The Lead

Wolf announces $145 million COVID-19 grant fund for small businesses

By: - December 23, 2020 1:45 pm

Wolf addresses reporters during a virtual press conference on Wednesday, Dec. 23.

This story was updated at 6 p.m. with the most recent number of COVID-19 vaccinations in Pennsylvania. 

Pennsylvania businesses that have been battered by the pandemic received a holiday surprise on Wednesday, when Gov. Tom Wolf announced he would skim $145 million from a state insurance fund to create a new grant program for struggling firms.

Pennsylvania businesses that have been battered by the pandemic received a holiday surprise on Wednesday, when Gov. Tom Wolf announced he would skim $145 million from a state insurance fund to create a new grant program for struggling firms.

The program will be funded with cash from the state Workers’ Compensation Security Fund, which pays claims to workers who suffer work-related illnesses or injuries.

Wolf told reporters that the $145 million transfer would still leave the security fund with a surplus of at least $500 million.

Transfers of state funds are overseen by the state treasurer, Joe Torsella, who will leave office when his term ends in January. Torsella, a Democrat, lost his reelection bid to Republican challenger Stacy Garrity in November.

Wolf used executive branch powers to create the grant program and initiate the transfer of funds. But he’s giving the Legislature the power to appropriate the money as it sees fit once it returns to Harrisburg in the new year.

He urged lawmakers Wednesday to “target funding to those with greatest need” – including bars and restaurants, which have shuttered or greatly curtailed their operations for weeks at a time this year. 

Wolf admitted that the $145 million sum will come nowhere near to bailing out all needy Pennsylvania businesses. 

Still, he said, it should offer a supplement to the $900 billion stimulus package Congress passed earlier this week – a measure that Wolf said was “desperately needed,” but still didn’t go far enough to give relief to struggling Americans. 

He said businesses would need greater support as they wait for COVID-19 vaccines to become widely available. 

Pennsylvania is in the first stage of vaccine distribution, and hospitals have administered vaccines to 41,444 healthcare workers, Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said during a separate press conference Wednesday. 

The state is due to receive more than 30,000 additional vaccine doses this week and start on-site inoculations in nursing homes after Christmas. 

But Wolf and Levine reminded Pennsylvanians that it will be months until a vaccine becomes widely available and it’s safe to resume gatherings and public life. 

“There will be a time … when we don’t have to worry about this virus any more,” Wolf said. “What we need to do is figure out how we survive and thrive between now and then, and that’s what I’m trying to do with this $145 million.”

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Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.

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