In April, I released a comprehensive response to COVID on my platform with the following priorities:
- Immediate relief for frontline workers to benefit all workers during the pandemic and after
- Prioritizing the health and safety of our residents while moving to a fair economy
- Ensuring preparedness for the next global crisis
Many of these priorities are still needed, and you can read the full document by clicking here.
Now as we have been faced with the virus for over six months, it is incumbent that our government leaders prioritize containing the spread of COVID-19 and helping those struggling from the effects of the virus and the resulting economic shutdown. While we work to prevent the spread, we should also “study the spread” to prepare ourselves and our community for a swift and strong response to the next infectious disease. I am proposing the following three actions:
- Expand testing capacity to ensure the safety of healthcare workers, our children in schools and child care programs, and begin to fully reopen our economy. This will also grow short-term and long-term jobs in science, technology, and public health – industries Southwestern PA is poised to capitalize on.
- Invest in child care systems to support children’s learning and development (physical, cognitive, social, and emotional) and working families with pandemic-related needs.
- Economic Recovery that prioritizes small businesses and people most in need of relief.
EXPAND TESTING CAPACITY
What this disease has made clear is that testing is critical to contain the spread of a virus. I believe we should commit to finding site(s) in Western PA for new testing laboratories. Efforts in other states demonstrate that we could increase our regions daily rapid testing capacity to 2,500 samples at one site during a pandemic – that is the entire combined population of Hampton and Shaler Area High School students in one day. We need to be bold in our response to COVID-19.
I would double down on the region’s overall economic investment in healthcare and public health. Our state government can allocate Federal CARES dollars to partner with academic laboratories, establish mobile testing sites, and scale up laboratory processing. Major “pop up” drive thru testing sites could be created in our district at regional parks and/or healthcare facilities within House District 30.
Pennsylvania may need to revise restrictive staffing requirements at clinical labs that prevent individuals trained in lab science, but lacking “specialist” licensure, like university students and other graduates, from working or volunteering in a regional emergency testing center. Next, we could tap into our region’s emerging influence in technology and healthcare to create public-private partnerships that grow our collective knowledge in public health. Another solution worth exploring includes the development of a “Health Care Ready Reserve” which utilizes Army Reserve & Medic training sites and curricula to rapidly train health care workers for pandemic response.
With incredible local universities admitting biological studies students, we could collaborate with local technology companies and educators to purchase, build, and lend the machinery and staff used to process samples. Individuals out of work due to the economic shutdown could also be prioritized for hiring and retraining. Finally, we should offer opportunities for students both during and after COVID19 to gain employment in our region.
Southwestern Pennsylvania is uniquely poised to scale up small, local manufacturers to produce and eventually stockpile necessary supplies, like PPE and nasal swabs. This ensures a local supply chain while growing local manufacturing jobs to make us a leader locally and for the nation in times of crisis.
INVEST IN CHILD CARE
While Pennsylvania has made dramatic increases in child care investment during the pandemic, it unfortunately still falls short of meeting the needs of all children and working families.
During COVID19, so many families’ child care needs have changed rapidly – grandparents and family members with other health conditions are now unable to fulfil caregiving duties; school-age children participating in remote learning for all or part or the week are in need of care during the school day; after school enrichment, athletic, and extracurricular programs are cancelled.
Unfortunately, even prior to these changes, only 37% of eligible children were enrolled in high-quality programs and only 43% of the child care capacity in Pennsylvania met high-quality standards. Further, 27 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties were considered child care deserts with no high-quality providers.
In Harrisburg, I would lead efforts to expand sites and open new centers through funding the recruitment and retention of experienced, qualified teachers and early learning professionals, the top barrier for current high-quality programs to expand. We must fund scholarship and loan forgiveness programs, and provide retention grants to current professionals. These essential workers deserve living wages and family-sustaining benefits including affordable healthcare, paid time off, and a secure retirement.
I would also grow high-quality child care by expanding subsidies that go to families so that high-quality programs are affordable for more middle class families. This includes raising the income eligibility threshold for Child Care Works to 300% of Federal Poverty Level, and funding families just beyond the benefits cliff with a reduced subsidy.
By taking these actions, we support children to be in stable learning environments during their most critical years of development. We support not only their physical development and cognitive learning, but their social and emotional needs, also. High-quality child care provides a strong foundation for future success for all children.
ECONOMIC RECOVERY FOR SMALL BUSINESSES AND PEOPLE
As we grapple with COVID-19, it is critical that we listen to experts as they study this disease on what activities are safest to engage in during this pandemic. We have seen outbreaks in individual counties where public health officials have clearly identified (through contact tracing) certain business types as common vectors of spread. Unsurprisingly, these have been places where social distancing and/or mask wearing was not in place.
For this reason, I believe Harrisburg needs to reinvest additional CARES dollars to expand programs like the COVID19 Relief PA Small Business Grant Program or the Restaurant & Tavern COVID19 Assistance Program. These programs prioritize low to moderate income business owners and minorities who have traditionally experienced discrimination in access to financing. They also prioritize businesses that are most affected by COVID19 restrictions. Economic Assistance programs must also have strong auditing protections to ensure that the money goes to people who are hurting, not wealthy campaign donors looking for another handout.
In the coming years, Pennsylvania will need major investments in infrastructure projects that put people back to work by addressing the needs of our communities while prioritizing environmental stewardship. One key part of being able to achieve our future goals is through an aggressive modernization of our public transportation infrastructure. While our state government may be able to invest in small-scale programs, major federal investment will be needed to comprehensively repair crumbling roads and bridges, expand public transit, address stormwater management, update our electric grid, and expand broadband internet access.
Finally, to protect both business owners and working people, we must ensure access to healthcare coverage for all individuals – so they can receive COVID19 testing and treatment if needed at no cost to them. Further, we must ensure all workers have sufficient paid sick leave so they are not forced to go to work sick and put others at risk or miss a paycheck that could mean putting food on their table or keeping the lights on.