Neilson, Driscoll respond to state budget bill that denies relief to local business owners, allotting $1.3B in CARES Act funds to budget

HARRISBURG, Nov. 22 – State Reps. Ed Neilson and Michael Driscoll, both D-Phila., on Friday voted against a lame-duck session budget which they say denies needed relief to local business owners reeling from closures connected to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Lawmakers passed part of the budget in June but held off on completing it due to uncertain revenues as a result of the pandemic.  

For the first time since 1995, the Republican-controlled state House and Senate called the members to Harrisburg for a lame duck session, otherwise known as sine die, to finish the budget after refusing to address the needs of the Commonwealth for months, they said. And while COVID-19 infections continue to rise at alarming rates, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney recently implemented additional restrictions on Philadelphia with no relief for the workers or the businesses affected. With all the uncertainties that still exist around federal stimulus funding and any impact on the economy as COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations rise, Neilson and Driscoll said they took a stand against all the budget-related bills because they did nothing to help the people of Pennsylvania. 

“While everyone talks about the importance of supporting our local businesses and the work force, there was nothing in this budget that helped any of them,” Neilson said. “It’s truly shameful that when we have $1.3 billion in federal Cares Act money available, they have chosen to turn their backs on the workers and businesses. I can take it even further — not a single penny has been allocated for mental health, and the restrictions and closures are taking their toll on everyone.” 

For months, the Republican legislative leadership teams who control the voting calendar and committee meetings have refused to hold hearings or fund relief programs designed to assist the small businesses and workers that have lost their income due to shutdowns, the lawmakers said. They held onto $1.33 billion of CARES Act funding and used it to supplement the operating costs of three of the largest shortfalls of the commonwealth’s budget, including the state correctional institutions, $967 million; the Pennsylvania State Police, $225 million; and inmate medical care,$95 million, leaving little to help the people that need it.  

“Some bars, restaurants and small businesses may never open their doors again after this weekend as city officials once again ordered them to shutter,” Driscoll said “This supplemental budget utilized $4.6 billion in one-time transfers to state functions that should be funded by tax revenue and did nothing to assist our communities that are hurting. I am angry beyond belief because this is another slap in the face to small businesses that are suffering.” 

As federal fiscal relief to states and municipalities continues to be in question, most Democratic lawmakers thought that the budget proposal pushed forward by the Republican majority leaders of the Pennsylvania House and Senate fell short in multiple ways. The state Department of Human Services has been underfunded by approximately $705 million and that figure will continue to rise depending on the severity and length of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.    

The budget and related bills now go to the governor for his signature.