On March 19, 2020, Governor Tom Wolf ordered all Pennsylvania businesses that weren’t “life-sustaining” to close. At the time, the Governor told us that this fourteen-day shutdown order was necessary to flatten the curve and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. The good news is that hospitals weren’t overwhelmed. The bad news was that the “emergency” didn’t end after fourteen days, and citizens of the Commonwealth experienced a different kind of disaster.
By the end of April 2020, over 1 million Pennsylvanians had lost their jobs and applied for unemployment. Many of those people waited months to receive their first check from the unemployment system. At a hearing in March of this year, the acting-Secretary of Labor revealed that 500,000 of the jobs lost last year might never come back. Between Governor Wolf’s original shutdown order and today, thousands of small businesses have shut their doors; they will never reopen.
Before the original shutdown order, Governor Wolf refused to consult with Pennsylvania industry groups. He also decided against using federal guidelines to determine what businesses were “essential.” Instead, the Governor opted to institute a waiver system to determine what companies would be “allowed” to remain open. We are still waiting for a full audit of the waiver process. However, former Auditor General Eugene DePasquale publically stated that “The waiver program appears to be a subjective process built on shifting sands of changing guidance, which led to significant confusion among business owners.”
On March 13, 2020, Governor Wolf ordered all public schools to close for ten business days. One year later, thousands of public school students still are not back in the classroom either at all or consistently. Although it is unclear when all public schools will return to in-person education, Governor Wolf has consistently called for reducing scholarship availability for private schools and reducing funding for cyber charter schools throughout the last year.
The final and most damning data point is nursing home deaths in Pennsylvania. In March of 2020, the PA Department of Health advised nursing homes that they “must” continue to accept patients who had tested positive for COVID-19. As of February 2021, COVID-19-related deaths in Pennsylvania nursing homes and long-term care facilities were over 12,000, over 50 percent of all commonwealth fatalities.
There is no telling what the long-term consequences of Governor Wolf’s COVID-19 policies will be. However, no future Governor should have the power to make unilateral decisions on so many aspects of citizens’ lives. The good news is that voters will have an opportunity to remedy this problem by approving two constitutional amendments in the Spring. The bad news is that the Department of State worded the ballot questions to make them sound as unappealing as possible to protect the Governor’s unilateral power.
Hopefully, Pennsylvania’s voters make the right choice in May. We cannot afford to allow something like this to ever take place again in the future.
(Note: This post was also published by the Delaware Valley Journal.)
CAP CEO, Leo Knepper discussed the impact of the shutdown on small businesses and the nursing home population with Rep. David Rowe (R-85). The video for that conversation can be found below.