Featured News

2020 Capitol Scenes calendar

Erie universities, institutes awarded more than $500,000 in COVID safety grants

(1 day ago)

ERIE, Aug. 3 – Grant funding of $512,227 will help Erie’s postsecondary education organizations implement plans to keep students learning as schools resume operations this fall, state Reps. Pat Harkins, Bob Merski, and Ryan Bizzarro, all D-Erie, announced today. The lawmakers said the grants -- part of a package of $28 million in federal funding to organizations statewide – include the following: Edinboro University of Pennsylvania -- $239,640. Erie Institute of Technology Inc. -- $11,797. Gannon University -- $106,418. Great Lakes Institute of Technology -- $20,900. Mercyhurst University -- $133,472. “With this funding, our universities and tech institutes will be able to implement plans and purchase equipment to keep students learning in the safest possible ways – whether that’s through online instruction, in-person classes, or a combination of both,” Harkins said. “The money can be used for a variety of resources, from protective and sanitizing equipment to structural modifications to online technology.” “Although learning is most effective when it takes place in a live, energetic environment with real-time questions and demonstrations, the practical concerns raised by the pandemic mean that we have to sacrifice some aspects of that model,” Merski said. “With this funding and creative planning by school administrators, though, Read more

 

Harkins, Merski, Bizzarro ask governor to remove 25% capacity limit on restaurants

(Jul 28, 2020)

ERIE, July 28 – State Reps. Pat Harkins, Bob Merski and Ryan Bizzarro, all D-Erie, have joined fellow lawmakers in calling on Gov. Tom Wolf to lift a recent restriction limiting bars and restaurants to 25% indoor capacity. In a letter to the governor co-signed by other members of the Northwest Delegation, the Erie lawmakers said the restriction does little to improve public safety while jeopardizing the survival of key local businesses. “Requiring local restaurants and bars to adhere to a 25% capacity rule will make it incredibly difficult for them to meet operating expenses and survive,” Harkins said. “Instead of punishing all restaurant and bar owners for the transgressions of a few, we should be better enforcing safety violations by the few and leaving our responsible business owners alone so they can help our community make an economic recovery.” Merski agreed, saying “ Protecting the health of our residents doesn’t have to mean sacrificing the viability of the local businesses that are the lifeblood of our economy. There is no reason to believe slashing capacity will enhance public safety, and there is no point in doing so if it will not change the behavior of the few bad actors responsible for the violations. “We need to reinstate the 50% capacity guideline before more residents are forced to resort to crossing state lines to dine out.” Bizzarro said, “We Read more

 

Delegation urges Wolf to reconsider restaurant restrictions

(Jul 28, 2020)

Lawmakers ask Wolf to rescind 25% occupancy limit to help local businesses Read more

 

Hazard pay grants now available to support frontline workers

(Jul 17, 2020)

HARRISBURG, July 17 – Workers on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic could see hazard pay through funding advocated for by the Pennsylvania House Democrats. Eligible employers can now apply for $50 million in available grants to offer hazard pay to frontline workers in life-sustaining industries. Throughout the COVID-19 health crisis, the Pennsylvania House Democratic Caucus has fought to support frontline workers and worked to ensure federal CARES Act dollars were allocated as part of the state budget package. Businesses in the following industries are eligible to apply for the grant funding: Health care and social assistance Food manufacturing Food retail facilities Public transit and ground passenger transportation Security services Janitorial services to buildings and dwellings More information on the grants is available here . Since the very beginning of the pandemic, and during 2020-21 budget negotiations, House Democrats have advocated for fair compensation and protections for frontline workers. Democratic state representatives from across Pennsylvania lauded the opening of the new grant program. Northeast Region Rep. Maureen Madden, D-Monroe : "I am a strong advocate for better wages and conditions for all workers. During times of financial uncertainty, hazard pay is crucial for all frontline workers facing increased exposure to the COVID-19 Read more

 

Erie legislators laud Regional Response Health Collaboration Program grant

(Jul 14, 2020)

