HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) – Monday in Pittsburgh, Governor Tom Wolf and Democratic legislators continued their efforts to provide direct payments to Pennsylvanians who need it most.
For months, Wolf and Democrats have been urging the Republican-majority General Assembly to pass legislation in the House and Senate to create the $500 million PA Opportunity Program, which would send $2,000 checks directly to Pennsylvanians who make less than $80,000.
Gov. Wolf unveiled the program in February. It hasn’t gained much, if any, support from Republican lawmakers since.
“Cash giveaways that we’ve been giving out from the federal government, state government over the last couple of years is the leading cause of inflation,” said State Representative Clint Owlett (R-Tioga/Bradford/Potter), who added that Republicans remain focused on long-term solutions to address rising costs. “A lot of this inflation is directly tied to gas prices, and the natural gas prices and the cost of energy,” he added.
Owlett and Republicans believe promoting energy production and exploring other ways to lower energy costs will create a ripple effect.
“The ripple effect is really lowering costs of a lot of our goods and services that are really experiencing a lot of high inflation,” said Owlett.
But Democrats see it differently.
“I’m not sure why anybody would be against this,” said Governor Tom Wolf. “Times are really tough for Pennsylvanians. Even though prices have gone up, paychecks have not gone up to match,” he added.
Gov. Wolf says these are trying times for families, especially those making less than $80,000 a year. He warns that inflation and costs may get worse before getting better.
“Given the Fed’s announcement on Friday, it looks like things are going to get a little tougher,” said Gov. Wolf.
Gov. Wolf is hoping a renewed push for the program will get the attention of Republican lawmakers.
“Sometimes in politics, persistence makes a difference,” said Gov. Wolf, adding that he has no plans of giving up his efforts. “This is not a partisan issue. People right now need help, we have the ability to do that, let’s provide that help,” Gov. Wolf added.
In February, the plan was to fund the program using federal American Rescue Plan dollars, which have since been allocated elsewhere after the budget finalization in early July. Even with those relief dollars gone, Gov. Wolf says Pennsylvania’s $10 billion+ surplus makes the commonwealth more than able to fund the program and provide the payments.
“What better way to use this but to put it directly into the pockets of the people who could make their own decisions about how to spend it. If you want to spend it on gas, on rent, on taxes, on food, whatever, you have $2,000 to spend and it’s your decision, your choice. We have the money. Nobody’s being asked to pay any more in taxes,” said Gov. Wolf. “We can help families stay in their homes. We can help families afford to eat. Why on earth wouldn’t we do it,” he added.
But Republicans warn more stimulus dollars can create adverse effects down the road. They also say the surplus should be saved in the case of economic downturn in the coming years.
“When we see an economic downturn like the IFO, the Independent Fiscal Office is projecting will happen over the next two years, we want to be prepared for those days,” said Owlett. “Do we really want to give money away right now just so that we have to raise taxes in a year or two years from now,” Owlett added.