Wolf pointed out that the state still has $2.4 billion in federal money from the U.S. bailout, signed by President Joe Biden last March, which now sits in a restricted spending account. The state initially received $7.3 billion from the plan, of which $4.9 has already been earmarked or spent last year. Overall, Wolf said, the money is just “sitting” and not helping people recover from the pandemic when it could be doing some good.
House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia) added that the need for recovery money remains high, despite the state and federal government rolling out a number of aid programs. and pandemic recovery since the pandemic began two years ago.
“There are so many working parents across the Commonwealth trying to get ahead in life. We can save them now. Why wait until the next pandemic, until the next unprecedented set of weather? said McClinton.
Republican lawmakers, however, have argued that keeping the money in reserve is necessary to help balance the state budget over the next two and a half years. Spending it now will force the state to deal with a stubborn deficit sooner, they say.
“The Governor’s and Democratic leadership proposals were crafted in a fiscal fantasy land where concern for future fiscal years apparently does not exist,” a joint statement from House Speaker Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster), Chief of House Majority Kerry Benninghoff (R-Center) and GOP House Appropriations Chairman Stan Saylor (R-York) read.
The group was referring to a November report from the Independent Fiscal Office, which warned that if state spending is left unchecked, Pennsylvania could be heading for a budget deficit in the next few years. The money Wolf wants to spend, however, is entirely separate from funding typically used to balance the state budget and must be spent by 2024 under US Treasury rules.
Wolf criticized the Republican stance as doing nothing to help people, saying “right now, nothing is the only plan I’ve seen from the other side.”
“Nothing is unacceptable. These investments are needed now to put money back in the pockets of Pennsylvanians struggling with rising costs,” Wolf said.
The largest category in the $1.7 billion Democratic proposal is $500 million to help families pay for childcare, household expenses and tuition, training and licensing to gain better skills and increase their income.