Statewide, Pa. – August 10, 2020 – The Pennsylvania CDFI Network and the PA State Senator Democrats today announced $96 million in grant awards under the COVID-19 Relief Pennsylvania Statewide Small Business Assistance program. The small businesses that have been approved for awards span all 67 Pennsylvania counties.
“These grants and the relief they will provide are testament to what we can do when we prioritize the right initiatives,” said Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery). “It is because of collaboration and a collective focus that today we were able to deliver help to the auto body shops, the barbershops, the beauticians, the pizza shop owners, the soul food establishments and other businesses across the commonwealth. And though we are gathering today virtually to recognize the positive impact these grants will have, it is critical to understand that there is still a great deal of need and must continue to direct resources and aid to our small business community to help it recover from the devastation of the pandemic.”
The program is part of $225 million in statewide relief championed by the senate democratic caucus in June to support small businesses economically impacted by the pandemic. The first application round drew a strong response with nearly 24,000 applications.
“We’ve seen the impact of this pandemic-fueled economic crisis on the small businesses in our communities and in the immense response to the program in the first round of applications,” said Daniel Betancourt, President & CEO of Community First Fund and Chair of the PA CDFI Network. “The PA CDFI Network is grateful for the partnership of Governor Wolf and the Pennsylvania Legislature as we move quickly to get these resources into the hands of those most impacted by the crisis.”
Of the close to 5,000 small businesses approved in the first round of funding, 50% are historically disadvantaged businesses that have traditionally experienced discrimination when seeking financial services and financial products. Over 2,400 of the businesses are also in communities targeted for business investment by state government programs like Main Street and Elm Street.
“I could not be more proud or more grateful for the great work of DCED and Pennsylvania’s CDFI Network in delivering substantive, fair, equitable, need-based assistance to our state’s main street and historically disadvantaged small businesses. Our program design and the accountability it provides to taxpayers and to our federal funders is a model for the nation,” Senator Blake (D-Lackawanna) said. “I appeal to the US Congress and to our colleagues on both sides of the aisle in Harrisburg to recognize the success of this program in assisting small businesses devastated by the pandemic and to invest further in the program so we can help even more of them.”
The program has targeted getting grants to small businesses with the greatest need and to be eligible to apply businesses had to have less than $1M in revenue and less than 25 employees. Grants ranged in size from $5,000 to $50,000 based on the revenue size of the business. More than 2,300 of the grantee business owners are low-moderate income.
“Our business community has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and is in need of immediate assistance. The grant program is targeted to help small businesses manage costs, handle expenses, and stay in operation in this exceptionally difficult time,” said Senator Brewster (D-Allegheny). “Since COVID struck our state and debilitated our business community, I have been advocating for bridge grants and sought millions in aid for impacted businesses and workers. The small business assistance grants are one of the tools we can use to bolster business, maintain jobs and help workers at a time of immense distress.”
More than two thirds of the approved awardees are women-owned businesses and 16 percent located in rural communities. The businesses represent industries that have been especially hard hit by the pandemic including retail, food and hospitality, health and wellness, and personal care.
|Restaurants & Other Eating Places
|Drinking Places (Alcoholic Beverages)
|Personal Care Services
|Other Amusement and Rec. Industries
“For minority and women-owned businesses in Pennsylvania COVID-19 didn’t create a crisis, it laid bare the crisis our minority entrepreneurs have been facing for decades,” House Democratic Finance Committee Chairman Jake Wheatley Jr (D-Allegheny) said. “While I’m glad to see the positive impact of these grants and I urge all local community businesses to apply for the next round of grants, we need to expand investment in programs like this because it’s long past time for the legislature to address the systemic flaws that are leaving too many marginalized people behind.”
The second grant application window for the relief funds opened today, August 10, and will remain open for 15 business days closing at 11:59PM on August 28.
“Our small business owners need our help and support,” said state Rep. Carolyn Comitta, D-Chester. “After limited or even no sales due to the virus for almost five months, it would be unfair to let them suffer alone without any intervention. These grants give our small businesses hope and, I am here with my democratic colleagues to provide them whatever help they need to address this pandemic. Our business owners, their employees, and their families deserve our assistance.”
In order to get funds to businesses in need as quickly as possible, the second application window will be the final opportunity to apply for the program. Qualified applicants not awarded in the first round do not need to reapply and will be rolled into the next round for consideration.