HARRISBURG, July 14 -- State Reps. Ryan Bizzarro, Pat Harkins and Bob Merski, all D-Erie, today announced LECOM Health and UPMC Community Provider Services will receive $13.6 million to support COVID-19 readiness and response planning in long-term care facilities. The grants, awarded through the Regional Response Health Collaboration Program approved by the General Assembly, will help improve quality care related to infection prevention and allow long-term care facilities to expand COVID-19 testing to include asymptomatic staff and residents in facilities. “I am thrilled to see this investment in the fight against COVID-19 and protecting our most vulnerable citizens,” Bizzarro said. “Long-term care facility workers and residents need resources to help keep safe and mitigate the spread of this virus. When our health systems work together and the most innovative minds join forces, we can make meaningful progress in preserving the well-being of our community,” he explained. “It’s critically important to get this collaborative effort underway,” Merski said. “The pandemic’s effect on our long-term care facilities has been devastating, and we can’t attack the problem in a vacuum. By combining forces and pooling the best possible resources, professionals and information, we can help these facilities implement the kind of long-term planning and strategies they need to mitigate the Read more

 

Merski, Harkins remind area grocers, food retailers about COVID-19 relief fund

(Jul 10, 2020)

ERIE, July 10 – State Reps. Bob Merski and Pat Harkins, both D-Erie, want to be sure area grocery stores and other food retailers are aware of a new program designed to provide relief to these businesses impacted by the pandemic. The lawmakers said the Fresh Food Financing Initiative COVID-19 Relief Fund will support impacted businesses providing access to fresh, perishable and staple foods and will prioritize assistance to businesses located in and serving low-income communities. “Our small local grocers, food retailers and nonprofit distributors provide our community with critical access to fresh, nutritious foods – a resource that is more important than ever as residents strive to stay healthy during the pandemic,” Merski said. “But just as it has affected all businesses, COVID-19 has made it harder for these critical food retailers to continue operating. Harkins said, “This funding will help ensure that our community – and especially lower-income households –maintain access to the fresh, healthy food they need while also helping these key businesses contribute to our community’s economic health. We are urging all eligible local food retailers to apply.” Merski and Harkins said the program applies to traditional retailers as well as non-profit and cooperative entities such as corner stores and farmers markets. The applicant must: Read more

 

Bizzarro, Merski, Harkins: Nearly $10,000 in pandemic relief to local arts and cultural organizations

(Jul 06, 2020)

ERIE, July 6 – Five local organizations dedicated to arts, culture and behavioral health will receive $9,650 in CARES Act funding to help stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic, state Reps. Ryan Bizzarro, Bob Merski and Pat Harkins announced today. The Erie lawmakers said the organizations – the Erie Philharmonic, the Erie Playhouse, the Erie Art Museum, Erie Arts & Culture and Stairways Behavioral Health – will each receive $1,930. “These grants will help support the arts in our community and ensure they maintain their position as economic drivers,” Bizzarro said. “The arts are a vital part of our state, and many Pennsylvanians go on to play a role in the industry globally. It’s key that we make sure our arts organizations have the support necessary to bounce back from this pandemic and continue to create and inspire.” Merski said, “The arts enrich our Erie community in so many ways. They bring us together across cultural lines through shared enjoyment of performances, and they encourage expression of diverse stories. They inspire young minds, and they stimulate economic growth by drawing other businesses and commercial activity to the area. Our arts, cultural and behavioral health organizations have been hit hard by the pandemic, and this funding will help provide support they need to continue operating.” Harkins said, “Arts and cultural institutions Read more

 

Harkins, Merski: Extended benefits available for those who have exhausted other UC benefits

(Jun 30, 2020)

ERIE, June 30 – Pennsylvanians who have exhausted their regular unemployment compensation and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits may qualify for an additional 13 weeks of extended benefits, state Reps. Pat Harkins and Bob Merski, both D-Erie, announced today . The lawmakers said the additional payments are available under the state’s Unemployment Compensation Extended Benefits Program, which becomes available when Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate reaches a certain level determined by law. “The extended benefits program was put in place to help working families who find themselves in severe financial straits through no fault of their own,” Harkins said. “The eligibility requirements are the same as for regular UC benefits, and applicants who qualify may receive half the amount of regular UC for which they were eligible. That means an applicant who was financially eligible for 26 weeks of UC may receive 13 weeks of EB payments.” Merski said, “Extended benefits can provide critical assistance for Erie families at a time like this. The benefits become payable only after an applicant has exhausted current PEUC benefits, but I urge anyone who may qualify to learn more about the program now. The Department of Labor and Industry will also be mailing information to those who potentially qualify.” The legislators said that to be eligible, an applicant must: Be totally or Read more

