Terminating disaster declaration does little for public safety, phased reopening

HARRISBURG, May 28 -- Loss of federal funding and the ability to take swift action against the impacts of COVID-19 are primary factors in state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro’s opposition to removing Pennsylvania’s disaster declaration.

House Resolution 836, introduced by state Rep. Russ Diamond, R- Lebanon, would authorize the General Assembly to terminate a state of disaster. Pennsylvania ranks in the top ten of states with the highest COVID-19 cases in the country and – if the declaration was terminated -- would be the only state in the United States without an active disaster declaration related to the COVID-19.

“Through the Emergency Disaster Declaration, the administration has been able to act swiftly for the health and safety of Pennsylvanians. The measures taken have helped Pennsylvania to flatten the curve and keep from overwhelming our healthcare systems,” Bizzarro, D-Erie, explained. “The declaration brought in federal dollars that helped communities acquire personal protective equipment, expand testing, support our volunteer fire and emergency service providers and support our children and educators – to name a few. Putting an end to the declaration and funding could be disastrous. I’ve voted to reopen Pennsylvania in a safe way that does not jeopardize the progress we’ve made, but we can’t take action that’s counterproductive to mitigation efforts we’ve taken thus far.”

Bizzarro said some of the legislative measures, including easing requirements for Unemployment Compensation and expansions of programs under the disaster declaration, could be null and void if the declaration is terminated.

“The General Assembly has worked to implement programs that protect Pennsylvanians, provide relief and support to the unemployed, emergency responders and medical personnel. Revoking the disaster declaration would undo many of those bipartisan efforts. While I respect and support that legislators from across the state should have the opportunity to do as elected and be the voice for their communities, the legislative process – by design – takes time. In times of emergency, we must not interfere with the governor’s ability to act swiftly. The courts ruled that the governor is acting within his scope of duties and we need to stop shouting falsehoods in the name of partisan politics,” Bizzarro said.

Bizzarro added that the resolution does nothing to end the governor’s phased reopening plan currently in place.

“Pennsylvania counties will still be subject to the phased reopening currently in place. While I oppose the resolution, I am supportive of reopening in a safe and calculated manner based on scientific metrics prepared and monitored by the Department of Health. I want to ensure we continue to make progress in stopping the spread of COVID-19, but I also will continue to stand up for Erie to ensure that we can get all Erie businesses back up and running for the vitality of our community,” Bizzarro said.

As of this writing, Erie remains in the yellow phase of reopening. In a letter to the governor, Bizzarro highlighted the complexities of remaining in yellow surrounded by communities moving to the green phase effective May 29 and called on the governor to consider moving Erie County to green at the earliest date possible.