Eligible small businesses can apply online at pabusinessgrants.com or through any one of the 17 Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) that are part of the Pennsylvania CDFI Network.
About the PA CDFI Network
The PA CDFI Network is a coalition of 17 PA-based community development financial institutions that primarily provide financing options for small businesses. The members of the coalition are as follows:
The Progress Fund (Counties Served: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Bedford, Blair, Butler, Cambria, Cameron, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Fayette, Forest, Fulton, Greene, Huntingdon, Indiana, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Potter, Somerset, Tioga, Venango, Warren, Washington, Westmoreland)
Bridgeway Capital (Counties Served: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Clarion, Crawford, Erie, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Lawrence, Mercer, Venango, Washington, Westmoreland)
Northside Community Development Fund (Counties Served: Allegheny, Beaver, Greene, Lawrence, Washington)
Metro Action (Counties Served: Carbon, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Wayne, Wyoming)
Rising Tide Community Loan Fund (Counties Served: Bradford, Bucks, Carbon, Columbia, Lehigh, Monroe, Northampton)
ASSETS (Counties Served: Berks, Juniata, Lancaster, Mifflin, Snyder, York)
Community First Fund (Counties Served: Adams, Berks, Chester, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, Perry, Philadelphia, York)
Reinvestment Fund (Counties Served: All Counties)
PIDC Community Capital (Counties Served: Philadelphia)
Impact Loan Fund (Counties Served: Montgomery, Montour, Northumberland, Philadelphia)
Beech Capital (Counties Served: Bucks, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Montgomery, Philadelphia, York)
West Philadelphia Financial Services Institution (Counties Served: Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Philadelphia)
Enterprise Center Capital (Counties Served: Berks, Bucks, Chester, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia)
Neighborhood Progress Fund (Counties Served: Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Philadelphia)
Entrepreneur Works (Counties Served: Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Philadelphia)
Women’s Opportunities Resource Center (Counties Served: Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Philadelphia, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Wyoming)
United Bank (Counties Served: Blair, Bucks, Cambria, Chester, Delaware, Lackawanna, Luzerne, Montgomery, Philadelphia, Union)
The members of the Executive Committee of the network are:
- Daniel Betancourt, Community First Fund — Chair
- James Burnett, West Philadelphia Financial Services Institution — Vice Chair
- Lynne Cutler, Women’s Opportunities Resource Center (WORC) — Vice Chair
- Leslie Benoliel, Entrepreneur Works — Treasurer
- Mark Masterson, Northside Community Development Fund — Secretary
- Chris Hudock, Rising Tide Loan Fund — Assistant Treasurer
HARRISBURG – June 8, 2020 – Members of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus announced the direction of $225 million in federal CARES Act funding to aid small businesses across the commonwealth. This funding was authorized by the recently enacted COVID-19 Emergency Supplement to the General Appropriation Act of 2019 and was a centerpiece of the caucus’ PA CARES Plan.
The aid will be distributed as follows: $100 million is set to go to the Main Street Business Revitalization Program, $100 million to the Historically Disadvantaged Business Revitalization Program, and $25 million for loan payment deferment and loss reserves for loans impacted by COVID-19. The aid will be directed by the Department of Community and Economic Development to Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI), which are intimately familiar with the needs of the most vulnerable small businesses in our communities.
“I want to thank Governor Wolf for engaging leadership in the General Assembly to inform the process of moving federal aid out to those who have been most harmed by the COVID-19 pandemic. I also want to thank the leadership of the Senate Democratic caucus who worked with our members to formulate a strategic plan for the deployment of nearly $4 billion in federal assistance,” said state Senator John Blake (D-Lackawanna). “The Main Street Business Revitalization program is a reflection of that cooperation and leadership and it will meet Pennsylvania’s small business owners where they are, on Main Street, after nearly three months of lost or no sales. It will enable small business owners throughout the commonwealth to meet their insurance payments, rents, health insurance premiums, local taxes and other expenses that they otherwise could not meet due to lost sales. Finally, I want to thank the 17 CDFIs throughout the state as well as DCED for their professionalism, agility, urgency and dedication to getting this federal funding to the small businesses who need it most as quickly as possible.”