 

Merski, Harkins support bill to permit fireworks regulation

(Jun 30, 2020)

ERIE, June 30 – Citing growing frustration by residents over neighborhood fireworks noise, state Reps. Bob Merski and Pat Harkins, both D-Erie, have signed on to legislation that would permit municipalities to regulate their use. “While most of us understand the well-loved tradition of celebrating warm-weather holidays with fireworks, the unintended consequence of expanding firework sales a few years back has been the chronic disruption of entire neighborhoods, especially in urban areas,” Merski said. “This legislation would help address the problem of fireworks in urban areas at all hours of the day and night and would strike a balance between permitting their safe, responsible use on one hand, and preserving residents’ right to peace and calm on the other.” Harkins said, “This issue has been simmering for some time, with residents calling to complain about terrified pets, disrupted sleep schedules and even traumatized loved ones who suffer from post-traumatic stress. This bill would bring some commonsense measures – including time-of-day limitations prohibiting fireworks use after certain hours – to help solve the problem.” According to the co-sponsorship memorandum , in addition to permitting municipalities to set and enforce regulations, the bill would limit fireworks use to between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. on Friday Read more

 

Harkins, Merski: Neary $6,000 in mini grants to bring horticulture to curriculum, educate public about lakeshore habitat

(Jun 26, 2020)

ERIE, June 26 – Two mini grants totaling nearly $6,000 will broaden the Erie public school curriculum to include urban gardening and horticulture and will fund interactive signage to help educate the public about lakeshore habitat, state Reps. Pat Harkins and Bob Merski, both D-Erie, announced. The lawmakers said a $2,908 mini grant will allow the Erie City School District to develop middle school curriculum units – “An Urban Gardening Design Challenge” and “A Culinary Connection” – which will connect elementary school programming and high school career tracks. “By incorporating subjects like urban farming and horticulture into the school curriculum, we’re doing more than just teaching kids the hands-on basics,” Harkins said. “We’re generating a love of science, an appreciation for the natural world and an awareness about the world’s diminishing food supply. We’re also helping to create a culture of self-reliance and putting knowledge into the hands of our kids that can one day help sustain our community.” Merski said, “Garden classrooms are the perfect places to teach so many different lessons. They offer a hands-on look at the life cycle, teach kids about the importance of being good stewards of the environment and give them the thrill of seeing what they can produce with their own hands. They also provide real-world career tracks and introduce Read more

 

Merski hosting live Q & A event June 25 on Erie’s move to green phase

(Jun 23, 2020)

ERIE, June 23 – State Rep. Bob Merski, D-Erie, will host a live, online Q & A event at 3 p.m. Thursday, June 25 to answer residents’ questions about the county’s move to the green phase of the state’s reopen plan. “Erie residents are excited about the move to green, but they have questions about how life will change,” Merski said. “People want to know whether they will still need to wear masks, what kinds of summer activities can go forward, what changes stores and restaurants will be making to protect customers, and more. “I’m hosting this live, online Q & A event so we can answer those questions and others, and hopefully help folks feel more prepared as our community makes this important transition.” Joining Merski to answer questions will be two officials from state Department of Health: Raphael Barishansky, Deputy Secretary for Health Preparedness and Community Protection; and Andrew Pickett, Director of the Bureau of Public Health Preparedness and Response. The event will be streamed live on Facebook. Those who do not wish to use Facebook can learn how to participate by visiting www.pahouse.com/merski and clicking on the link at the top of the page titled, “Join My Live ‘Going Green’ Q & A on June 25!” Anyone with questions can contact Rep. Merski’s staff by calling (814) 455-6319 or emailing Read more

 

Going Green! How to join Rep. Bob Merski’s live, June 25 Q & A event

(Jun 23, 2020)

