Hohenstein: How can Harrisburg help the folks who do their budget at the kitchen table?

My parents are fiscal conservatives. They had to be. In the 1970s, they balanced supporting seven kids on my dad’s teacher’s salary of $35,000. There were many long nights at the kitchen table making ends meet – which bills to pay, which kid would get new shoes. Today’s families have it even tougher because while the cost of everything from childcare, to education, to rent is rising; wages and income stay put.

For my neighbors in Philadelphia who have to put together a budget, whether its for their own business or for their own household, it has been raining for more than two years since the pandemic started. The Governor’s proposal to increase funding to the Small Business Assistance Program, the PA Opportunity Program, and other funding for low-income families addresses the fact that so many of us are under water and need a working-class bailout.

Last year, Pennsylvania was given an opportunity to help its citizens come in from the rain, but instead they got soaked. The American Rescue Plan (ARPA) funds from the federal government totaled $7.5 billion, and my legislative colleagues decided to stock that away into a rainy-day fund. This year, we still have the chance to fix that, and provide relief to the people and business who deserve it most. I am supporting Governor Wolf’s efforts to take just a fraction of the federal funds, $1.7 billion, and put them to work for us and our local economies, instead of leaving them to rot in a vault.

I am the prime sponsor on legislation to recapitalize the successful COVID-19 Relief Statewide Small Business Assistance Program. The Governor’s plan calls for $225 million to support small businesses across the commonwealth. I know many businesses in the 177th benefited from this program, but many more were left on the outside looking in. This re-investment will reach almost 11,000 additional businesses. It provides grants ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 to small businesses that have been economically impacted by the pandemic. Among other things, businesses can use these grants to cover operating expenses; and access technical assistance, including training and guidance to stabilize and relaunch their businesses. The program prioritizes women-owned businesses, communities targeted for business investment by existing programs like Main Street and Elm Street, and rural communities.

Families need relief too. During the pandemic, many people recognized that jobs they had previously held were not coming back, or that the cost of things like childcare made going back extremely difficult. The Governor’s proposed budget would provide $500 million to the PA Opportunity Program. This injection of money straight to regular people would provide much needed relief to workers and families from the high cost of childcare and household expenses. It will support opportunities to complete a degree, credential, or license that will strengthen their skills and increase income—all leading to a better quality of life.

The Governor’s budget makes other high-quality investments in everyday people such as:

  • $204 million into the existing Property Tax Rent Rebate program to make it easier for people to keep a roof over their head;
  • $325 million to recognize health care workers for their heroic dedication and hard work throughout the pandemic and give healthcare providers resources to recruit and retain a skilled workforce?; and
  • $450 million of new funding for the Growing Greener conservation and recreation program as well as for agriculture conservation programs, such as the Agricultural Conservation Assistance Program and the existing Agriculture Conservation Excellence Grant Program

These funds will go straight into the types of programs we know work. They will give the folks who have spent the last two years of the pandemic wrestling with the monthly budgets a lifeline as they struggle to keep their heads above water. They will give a boost to neighborhood economies.

It’s raining in Philadelphia. It’s raining all across Pennsylvania. It is time to help our people dry out and recover from the pandemic.