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The COVID-19 pandemic is evolving and changing by the minute. It is imperative that we all follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) to slow the spread of this disease and ensure that our local health systems do not get overwhelmed.

My office is currently working remotely based on recommendations by the CDC and PA DOH. We are still available and can be contacted at 570-207-2881 or by email at senatorblake@pasenate.com.

Please read below about the latest information on COVID-19 and the recommended closures of a number of public places and non-essential businesses. Additionally, thank you to the Scranton Times for allowing free access to their site to ensure that everyone can stay up-to-date on the latest news regarding COVID-19 over the days and weeks to come.

COVID-19 Prevention

Human coronaviruses spread just like the flu or a cold:

  • Through the air by coughing or sneezing;

  • Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands;

  • Touching an object or surface with the virus on it;

  • Occasionally, fecal contamination.

But there are ways you can protect yourself:

  • Cover coughs or sneezes with your elbow. 

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

  • Clean surfaces frequently, including countertops, light switches, cell phones, remotes, and other frequently touched items.

  • Contain: if you are sick, stay home until you are feeling better.

Gov. Wolf Recommends Closure of Non-Essential Businesses Across PA

Governor Tom Wolf has strongly urged all non-essential businesses across the state to close for at least 14 days to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The governor’s request protects employees, customers, and suppliers and limits the spread of the virus through personal contact and surfaces.

Non-essential businesses include public-facing industries such as entertainment, hospitality, and recreation facilities, including but not limited to community and recreation centers; gyms, including yoga, barre and spin facilities; hair salons and barber shops, nail salons and spas; casinos; concert venues; theaters; sporting event venues and golf courses; retail facilities, including shopping malls except for pharmacy or other health care facilities within retail operations.

Further, the Governor has ordered that all restaurants and bars close their dine-in facilities to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Businesses that offer carry-out, delivery, and drive-through food and beverage service may continue to do so, but eating and drinking inside restaurants and bars is temporarily prohibited. 

Essential services and sectors include but are not limited to food processing, agriculture, industrial manufacturing, feed mills, construction, trash collection, grocery and household goods (including convenience stores), home repair/hardware and auto repair, pharmacy and other medical facilities, biomedical and healthcare, post offices and shipping outlets, insurance, banks, gas stations, laundromats, veterinary clinics and pet stores, warehousing, storage, and distribution, public transportation, and hotel and commercial lodging.

Although these businesses may remain open, the Wolf Administration continues to encourage them to employ social distancing practices, and encourages Pennsylvanians to be thoughtful in their visits.

Other businesses, including but not limited to legal services, business and management consulting, professional services and insurance services are encouraged to have employees work remotely or telecommute.

DCED offers working capital loans that could be of assistance to businesses impacted by COVID-19. Resources and information will be posted to http://dced.pa.gov/resources as they become available. The U.S. Small Business Administration, in addition to local funding partners, may also be a source of assistance for affected businesses.

Employees Impacted by COVID-19 Eligible for Unemployment Benefits

If you are employed in Pennsylvania and are unable to work because of COVID-19 you may be eligible for Unemployment or Workers' Compensation benefits. Unemployment Compensation has also extended benefits to any worker in PA that has reduced hours due to COVID-19 – including per diem and hourly teachers. The Department of Labor & Industry will continue to provide important employment benefit updates as the situation evolves.

Employees could be eligible for Unemployment Compensation (UC) benefits if:

  • Your employer temporarily closes or goes out of business because of COVID-19

  • Your employer reduces your hours because of COVID-19

  • You have been told not to work because your employer feels you might get or spread COVID-19

  • You have been told to quarantine or self-isolate, or live/work in a county under government-recommended mitigation efforts

The fastest way to access UC benefits is to apply online at www.uc.pa.gov.  Additionally, UC has suspended their rule that claimants would not be eligible during their first week of unemployment – eligible claimants may receive benefits for the first week they are unemployed. Claimants are also not required to prove they have applied to or searched for a new job to maintain UC benefits.

For employees that may have been exposed to COVID-19 in your workplace, you may be eligible for Workers' Compensation (WC) by either:

  • Notifying your employer to file a typical "disease-as-injury" WC claim, which requires you to provide medical evidence that you were exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace

  • Notifying your employer to file an "occupational disease" WC claim, which requires you to show that COVID-19 is occurring more in your occupation/industry than in the general population

All WC claims (including COVID-19) are thoroughly reviewed, and decisions are made based on the facts and merits of each claim and the law. If your COVID-19 claim is denied, you may file a petition with the WC Office of Adjudication.

Information for Small Businesses Impacted by COVID-19

It was recently announced that a number of loan opportunities are now available for small businesses impacted by COVID-19. As part of the process to access those funds, the Governor, the PA Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) are working with local partners and the Small Business Administration (SBA) to identify businesses economically affected by COVID-19.