With Erie soon moving to the green phase of the state’s reopen plan, I know many of you have questions. Will you still need to wear a mask? What precautions are restaurants taking? What summer activities are now allowable? To answer those questions and any others you may have, I am hosting a live, online Q & A event on Thursday, June 25, starting at 3 p.m . The event will be streaming live on Facebook. If you do not want to use Facebook, you can join the event using Microsoft Teams. Please refer to the instructions below. From a laptop or desktop: Simply click on this link by 3 p.m. to join. From a m obile device (smartphone, iPad, etc.): To participate, you will need to download the Microsoft Teams application: Click here for Apple devices. Click here for Android devices. Click here for Amazon devices. ***Note: if you choose to use the app to participate in this virtual town hall and you are using the friends and family option, please ignore the redirect to the Skype application. Please select “business” and enter a business name to participate in the virtual town hall. I look forward to hearing from you! If you need help now, please call 814-455-6319 or contact me at RepMerski@pahouse.com Read more

 

Harkins, Merski encourage farmers to apply to Dairy Indemnity Program

(Jun 22, 2020)

ERIE, June 22 – State Reps. Pat Harkins and Bob Merski, both D-Erie, are urging dairy farmers who have suffered economic losses because of the pandemic to apply to a new, federally funded program that can assist in their recovery. The Dairy Indemnity Program – funded through the federal CARES Act and administered by the state Department of Agriculture – will distribute $15 million in funding to dairy farmers who have suffered financial losses as a result of discarded or displaced milk during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The pandemic was like a double whammy for our dairy farmers, who have spent the past decade battling to survive in a shrinking market that has made it hard to keep a profit margin,” Harkins said. “Then, with major customers like restaurants and schools out of the picture because of the pandemic, farms have had to dump away more of their profits. It’s my hope that through this program, these important producers can recoup some of their COVID-19 related losses and continue moving forward.” “Dairy farms nourish our kids and our economy, creating thousands of jobs and contributing billions of dollars a year to Pennsylvania’s bottom line,” Merski said. “It’s critical to do everything we can to help keep them operating. The new program is accepting applications through Sept. 30, but I’m urging eligible farms to apply as soon as possible – our entire state Read more

 

Bizzarro, Merski, Harkins: Erie going green June 26 ‘the best possible news’

(Jun 19, 2020)

ERIE, June 19 – State Reps. Ryan Bizzarro, Robert Merski and Pat Harkins, all D-Erie, issued the following statements in response to news that Erie County will be moving to the green phase of the state’s reopen plan on Friday, June 26. “To say that this has been a trying period for Erie is an understatement,” Bizzarro said. “It’s hard to remember a time when our community’s endurance and patience were tested more severely, or for so long. “Our delegation fought hard to move Erie to green, but ultimately, it was the people of Erie, doing their part to slow the spread of the virus, that made the difference. To be sure, we face a long road ahead. But with the rest of our businesses soon free to reopen, a community ready and willing to support them and a small business grant program on the horizon, we will soon be forging a path to revitalization.” Merski said, “We fought for weeks to move Erie to green, and the announcement today that this is finally happening is the best possible news we could have received. The pandemic and related shutdowns stopped our economy in its tracks, placed a huge burden on business owners and working families, and left many in our community feeling isolated. Getting into the green will help change all that by lifting most restrictions. “Businesses already running at 50% occupancy will be able to run at 75% occupancy; barbershops and hair Read more

 

Bizzarro, Merski, Harkins: Nearly $155,000 awarded for law enforcement coronavirus preparedness

(Jun 10, 2020)

ERIE, June 10 – Erie law enforcement will be able to apply for up to $154,780 in emergency funding to address challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, state Reps. Ryan Bizzarro, Pat Harkins and Bob Merski, all D-Erie, announced today. The lawmakers said the federal Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding – administered by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency – will fund critical protections for workers and the communities they serve. “I know from my work as a victim/witness coordinator and victims’ rights advocate how much of our criminal justice system depends on face-to-face, time-sensitive work such as interviewing witnesses and supporting and treating crime victims,” Bizzarro said. “ This funding is going to help address the added challenges staff face in carrying out those essential duties safely in the midst of the pandemic.” Harkins said, “Law enforcement agencies and staff already face a host of challenges, and the pandemic has added another whole layer of logistical problems. Containing the spread of COVID-19 – whether in our county jails, juvenile detention centers, courthouses or the general community – requires resources and planning. This funding will help our agencies implement infection control and keep our dedicated criminal justice workers safe in the field.” Merski said the funding will support a broad Read more

