Pennsylvania is about to receive a $7.3 billion windfall through the $1.9 trillion stimulus plan recently approved by Congress and signed by President Biden, and state Rep. Jason Ortitay says he has a plan on how to divvy it up.
The Republican who represents the 46th Legislative District, which includes portions of northern Washington County and southern Allegheny County, has introduced five bills that he says will help out fire and ambulance companies, frontline workers, small businesses, help clear a backlog of unemployment claims and expand the reach of broadband internet.
In a prepared statement released Thursday, Ortitay pointed out that volunteer fire companies and EMS services have been unable to hold in-person fundraisers over the last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, and while they have continued raising funds in other ways, “the government should lend them a helping hand.”
He also said that one of his bills is the first of its kind to provide grants to small-business owners whose businesses were lost in the pandemic. Ortitay said, “They made sacrifice after sacrifice when the government shut them down and restricted their ability to operate. They have been decimated and need assistance to continue their operations and relief should be given to those who lost their businesses during the last year through no fault of their own.”
In Ortitay’s proposal, $1.5 billion would be set aside for the small-business grant program.
Another bill would provide grants to employees who were unable to work remotely, and Ortitay says his proposal would not require employers to apply for the grant on behalf of employees, and the money would go straight to workers. Ortitay also envisions the creation of county-run programs that would provide grants to individuals who do not have access to reliable high-speed broadband service.
A fifth bill would earmark $40 million to hire temporary staff to process unemployment claims.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was approved last year dispensed money directly related to the pandemic response, while the American Rescue Plan can be used by state and local governments to balance budgets or to pay for general public services. Ortitay said that Pennsylvania should not use the money to balance the state budget.
“While I recognize the federal government can print money to balance its budget, the state cannot. This money should be used for one-time issues and given directly to the people who were hit hardest by COVID-19.”
Ortitay believes the size of the stimulus will have consequences later on, in the form of higher taxes, inflation, or a combination of the two, and “the least we can do is give it back directly to the people instead of using it to fund our bloated state budget.”
The 37-year-old Ortitay, a resident of Cecil, is one of several Republicans considering a run for governor next year. He has said he will make up his mind after the primary next month.