, or they’re looking for help getting insurance thru the Affordable Care Act’s healthcare.gov market place. A lot of times they find out that they qualify for Medicaid, something that they had no idea was even possible for them. So, it’s really important that they find out about Medicaid, that they apply for Medicaid, and that Medicaid is funded so that it’s there for them.”
Harrisburg resident Maria Bosquera, a student pursuing a master’s degree at Lockhaven University, was working two jobs when the COVID-19 crisis struck. She found herself suddenly out of work and, as a result, without health insurance until PHAN helped her enroll in MedEx.
“Medicaid truly relieved me of so much stress and anxiety,” Bosquera shared. “It has given me time to figure out options for financing my upcoming semester’s expenses. If Medicaid were to go away, I have no idea what I would do. I would have to either get into deeper debt or get a second job and jeopardize my grades and future jobs.”
Bosquera had a message for Pennsylvania’s two senators: “Senator Toomey and Senator Casey, please, please, please help fight to include Medicaid funding for the states in the upcoming COVID-19 relief bill.”
Two other Pennsylvanians who found themselves without income because of the pandemic talked about the relationship between employment and access to health care, citing how important the expanded unemployment protection provided by the CARES Act has been for them.
GiGi Malinchak is a small business owner in Boyertown, who launched her company 17 years ago and had five people working for her when the coronavirus hit. As a self-employed worker, the Berks County resident would not normally qualify for unemployment payments—however the previously enacted COVID-19 response legislation extended benefits to the self-employed, independent contractors, and gig workers. Malinchak’s business is now operating at limited capacity, with only three members of her team currently working, and even that work is only part-time, something that she said will likely continue until the pandemic ends. The expanded $600 per week UI benefit has been critically important to her when it comes to making ends meet as an entrepreneur negatively impacted by the crisis.
“My biggest work and personal expense is health insurance and health care,” observed Malinchak. “So, if I don’t have money, the thing that’s going to go is my health care. And it’s really frightening to think that during a pandemic, my husband and I might lose our health care and potentially our home and everything that we worked for our entire lives.”
Scranton resident James Luby is a Medicaid consumer with a disability, and he shared: “Medicaid is my lifeline. Thanks to Medicaid, I get access to medical care, therapy, medications—the things I need to be ready and able to work.” But when the coronavirus outbreak began, Luby lost his job.
Luby talked about how vitally important the expanded unemployment protections have been for him, saying that “the extra $600 per week … is a house-saver, because I use that money to pay my property taxes. If I lose the house, I’m not only homeless, but I’ve lost my life’s work, money-wise. So, that $600 protects my home, and it can’t stop now, because COVID is not over and it’s still not safe to go back to the kind of work that I do.”
In reference to President Trump’s stated goal of replacing the expanded UI benefit with a payroll tax cut, Luby noted that “a payroll tax cut is insult to somebody who’s unemployed, or a gig worker, and doesn’t get a tax cut.”
Contact: Jeff Garis, firstname.lastname@example.org, 215-694-4783