State lawmakers, workers, and business owners seek congressional action on COVID relief

Congress returns to Washington next week as cases continue to skyrocket

PITTSBURGH, Nov. 25 – Calling on Congress to act swiftly when it returns to Washington next week, state lawmakers, workers and business owners gathered Wednesday to seek additional coronavirus relief as cases of the deadly virus hit record levels across Pennsylvania.

Normally one of the busiest days of the year for the restaurant industry, restaurants and bars are closing early ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday to try and limit the spread of COVID-19. Lawmakers, business owners and workers said that to work, public health responses must be paired with relief for the families and businesses that borne the brunt of the economic fallout from the pandemic and who continue to struggle.

“As state representatives we hear every day from people and families who are struggling, who are at their wits end and who are desperate to find a way to make things work,” Innamorato said. “Working families and independent small businesses have been disproportionally impacted by the economic downturn created by this virus and are in desperate need of relief – of hope – to survive. With the end of the year quickly approaching, Congress must act to extend unemployment and other benefits into the new year, and to pass a second coronavirus relief plan. Families, workers and businesses need them to act now -- before it is too late.”

Congressional failure in the late summer and fall to pass a second coronavirus relief bill and state legislative leaders’ failure to proactively address Pennsylvania’s own needs has left communities high and dry as coronavirus cases threaten to overwhelm hospitals and health systems. Public safety measures have forced workers and business owners to bear the brunt of the economic damage from the virus, with little relief.

The state budget that legislative leaders forced through the General Assembly Friday does little to address those needs, lawmakers said. Instead of considering systemic or creative solutions, the legislature passed a politically expedient and compassionless budget, one balanced by raiding and redirecting Pennsylvania’s pandemic relief fund -- money that should right now be used to help families and businesses during the latest case surge – to fund state prisons.

That short-term budget solution threatens to rob Pennsylvanians’ future.

“We have gone from a staff of 45 to six and our coffee shop has been operating at loss,” said Liz Berlin, who with her husband own Mr. Smalls, an entertainment venue and coffee shop in Millvale. “These are real people, our friends and family who need to eat, to provide for their children. I am not exaggerating when I say that we’ve gone from 1,200 people per day coming through our doors to 10, and I honestly don’t know how we’re going to be able to do this. We need Congress to act now.”

With one in six American households struggling to put food on the table, one in five renters behind on rent, and unemployment benefits set to expire at the end of the year – a potentially catastrophic event for millions of Pennsylvanian families – legislators, workers and business owners are demanding that Congress act as soon as it returns to Washington next week, and pass a coronavirus relief bill that will provide desperately needed relief for Pennsylvania’s working families.

“We need to see relief targeted not just to our industry, but to the workers themselves,” said Kacy McGill, a restaurant worker and co-founder of the Pittsburgh Restaurant Workers Aid group, which formed in March. “Right now, we feel like we’ve been left to ourselves. We need political courage from our elected officials, because right now, we feel like we have two options – stay home and die, or go to work, and die.”