 

Erie lawmakers express anger, frustration over failure to move Erie to green

(Jun 05, 2020)

ERIE, June 5 – Joined by fellow Erie lawmakers on the steps of the county courthouse, state Reps. Pat Harkins, Bob Merski, and Ryan Bizzarro, all D-Erie, expressed deep frustration that Erie is not among the counties moving to the green phase of the state’s reopen plan Friday, June 12. “We had a conference call with one of the governor’s staff, and it did not go well,” Harkins said. “Secretary Levine was on the call. We presented the numbers we are working from, and we asked for additional information. We never received it. “As I was on the phone most of last evening, my line was blowing up with calls from residents and business owners I totally sympathize with. Then, this morning, after we had a press call arranged with the governor, he jumped off the call. “I ran for this office 14 years ago to speak for people who don’t have a voice in Harrisburg. Now, I feel like we don’t have a voice. I worked with the Teamsters and with UPS for 25 years, and I have never experienced anything like this. I have supported Tom Wolf and worked well with him, but this is uncalled for. We need to stick together and do what we have to do to move Erie green.” Merski said, “Today, from the data we received from the state, there are five new cases. We’re keeping this county closed for five new cases. This is ridiculous. “I have stuck with the governor and I Read more

 

Bizzarro, Merski, Harkins renew demand to move Erie to green, open phase

(Jun 03, 2020)

ERIE, June 3 – Renewing their demand to open Erie County, state Reps. Ryan Bizzarro, Bob Merski and Pat Harkins, all D-Erie, have written to Gov. Tom Wolf urging him to add the county to the list of others moving to the “green” phase of the state’s reopen plan on June 5. The lawmakers say they hope the letter – co-signed by state Sens. Dan Laughlin and Michele Brooks; state Reps. Curt Sonney and Brad Roae; and local mayors and county executives – will bring swift action. Bizzarro said, “We’re continuing to push the administration to move Erie to green, for the sake of our small businesses and local economy. Each day that goes by makes it that much harder for these businesses to get back on their feet. To be sure, the health of our residents is priority No. 1, but we must not ignore the health of our local economy, which is hanging in the balance.” Merski said, “Keeping Erie in the yellow is doing nothing to keep residents safer; it’s only hurting our local businesses. Surrounding counties – including those in Ohio and New York – are fully open, forcing Erie consumers to travel elsewhere for services. It only creates unnecessary competition for our business community and increases the risk of spreading the virus. “What’s more, the numbers don’t support the continued restrictions: Statistics from our local health department show that our county Read more

 

Bizzarro, Merski, Harkins issue statements on weekend Erie protests that turned violent

(May 31, 2020)

ERIE, May 31 – State Reps. Ryan Bizzarro, Bob Merski and Pat Harkins, all D-Erie, issued the following statements today in response to reports that peaceful community protests over the death of George Floyd turned violent last night in Erie: Bizzarro said, “ The events of the weekend, and the senseless acts against black Americans, are weighing heavily on our nation and our community. The injustices and struggles people of color continue to endure are disgraceful and must end. While I may never fully understand all the challenges they face, I stand firmly against racism. “Protesting is an important part of implementing change, but I believe our community must do so peacefully and without causing harm to others or property. I am calling for peace and unity in our community and for us to join together in support of our black neighbors, family and friends. They are afraid for their sons, daughters, fathers, mothers and more. We must be there to comfort and support them in this time and emerge with a new respect and camaraderie so we can make meaningful and bold steps to eradicate racism.” Merski said, "This weekend in Erie, peaceful protests over the death of George Floyd erupted into violence. It isn’t hard to understand the anger: George Floyd’s death at the hands of police was brutal and senseless – and sadly, a familiar reality for so many Americans of color. "While Read more

 

Merski, Bizzarro, Harkins: Decision to keep Erie County in yellow phase ‘the wrong move for our county’

(May 29, 2020)

