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Telephone Town Hall Scheduled for Friday, April 24 at 1:10 p.m.

Next Friday, April 24 at 1:10 p.m., I will be hosting another live Telephone Town Hall to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic and to answer any questions about our state and local response to the crisis. Last month's discussion was very productive and with the new information available, I thought it would be important to host a second Telephone Town Hall.

There are a few ways to participate in the Telephone Town Hall. First, you can sign up to participate and begin submitting your questions now at www.senatorblake.com/townhall. Anyone interested in listening will also be able to live stream the event at https://vekeo.com/senatorblake/. Lastly, to sign up and participate from your phone, text SENBLAKE to 833-898-5483.

We are expecting a high volume of participation and will do our best to get to as many questions as possible during the Town Hall.


COVID-19 Online Job Portal Available Through CareerLink

The Department of Labor and Industries recently launched a new online COVID-19 job portal where Pennsylvanians looking for work can apply for current openings in life-sustaining businesses.
  
Anyone seeking employment can visit www.PAcareerlink.pa.gov and select the green “PA COVID-19 Jobs – Hiring Immediately” job portal banner to see active job openings. Selecting the “Apply Now” button for a listed position will redirect individuals to the employer’s website or email where they can apply directly with the employer and speed up the hiring process. 

Life-sustaining businesses can feature their job openings on the portal through an easy to use online form. Businesses must meet the criteria of a life-sustaining business and must have more than 10 job openings.

The PA COVID-19 job portal is updated daily so businesses in need are spotlighted and people searching for employment have the latest job information.

Department of Health Order Provides Additional Protections for Employees

Dr. Rachel Levine, Secretary of the Department of Health, signed an order this week that establishes critical protections that will help employees of life-sustaining businesses and their consumers stay safe while continuing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The order officially goes into effect this Sunday, April 19 at 8:00 p.m.

Dr. Levine’s order establishes a number of protocols for businesses that are authorized to remain open, including:

  • Providing masks for employees to wear during their time at the business and making it a mandatory requirement while at the work site, except to the extent an employee is using break time to eat or drink. Employers may approve masks obtained or made by employees in accordance with this guidance;

  • Staggering work start and stop times for employees when practical to prevent gatherings of large groups entering or leaving the premises at the same time;

  • Providing sufficient space for employees to have breaks and meals while maintaining a social distance of 6 feet, including limiting the number of employees in common areas and setting up seating to have employees facing forward and not across from each other;

  • Upon discovery of an exposure to a person who is a probable or confirmed case of COVID-19, businesses are also ordered to implement temperature screenings before employees enter the business prior to the start of work and send any employee home who has an elevated temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher

Additionally, businesses that serve the public within a building or defined area are ordered to implement the following, based on the size of the building and number of employees:

  • Require all customers to wear masks while on premises, and deny entry to individuals not wearing masks, unless the business is providing medication, medical supplies, or food, in which case the business must provide alternative methods of pick-up or delivery of goods. Individuals who cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition (including children the age of 2 years) may enter the premises without having to provide medical documentation;

  • Conduct business with the public by appointment only and, to the extent that this is not feasible, limit occupancy to no greater than 50 percent of the number stated on their certificate of occupancy as necessary to reduce crowding in the business and at check-out and counter lines in order to maintain a social distance of 6 feet, and place signage throughout each site to mandate social distancing for both customers and employees;

  • Install shields or other barriers at registers and check-out areas to physically separate cashiers and customers or take other measures to ensure social distancing of customers from check-out personnel, or close lines to maintain a social distance between of 6 feet between lines;

Failure to comply with these requirements will result in enforcement action that could include citations, fines, or license suspensions. Compliance with the order will be enforced beginning Sunday, April 19 at 8:00 PM.

Click here to view Secretary Levine’s order.

Update on Unemployment Compensation Benefits

Governor Wolf recently announced that the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry is implementing new federal unemployment compensation benefits provided by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

The COVID-19 relief package temporarily provides an additional $600 per week, makes self-employed, independent contractors and gig workers eligible for benefits and extends unemployment compensation (UC) benefits for an additional 13 weeks. The federal benefits are in addition to Pennsylvania’s regular unemployment benefit, which is about half of a person’s full-time weekly income up to $572 per week for 26 weeks.

As part of the CARES Act, unemployment benefits are being expanded to provide an additional $600 per week beginning the week ending April 4, 2020, through the week ending July 25, 2020. This temporary emergency increase in benefits is referred to as the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program. The $600 is paid separately from the biweekly UC benefit, and residents do not need to apply.

The CARES Act also temporarily makes unemployment compensation available to self-employed, independent contractors, gig economy workers, and others not normally eligible for the benefit. The program is referred to as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). These workers cannot apply through the department’s UC online system at this time. The U.S. Department of Labor requires that PUA be tracked separately from regular UC. For this reason, Pennsylvania must build a new online platform to process PUA benefits. Eligible individuals should be able to start applying for PUA benefits within the next two weeks.

Eligible claimants will receive backdated payments to January 27, 2020, or the first week they were unable to work due to COVID-19, whichever of the two dates is later. The PUA benefit will end December 31, 2020. The department will announce when the PUA benefit application is available.

Highmark Launches Free Online Social Service Directory

Highmark members now have access to Aunt Bertha, a free, online social service directory and referral tool that assists people in finding social service providers.  Aunt Bertha has the largest and most widely used social care network in the country, offering access to resources such as food, housing, utilities, transportation, government benefits, and legal services.  COVID-19-specific resources will also be available on the site.

Aunt Bertha is free and simple to use. Visit www.highmarkanswers.com and click on the “Medical and Community Resources” page and then click “Find food, hours and more” to access the Aunt Bertha tool.  You can enter your zip code then type a search term or choose from any of the below categories, which will display available resources and services in your area.

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For updates on this and other legislative initiatives, stay in touch with me through my website or on Facebook and Twitter.

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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