Testing, worker, client, customer protections, health care considerations remain as priorities

McKeesport – April 16, 2020 – Ensuring that workers, customers and clients are protected while businesses are given a responsible schedule to resume operations are key elements of state Sen. Jim Brewster’s “COVID-19 Health and Business Recovery Plan,” he announced today.

“In any plan to reopen business once the pandemic is further controlled, there must be a reasonable schedule to bring businesses online — provided workers, customers and clients are protected,” Brewster said.  “In my ‘COVID-19 Health and Business Recovery Plan’ we are looking at reengaging business operations that generally can meet extreme distancing and personal protection guidelines first, then mix in other businesses over a short time frame.

“No worker, client or customer should be exposed, and we must do all we can to ensure that all precautions are taken to stop the disease from spreading as businesses are reopened.”

Brewster said he developed his COVID-19 Health and Business Recovery Plan approach after the state Senate passed business reopening legislation that the governor pledged to veto.  He said there was a middle ground that would provide health security for workers, consumers and clients, yet give businesses a defined schedule to plan reopening, provided the health threat was addressed.

“Health expertise, science, increased testing, better worker protection and common sense dictates the reopening, but we can craft plans to provide business with a general roadmap,” Brewster said.

Brewster said his plan was predicated on a continued flattening and significant reduction of cases, enhanced testing, and businesses receiving clearances from licensed health care providers on mitigation plans formulated from CDC guidelines.  National and state social distancing, sanitation protocols, worker personal protection upgrades all must be met, he said.

Brewster said that restrictions should only be relaxed if health care professionals are engaged and personal protection equipment for workers is readily available.  The lawmaker indicated that waivers have already been granted for some businesses in the first phase of business reopening process.  Brewster envisions at least two more phases in the reopening schedule.

Under Brewster’s plan, businesses such as construction, car dealerships, real estate, recreation and outdoor-focused operations such as golf courses and gardening operations would be granted waivers in Phase II and resume operations on May 11.

In addition, retail operations such as state wine and spirits shops plus other small retailers that can regulate the number of customers in stores while workers are provided enhanced protections could begin operating in Phase II.

Once additional mitigation steps are taken, such as table distancing in restaurants and other customer and worker protections are implemented, other categories of business operations would be able to resume on June 1 in Phase III.

At intervals afterword, Brewster said, more operations could resume with the goal of slowly re-engaging all business throughout June.

“We need to move methodically and evaluate each step along the way to ensure that workers, customers and clients are protected, because the numbers could change, and we could experience a spike in cases” Brewster said.  “We have to have a plan and a schedule that businesses and workers can look to for guidance and planning.”

Brewster said he hopes that this plan would be combined with his six-point economic stimulus plan he unveiled several weeks ago.  The stimulus plan, on the heels of the massive $2 trillion federal stimulus, is designed to make workers and businesses whole as the pandemic recovery proceeds.

“The goal is to ensure that employees, employers and businesses can restart quickly and not be devastated economically,” Brewster said.

His stimulus plan includes:

  • Unemployment Compensation (UC) Booster:  Direct payments to workers who lost their jobs in the pandemic.  The UC booster would augment and supplement evolving federal efforts to help the unemployed.
  • Bridge Grants for Business: Create short-term bridge grants to get business running as soon as possible and cover near-term expenses.  Provide additional assistance to qualifying small business can be in the form of zero-interest forgivable loans.
  • Expand Bonding Capacity: The funding to small businesses would come from expanding or repurposing Pennsylvania’s bonding capacity.  Sweep unencumbered General Fund and special fund accounts to bolster recovery efforts.
  • Special Tax Provisions –Expand Net Loss Carryforward: Help small businesses deal with long- term impacts and loss of business, expand net loss carryforward program to cover taxes and help reduce future pandemic-related tax liabilities.
  • Accelerate Infrastructure Improvement Projects: Pushing state funds out now and opening financial levers to fund water, sewer, transportation and community improvement projects.
  • Pandemic Recovery Czar: Coordinate the response and the distribution of funding specifically related to the pandemic through a single contact point in state government — a “recovery czar.”

The lawmaker said he is seeking bipartisan support for his COVID-19 Health and Business Recovery Plan and his state stimulus plan.

“Partisanship has no place in this effort to move forward with protecting our workers and reopening business,” Brewster said.   “The recovery schedule will be dictated by health care experts and the effort to ensure that testing is readily available and personal protection equipment is widely disbursed for workers.”