Democratic lawmakers from the eastern part of the state gathered virtually Thursday to discuss a path forward for Pennsylvania as it emerges from the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The House and Senate lawmakers shared their top concerns as Pennsylvania emerges from the pandemic and laid out the work to be done to address those concerns
State Sen. Katie Muth, D-Montgomery, led the meeting, calling for “recovery and healing” in the commonwealth. She was joined in the meeting by Reps. Matthew Bradford, D-Montgomery; Carolyn Comitta, D-Chester, and Danielle Friel Otten, D-Chester.
“We have to be clear about our goals here,” Muth said “We can’t return to where we were before it.”
Specifically, Muth talked about police reform and the need for the General Assembly “to prioritize the safety of everyone in this commonwealth.”
Other concerns shared by the group included access to healthcare, resources and funding for school districts and working families.
“These issues are not new,” Bradford, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said. He added that the COVID-19 crisis has had a “disproportionate impact” on people of color across the state.
The Montgomery County Democrat said COVID-19 has made access to healthcare “impossible to ignore.”
He said the commonwealth could improve access to care, by requiring insurance companies in the state cover the same types of care covered under the ACA, such as preventative, pediatric and mental health care.
Bradford advocated for the Affordable Care Act, which has been challenged in the courts during the Trump Administration.
“It’s so important that we don’t go backward in this regard,” Bradford said of the federal threats to the ACA.
Bradford and Comitta also expressed concern over school funding and resources in the fall, saying that additional costs incurred by COVID-19 have hit schools’ budgets hard.
Gov. Tom Wolf announced Tuesday that schools across the state can begin applying for School Health and Safety Grants to purchase cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment and other COVID-related needs to help schools adjust to the increased costs.
But the implementation of PPE and social distancing measures isn’t the only challenge schools have faced during the pandemic Bradford said, adding that disparities across school districts have hampered remote-learning capabilities in poorer communities.
Using a new formula to calculate school funding that accounts for factors such as student population needs and the wealth of the local community could be a solution, Comitta said.
Jesus Rodriguez, a Chester County resident and undocumented immigrant shared his COVID story with the group via a translator.
A colon cancer survivor, Rodriguez is immunocompromised, making him vulnerable to contracting COVID-19. He says he has had to choose between working to pay his rent and safe guarding his health.
To make matters more challenging, Rodriguez did not receive the $1,200 stimulus payment issued by the federal government in April because of his undocumented status, despite two decades of paying federal taxes.
“Please remember everybody in Pennsylvania,” Rodriguez said, urging the lawmakers to help renters that may be in the same boat when the rent is due.