(The Center Square) – Gov. Tom Wolf outlined a $1.7 billion plan Wednesday to funnel federal pandemic relief funds to the commonwealth’s families, businesses, health care workers and community revitalization efforts.

“As Pennsylvania endured the pandemic, we strategically invested to support small businesses, frontline workers, agriculture, health care, first responders and more. This ensured that Pennsylvania survived,” Wolf said. “Now it’s time for Pennsylvanians to thrive and investing $1.7 billion in a bright future for this commonwealth will give Pennsylvanians a sense of security and a clear path forward.”

Wolf touted his leadership in moving Pennsylvania’s budget from a deficit to a surplus during his seven-year tenure and urged the General Assembly to devote the roughly $2 billion remaining from federal pandemic relief to a series of direct assistance programs for families and businesses.

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“While Pennsylvanians are still bruised and trying to recover from the pandemic, we cannot sit on billions of dollars in federal aid that could heal Pennsylvania,” Wolf said. “It’s wrong to hold this money back from helping people​. It’s past time we take action.”

The proposal would send $500 million to the PA Opportunity Program for direct relief to workers and families for child care, household expenses and higher education and vocational programs. The program would provide up to $2,000 for households earning $80,000 a year or less.

Wolf wants to spend $225 million on the existing Covid Relief Statewide Small Business Assistance Program to provide more grants of between $5,000 and $50,000 to businesses impacted by the pandemic, a measure the governor estimated will help about 11,000 additional businesses. The program would prioritize women- and minority-owned businesses and rural communities, he said.

Wolf proposed an additional $204 million for the commonwealth’s Property Tax Rent Rebate program for a one-time bonus rebate of $475 for an estimated 466,000 residents.

A $325 million investment in health care workers would include $250 million for long-term care recruitment and retention incentives and workforce development to grow the critical health care workforce, $40 million for expand behavioral health and county mental health programs and $35 million in additional student loan forgiveness for health care workers.

Wolf wants to devote another $450 million to invest in conservation, recreation, preservation and community revitalization projects that address climate change.

The governor was flanked by several Democratic leaders in the General Assembly during a news conference Wednesday to announce the plans, and several took jabs at Republicans for offering “nothing” to help taxpayers.

“What is the alternative?” Rep. Matthew Bradford, D-Montgomery, said. “What you hear is nothing. You don’t hear a response, you don’t hear a plan.”

Wolf urged Republicans to work in the spirit of cooperation to grant his proposals, much like they did last week to pass $225 million in relief for health care workers and hospitals.

Republicans have submitted proposals to grant tax relief, expand school-choice opportunities, lower local government expenses and boost investments in distressed communities as other ways to help during the pandemic.

Democrats from both chambers insisted Wolf’s plan is the best plan to help Pennsylvanians recover, and they subtly taunted Republicans they claim are standing in the way.

“We know from experience that if you make the right investments, you get the right results. We are aware of those who want to curl up and pretend the pandemic is over or it never happened at all,” Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, said. “The reality is quite different. There is still work to be done, and we’re standing with Governor Wolf to do it.”

Victor Skinner writes for The Center Square.

This article was republished with permission from The Center Square.

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