Otten: DCED waivers should prioritize public health, small business

EXTON, March 27 – State Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, D-Chester, released the following statement regarding Department of Community and Economic Development waivers and exemptions for businesses affected by COVID-19:

“The COVID-19 pandemic is the greatest challenge most of us have faced in our lifetimes, and I appreciate the difficult work Governor Wolf and our state agencies are doing to protect the health of Pennsylvanians.

“Our public health and safety must remain our top priority. I am also concerned about the interests of our small business owners, who have a strong personal stake in the neighborhoods where they live and work. Local business owners support our food drives, school fundraisers and little leagues; they pay taxes that support our commonwealth and our public schools. The money we spend in locally owned businesses stays in and strengthens our communities. Allowing waivers and exemptions to large corporations and special interests that directly compete with locally owned businesses, while denying waivers to small businesses in the very same sectors, not only harms our local economies, it also endangers the lives of workers in truly life-sustaining industries, like healthcare workers on the front lines, and grocery store employees.”

In a March 26 letter to Governor Wolf and DCED Secretary Dennis Davin, Otten noted that large corporations are more likely than small, locally owned businesses to bring in employees from across county or state lines, resulting in more people touching gas pumps, stopping at local convenience stores, and using public restrooms. Small business owners in Otten’s district have questioned the methods used to determine the granting of waivers.

“My office has been inundated with calls from constituents questioning whether political influence has been allowed to override public interest when it comes to the DCED waiver process. For many in politics, this is how things get done. Political connections and special interests influence both policy and practice. But as someone who came to this work through my roots in a working-class family, as someone who was a small business owner during the 2008 recession, I know that the small business owners in our communities have a real, valid fear of losing their livelihoods and everything they’ve worked so hard to build.

“We may not be able to allow every business to operate, but we need to ensure that we aren’t causing our small business owners further economic harm—and risking the health of our citizens—by giving preferential treatment to well-connected competitors. As a society, our most important job right now is to protect our health care workers, our essential employees in truly life-sustaining businesses and our population as a whole.”