ERIE, May 29 – State Reps. Bob Merski, Pat Harkins and Ryan Bizzarro, all D-Erie, issued the following statements in response to Gov. Tom Wolf’s announcement today that Erie County will not be among the Pennsylvania counties moving to the green reopen phase of the state’s reopen plan on June 5. “I am extremely disappointed in the governor’s decision to keep Erie County in the yellow, restricted phase,” Merski said. “Although our county saw a brief spike last week, the numbers have stabilized, and we are ready for the next steps in reopening. “I have been fighting for our county to move into the green phase because I’m convinced that our residents are able to do the right thing. Erie County residents have been doing their part to slow the spread of COVID-19 by wearing masks and social distancing, and will continue that responsible behavior in the weeks to come. We have done what was asked of us. It’s time to let Erie open all of its doors.” Bizzarro said, “I’m calling on the governor to reconsider his decision, which I believe is the wrong move for our county. Erie residents are responsible, resourceful and careful. Our business owners understand how to keep residents safe, and our community is aware of social distancing and other safety protocols. They want to get back to supporting our community and our local economy. It’s time to get Read more

 

Harkins, Merski: Bill would freeze cost-of-living adjustments for public officials

(May 26, 2020)

HARRISBURG, May 26 – State Reps. Pat Harkins and Bob Merski, both D-Erie, joined fellow lawmakers today in voting to suspend cost-of-living adjustments for public officials. House Bill 2487 , which passed the House unanimously, would amend the Public Official Compensation Law to freeze COLAs through 2021 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Although in the big picture, this measure is a drop in the bucket given our state’s $5.5 billion deficit, I believe this is when we need to step up and look to see how we can save precious taxpayer dollars,” Harkins said. “We don’t know what lies ahead, but we are determined to get through this and put Pennsylvania back on solid financial ground as quickly as possible. We all need to share the pain.” Merski said, “Our community has been through so much since this pandemic struck, and every day, we’re encouraging residents to stay strong and asking them to make sacrifices. With so many residents out of work and struggling to make ends meet, we need to be looking for ways to save money, not worrying about cost-of-living increases. I’m glad the bill received a unanimous, bipartisan vote.” The bill now heads to the state Senate for consideration. Read more

 

Erie universities, institutes awarded more than $500,000 in COVID safety grants
1 day ago

Harkins, Merski, Bizzarro ask governor to remove 25% capacity limit on restaurants
Jul 28, 2020

Delegation urges Wolf to reconsider restaurant restrictions
Jul 28, 2020

Hazard pay grants now available to support frontline workers
Jul 17, 2020

Erie legislators laud Regional Response Health Collaboration Program grant
Jul 14, 2020

Merski, Harkins remind area grocers, food retailers about COVID-19 relief fund
Jul 10, 2020

Bizzarro, Merski, Harkins: Nearly $10,000 in pandemic relief to local arts and cultural organizations
Jul 06, 2020

Harkins, Merski: Extended benefits available for those who have exhausted other UC benefits
Jun 30, 2020

Merski, Harkins support bill to permit fireworks regulation
Jun 30, 2020

Harkins, Merski: Neary $6,000 in mini grants to bring horticulture to curriculum, educate public about lakeshore habitat
Jun 26, 2020

Merski hosting live Q & A event June 25 on Erie’s move to green phase
Jun 23, 2020

Going Green! How to join Rep. Bob Merski’s live, June 25 Q & A event
Jun 23, 2020

Harkins, Merski encourage farmers to apply to Dairy Indemnity Program
Jun 22, 2020

Bizzarro, Merski, Harkins: Erie going green June 26 ‘the best possible news’
Jun 19, 2020

Bizzarro, Merski, Harkins: Nearly $155,000 awarded for law enforcement coronavirus preparedness
Jun 10, 2020

Erie lawmakers express anger, frustration over failure to move Erie to green
Jun 05, 2020

Bizzarro, Merski, Harkins renew demand to move Erie to green, open phase
Jun 03, 2020

Bizzarro, Merski, Harkins issue statements on weekend Erie protests that turned violent
May 31, 2020

Merski, Bizzarro, Harkins: Decision to keep Erie County in yellow phase ‘the wrong move for our county’
May 29, 2020

Harkins, Merski: Bill would freeze cost-of-living adjustments for public officials
May 26, 2020