Wolf ends standoff: Lebanon County to promote mask-wearing in exchange for CARES Act cash

Gov. Tom Wolf wears a mask during a briefing at the Pennsylvania Emergency Management headquarters in Harrisburg. Source: Commonwealth Media Services.

Ending a weeks-long standoff, the Democratic Wolf administration and officials in Republican-controlled Lebanon County have struck a deal to free up $12.8 million in federal CARES Act assistance.

Officials in the central Pennsylvania county, which defied Wolf’s reopening orders earlier this year, sparking a state court battle over Wolf’s decision to withhold the money, have agreed to launch a $2.8 million campaign to promote the use of mask-wearing, the administration said in a statement.

According to the administration, in addition to funding for the mask campaign, the county will dole out the federal money this way:

  • $1 million for municipal governments and school districts to cover expenses/reimbursement for COVID-related costs
  • $3 million for small business grants and PPE distribution for companies with 100 employees or less
  • $2.25 million to pay for grants and PPE to tourism-related business and Lebanon County Fair
  • $2 million to pay for grants and PPE to non-profit 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(19) organizations
  • $1.5 million toward Development Corp efforts/forward Lebanon Promotions/Large Businesses
  • $250,000 to pay for behavioral health/substance use/suicide prevention treatment costs

“I’m pleased that Lebanon County will launch a campaign to encourage the use of face masks,” Wolf said in a statement released by his office. “Mask-wearing is important to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to protect people, schools and businesses. It’s a simple and easy way for all of us to fight this virus and control case counts in Lebanon County and across the state.”

The administration had done battle with one Lebanon County lawmaker, GOP Rep. Russ Diamond, who had compared public disapproval of mask-wearing with anti-LGBTQ discrimination, attracting scorn from Democrats and LGBTQ advocates.

State Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon, said in a statement to constituents responded to Wolf’s decision, “While it is fortunate that the $12.8 million of CARES Act money was finally approved to be released to Lebanon County, I am disappointed that the governor has not complied with either Act 24 that he signed or the federal CARES Act by the nature of this agreement.

The governor had no authority to withhold the funds to begin with. Additionally the specific allocation of the funds is reflective of an executive branch overreach that MUST be dealt with by the state Legislature.”

John L. Micek
A 3-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. An award-winning political reporter, Micek’s career has taken him from small town meetings and Chicago City Hall to Congress and the Pennsylvania Capitol. His weekly column on U.S. politics is syndicated to 800 newspapers nationwide by Cagle Syndicate. He also contributes commentary and analysis to broadcast outlets in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Micek’s first novel, “Ordinary Angels,” was released in 2019 by Sunbury Press