Senate Democrats have proposed a “New Deal for Pennsylvania” — a recovery plan they say goes beyond calls to “simply reopen.”
With $7 billion in federal funds available to them, Democratic lawmakers gathered Wednesday to unveil a plan to spend Pennsylvania’s portion of the American Rescue Plan, rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic, and prepare for future disasters.
“These funds give us a unique opportunity to not only plug the holes created by the past year but to also set us on a trajectory that will prevent such devastation from happening again — particularly as it relates to the disproportionate impact some communities faced,” Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, said. “We have to move beyond calls to simply ‘reopen’ and focus instead on rebuilding and recovery.”
Democrats said their $6.15 billion plan focuses on creating jobs, opportunity and equity by investing in human services, economic development and public health.
As it’s currently proposed, $2.47 billion will be used to make improvements to childcare, business assistance, education, job training and workforce development, and utility assistance; $2.49 billion for economic development; and $1.18 billion for public health.
In developing the proposal, caucus members said they used unemployment and public health data to determine where assistance is still needed to help with recovery. They also examined how the pandemic and subsequent mitigation efforts impacted communities and how changes to services — like childcare — might have affected parental employment.
“The ‘New Deal for Pennsylvania’ finds people where they are and provides them a ladder or a path out of despair and into opportunity and prosperity,” said Sen. Vincent Hughes of Philadelphia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
But the proposal isn’t limited to COVID-19 and economic recovery. Democrats also proposed using funds for projects like stormwater, roadway infrastructure, businesses and public safety.
“I don’t have to tell anyone that our roads and bridges are in disrepair,” Sen. Lindsey Williams, D-Allegheny, said. “Pennsylvania routinely ranks among the worst in the country for the number of structurally deficient bridges. While you may think that’s only a problem for us here in Pittsburgh — the city of bridges — the reality is that our infrastructure is crumbling statewide.”
By making investments in roadways and transportation, she added that residents could travel, commute to work and shop at local businesses safely and more efficiently.
Public safety might be an unconventional state budget topic, but Senate Democratic Whip Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, said it’s a necessary one.
Citing nationwide and statewide instances of violence, Williams said $100 million will be used to address gun violence across Pennsylvania and be allocated to local community groups that aim to mitigate gun violence and promote suicide awareness.
“This is no less a crisis than that of the COVID pandemic that we just experienced for this past year,” Williams said of heightened violence. “In fact, the level of violence — gun violence — that we’ve seen is a byproduct of the pandemic.”
He added: “While the debate rages on with regard to gun legislation, there is work to be done that needs to be done now. Pennsylvanians are hurting.”
Jason Thompson, a spokesperson for Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, said the chamber’s majority Republicans want to ensure the funds are allocated “to provide the greatest benefit to all Pennsylvania communities and support our recovery from the pandemic.”
“The final package will most likely look somewhat different than what Senate Democrats proposed, but there are certainly areas of agreement that we can build on as well,” he added.
House Democrats have also proposed a spending plan, which includes investments in business, public health, infrastructure, support for families and workforce development. But the main difference, Hughes said, is that the Senate Democrats’ proposal is “far-reaching, aggressive and comprehensive.”
“We know without any hesitation that this is the most aggressive plan that is out in the public conversation at this moment,” he said.