From plumbers to pet groomers, Wolf discloses list of businesses denied waivers to open

By: - May 14, 2020 6:53 pm

Gov. Tom Wolf addresses the state on Wednesday, 4/22/20 his plan to reopen parts of Pennsylvania starting May 8, 2020 (Screen Capture)

(*This story was updated at 7:45 p.m. on 5/14/20, with additional comment from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development.)

Six days after releasing a list of Pennsylvania businesses approved to operate during COVID-19, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration has released another round of business that applied to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This time, the lists includes businesses that did not receive the okay to open, and businesses that applied but were already allowed to be open. The administration also released a list of businesses that applied for waivers, but who’s industry was given new guidance for reopening, such as construction companies.

*Wolf’s economic development secretary said in April that 42,000 businesses applied to open. Some 6,000 businesses were listed as approved last week. 

Gov. Tom Wolf ran as a champion of government transparency. The COVID-19 pandemic is putting that to the test

Business owners have criticized the administration’s inconsistent standards for reopening, saying they allowed some firms to open while competitors remain shuttered.

A full look at the list shows their complaints are real. A brief overview of the denials shows that while some businesses, which range from gyms and pet groomers to plumbers and garden centers, were allowed to reopen, others similar businesses were not approved by the administration.

The administration told still other pet groomers and plumbers, after applying for a waiver, that they did not need one to operate.

*In an email, Casey Smith, a spokesperson for DCED, said that waivers were based on not just the industry of an applicant, but what that applicant planned to do once they reopened. For example, a manufacturer returning to business as usual might be denied, while a competitor who wanted to retool to build masks might be approved.

“The exemption review team relied on information that was provided by businesses in their exemption requests,” Smith said. “Some businesses sought exemptions to engage in specific, life-sustaining activities relating to safety, while others sought to continue business as usual.”

The release follows weeks of public pressure from Republicans, business owners, and the press for Wolf to release a full list of businesses approved and denied for the business waiver.

The pressure culminated in late April, when the GOP-controlled Senate approved a subpoena from the Senate. Wolf has signaled he’d use executive privilege to protect some internal records, and the fight is heading to court.

Senate panel asks Commonwealth Court to force Wolf to release waivers

But Wolf has also agreed to cooperate with a review of the business waiver program by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a fellow Democrat.

Wolf has defended the waiver as an attempt to add flexibility for state business owners.

“We tried to do the right thing. Were some mistakes made? Maybe, and if they were, the folks in Pennsylvania have every right to know about that,” Wolf said in April.

Capital-Star reporter Lizzy Hardison contributed reporting.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.