The SBA is providing targeted, low-interest loans to small businesses and non-profits that have been severely impacted by the Coronavirus. The SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program provides small businesses with working capital loans of up to $2 million that can provide vital economic support to small businesses to help overcome the temporary loss of revenue they are experiencing. Nationwide, $50 billion will be available in small business loans. To apply for an SBA loan, small businesses are encouraged to contact DCED at 1-833-722-6778 or by email at ra-dcedcs@pa.gov

Locally, NEPA Alliance is working with state and federal agencies to offer loan assistance programs to Northeastern Pennsylvania businesses and non-profits. NEPA Alliance can assist local businesses and non-profits essential to prevent larger issues as the summer season approaches.
 
NEPA Alliance is currently partnering with federal and state agencies to ensure small businesses and non-profits in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have available resources accessible to them through the coronavirus crisis. This includes help with the low-interest federal disaster loan program for working capital to small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the Coronavirus. In addition, NEPA Alliance also has numerous business loan programs that offer low fixed interest rates to businesses in the 7-county region of Northeastern Pennsylvania.  NEPA Alliance can be reached at 866-758-1929.

Also, the University of Scranton Small Business Development Center (SBDC) team remains available to assist entrepreneurs and small businesses. SBDC Business Consultants are available for individual meetings by phone or real-time video conferencing on multiple platforms. Additionally, Virtual Online Group Sessions will be offered soon where individuals can drop in and talk or ask questions to SBDC staff in a group setting. Current SBDC clients should reach out directly to their SBDC Business Consultant. New requests for small business assistance can reach the SBDC by email at sbdc@scranton.edu and by phone at 570-941-7588.

For a list of resources available to impacted Pennsylvania businesses, click here.

Also, the CDC has put together a comprehensive guide for businesses to plan, prepare and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here to access.

Guidance and Resources for Schools During COVID-19 Closures

Across the Commonwealth, all public K-12 schools, including brick and mortar and cyber charter schools, career and technical centers (CTCs), and intermediate units and all private, parochial, and institutions of higher education have been required to close. School districts can allow essential personnel to continue to work based on the school and community needs. The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) has indicated that examples of essential responsibilities may include school administration, food preparation and distribution, information technology, and continuity of operations (e.g., payroll, and building operations).

Pennsylvania sought and received approval from the Federal government to allow schools the option to distribute meals at no cost while schools are closed. PDE is partnering with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, other state agencies, the American Red Cross, and public and private partners to expand these efforts.

In terms of instruction, PDE will not penalize districts/schools that fail to meet the minimum 180-day/hours (990/900/450) requirements as a result of COVID-19 response efforts.
PDE will provide a simplified form that districts/schools can use to report any shortfall in days or hours.

It is not required for school districts to provide instruction during the COVID-19 closures.  PDE recognizes that the rapidly evolving pandemic may make it impossible to implement continuity of education plans. Although not required, many schools have plans, or are creating plans, to provide continuity of education. It is my understanding that intermediate units are preparing to offer technical assistance for schools interested in developing such plans; that support will be available by Friday, March 20.

In terms of statewide assessment tests required under Federal law, the US Department of Education (USDE) has not yet waived statewide assessments that were scheduled to begin later this Spring  (PSSA testing: April 20; Keystone testing: May 11). USDE has acknowledged that certain assessment requirements might not be practical given this unique national situation. PDE is monitoring emerging Federal guidance, working with other states to advocate for flexibility, and will pursue appropriate waivers to the fullest extent allowable as soon as USDE guidance is clarified.

Mail-in Voting Now Available in PA

While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to alter plans across the Commonwealth, our Primary Election is still currently scheduled to take place on April 28.  Act 77 of 2019 made a number of changes to the voting process and elections in general – including mail-in voting.

Mail-in voting may be the easiest and safest way to cast your vote this April. You can apply for a mail-in ballot online at www.votesPA.com/ApplyMailBallot with a valid PA driver’s license or photo ID. The deadline to apply for mail-in voting is April 21 and the deadline to return your completed mail-in ballot is 8 p.m. on Election Day.

For a complete list of the election reforms made possible by Act 77 of 2019, click here.

Make Sure Your Family is Counted: Take the 2020 US Census

The U.S. Constitution requires a census of all residents in the entire country every 10 years. The census counts every person living in the U.S. based on where you are living on April 1, 2020. The census makes note of demographic changes and reports the statistics on our ever-changing population. This information is then used to determine how many seats each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives. Pennsylvania currently has 18 Congressional representatives – we  used to have 19 but lost a seat after the 2010 Census.

Additionally, census data is used to decide how $675 billion in federal public funding is spent every year. Pennsylvania gets $26.8 billion annually through our 16 largest federally-funded programs. That’s about $2,000 per Pennsylvanian each year.

It is imperative that everyone responds to the 2020 Census. You may have recently received, or are about to receive, information about the 2020 Census in your mailbox. The Census can be completed and returned by mail, or you can use your unique Census ID to complete the form online.  

For more information on the census and how it will proceed during the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.

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Offices to Serve You

 

District Office
Oppenheim Building
409 Lackawanna Ave., Ste. 210
Scranton, PA 18503
Phone: (570) 207-2881
Fax: (570) 207-2897
Toll free: 1-877-346-5721
Hours: 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Harrisburg Office
Room 17 East Wing
The State Capitol
Senate Box 203022
Harrisburg, PA 17120-3022
Phone: (717) 787-6481
Fax: (717) 783-5198
Hours: 8:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.

 
 
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