By Rep. Torren Ecker (R-Adams/Cumberland)
Little did we all know in February when our groundhog predicted an early spring that this year’s spring would be especially dreary. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of us, and we have all felt some type of anxiety as a result of it. Many fear the real health consequences of the virus because of their age, medical condition or having at-risk family members. Others struggle with the reality that the kitchen table has become the office, classroom and place to eat. Some have been sucked into the endless number of headlines and breaking news stories that send our heads spinning with worry and confusion. However, by far, the most fearful, nervous folks that I have interacted with over the past six weeks are those who do not know when their next paycheck is coming.
The overwhelming majority of folks that my office and I have assisted are those dealing with a sudden loss of income. Over 1.6 million Pennsylvanians have filed for unemployment. That is approximately a quarter of the Commonwealth’s workforce. Unemployment in Pennsylvania was about 4% before the shutdowns began. The self-employment claims under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program will likely add hundreds of thousands more claims. Sadly, many of these folks have yet to see a single check or deposit from the Department of Labor and Industry (L&I).Unfortunately, L&I has simply failed to meet the demand of unemployment needs. Real people are hurting financially and the consequences of the economic impact are as serious as the effects of the virus itself.
Consequently, our focus in Harrisburg shifted to getting our workforce safely back to work. We cannot and should not rely on government to lead us out of this economic struggle. We need to get our economy up and running safely and as fast as possible. By all accounts we have flattened the curve and our medical systems are meeting the needs of the general public. However, the virus will be with us for the immediate future as the best estimate of any vaccine being availableis next year. Pennsylvania’s workforce can and will safely adapt to the virus.
Last Friday, construction workers began returning to job sites as marinas, private campgrounds and golf courses also reopened. Car dealerships can now sell cars electronically and medical facilities can now perform some elective surgeries. While the governor’s order in March shut down businesses overnight, restarting our economy is taking considerably longer.
Though it has been a slow process, and much slower than I would like, businesses are reopening. Just after the closure order was announced, several of my colleagues and I began to push the governor to bring construction back to work with employees following the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Our efforts were successful in bringing back construction as some of the first jobs to begin working again in early May.
In the House, we passed several bills to restart businesses or classify them as essential. This would have allowed business such as the real estate industry and garden centers to reopen with safety measures in place. The governor ultimately vetoed some of the bills. However, this push to restart our economy safely and responsibly has led to the governor reopening businesses in response to our proposed legislation and tireless persistence.
Our work is far from done. Even when every business is restarted, there will still be a lot of work ahead for all of us. The unemployment system which was overrun with claims has failed and the quickest way to resolve this failure is getting folks safely back to work now. Some people may be still be unemployed for some time. Others may have their savings wiped out. The next few months may be tough for us all. But if we all can get safely back to work; we will get through this time and I believe we will come out stronger in the end.
Representative Torren Ecker
193rd Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Greg Gross