COVID-19 Relief Funds Should Be Distributed Now.
In politics and public service, there are not many “once-in-a-lifetime” moments that come your way, where you can have a transformational impact on thousands – if not millions – of lives.
Nevertheless, it appears that one of those moments has entered our reality in Harrisburg, and across this Commonwealth, and the question is do we have the fortitude to take advantage of this opportunity.
In short, Pennsylvania’s budget surplus has soared to $3 billion. That’s right, three billion. It is unprecedented our tenure, and it is continuing to grow.
And further, as a result of the Biden/Harris American Rescue Plan, Pennsylvania received $7.3 billion – in order to repair the damage and ease the pain from the last 15 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The combination of the budget surplus and American Rescue Plan funding gives our Commonwealth the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to solve some troubling, long-term problems – that have caused us to languish rather than flourish.
It’s time we make up for those lost years and invest in our education; small businesses; healthcare workers, students, our most vulnerable, and our economy – to be enjoyed by generations to come.
When it comes to education, we now have enough revenue to perform a dramatic fix to the discriminatory and inadequate education funding fiasco that has caused national embarrassment and has held Pennsylvania children back for generations.
Faced with an epidemic of broken and toxic schools, we can now invest in our school infrastructure – removing asbestos, lead, and even rodents. We can clean and rehabilitate our aging and dilapidated schools – creating jobs while we do it. And we can invest in our children and teachers.
And for higher education, we can fund, at the least, the governor’s Nellie Bly Scholarship Program for almost 50,000 students to attend college for free. This would immediately propel Pennsylvania out of the bottom ten percent nationally in state support for higher education.
We now have the funds to support the tens of thousands of small businesses that barely survived the pandemic and provide them state grants – not loans – through our nationally recognized Small Business Grant Program.
We can give our health-care workers the bonuses they so richly deserve, especially after more than a year of risking their own lives.
We can invest in job-creating economic development programs – including job training and skill development – so that workers are workforce ready for good-paying, 21st-century jobs.
And importantly, we will address the crisis in child care that has been exacerbated due to the pandemic.
We can invest in hope and opportunity, by helping our youth find new ways to develop their skills and talent. We can nurture bright young people by investing in their promise and skills and, in turn, foster safer communities as we offer another option to feelings of despair and the resulting violence.
And – most importantly – we must drive these recovery investments through the lens of equity. Women and black and brown communities were particularly hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Any recovery and revitalization plan must recognize the reality of their depth and pain and be aimed accordingly.
To fully realize the opportunity in front of us, we must have the vision and will to move past the political infighting, be bipartisan, and fight for bold ideas that put the people first.
The time for recovery from the pandemic – physical, psychological and economic – is now. Not a year from now. Not some other budget cycle down the road.
The intent of the Biden Administration and Congress was to provide an immediate infusion of aid to restore and improve our communities as quickly as possible.
This is the greatest opportunity to invest in Pennsylvanians and this nation since Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. Let’s not shy from this moment, nor shirk our responsibilities to respond. Let’s rise to the occasion and get them the help they need – the help they deserve now.
Senator Hughes, in his seventh term representing Philadelphia and Montgomery counties, serves as Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Appropriations Chair.
Rep. Madeleine Dean is a mother, grandmother, attorney, professor, former four-term member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, and U.S. Representative for the Fourth District of Pennsylvania.