Eligible businesses will apply through one of the CDFI Network partners and will have to have been operating on or before February 15, 2020, and must have paid taxes to state and federal governments. Qualifying main street and historically disadvantaged small businesses must have 25 or fewer employees and experienced losses as a result of Gov. Tom Wolf’s March 19 stay-at-home order. Organizations seeking grants from the historically disadvantaged small businesses program must also be 51 percent owned and managed by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.
“The announcement of the Main Street and Historically Disadvantaged Business Revitalization Programs will provide welcomed relief for mom and pop businesses in neighborhoods across the commonwealth,” said State Senator Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia/Montgomery). “Since this pandemic began, we have heard the needs of the auto body shops, the barbershops, the beauticians, the pizza shop owners, the soul food establishments and other businesses in our communities. The needs of these businesses that were unable to get much needed help from other state and federal programs were a priority in our Senate Democratic Caucus’ April 29 PA CARES Program announcement. For months, my office has worked with a network of trusted community organizations that have a proven track record of working with our small CDFIs to find a solution to assist our neighborhood businesses. I believe these programs are that solution. There is still more work to be done, but these programs are a win for Pennsylvania and its small businesses.”
Businesses will be eligible for up to $50,000 in grants. Grants can be used to cover operating expenses during the shutdown and in the transition period to reopening, technical assistance and training, debt payment relief for CDFI borrowers and loan loss reserves.
“Our small businesses all across the state made sacrifices so that we could flatten the curve of COVID-19 and save lives,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, Jr. “Now as we begin to recover, our businesses will need and deserve assistance to reopen their doors, rehire their staff and serve our communities again. We thank them for their patience through this difficult time, and are ready to offer the programs, loans and assistance they need.”
Businesses will be required to submit proposals for review documenting sales losses, projected revenues, the duration of closure as a result of COVID-19, and relief receipts for other federal, state and local government aid. Eligible businesses will apply directly through a local CDFI.
“One of the goals of the pandemic-recovery stimulus plan that I offered in March, was to jump-start business operations and speed the economic recovery by making resources readily available to get more men and women back to work quicker,” Brewster said. “Using federal CARE dollars to bolster business and smooth the back-to-work transition is critically important. The caucus CARES initiative includes one piece of the plan and will be especially useful to small businesses as they cover expenses and manage start-up costs. Plus, it will usher in help for small businesses who may not have been able to access other state or federal business assistance programs.”
Distributed funds will be monitored by DCED to track the total number of grants awarded under these programs including county, the number of jobs saved by the grants, the total amount of loan payment and deferment, administrative costs and more.
“Thank you to Governor Wolf and his administration for recognizing the need for our Main Street Business Revitalization Program and incorporating that proposal into the Commonwealth’s plan to support our small businesses, which represent nearly half of the private sector workforce in Pennsylvania – 2.5 million jobs,” said Senator Iovino (D-Allegheny/Washington). “Small businesses are the job creators in our communities, the revenue generators for our Commonwealth, and the cornerstone of vibrant main streets. As small business owners are struggling to hang on, this $225 million grant package is exactly the kind of lifeline that these economic drivers need to support our recovery.”
For more about the caucus’ comprehensive, people-focused COVID-19 recovery plan, visit pasenate.com/pacares.
Harrisburg, PA − April 8, 2020 − The Senate adjourned Tuesday afternoon after the House Republicans indicated they would not be taking up Senate Bill 841, legislation that would have enabled local municipalities to hold their meetings remotely, permitted e-notary use; lengthened the time period a property tax payer can receive an early payment discount and delay penalties for late payments to Dec. 31st; and allowed businesses to make delayed payments on EITC. Another important amendment offered by Senator Pam Iovino (D-Allegheny) allowed school districts to renegotiate contracts to ensure contracted school workers can get paid and continue to receive benefits.
The amended SB 841 passed the Senate with bipartisan support. While the Senate Democrats and Republicans chose to put partisan difference aside, the House Republicans were pushing to please special interests and big donors. Intending to use this crisis as leverage, Speaker Turzai and his caucus passed legislation to prematurely allow businesses to reopen during this public health crisis and create a partisan task force to interfere with the Governor’s disaster response, both of which unnecessarily risk lives and threaten to expend the emergency.
“While the Governor and Department of Health Secretary offer leadership on public safety in daily briefings and Democratic members of the PA House and Senate draft legislation to protect working people who are either out of work or employed on the front lines of essential businesses, Republicans are putting lives at risk and undermining the Governor and Secretary Levine’s best efforts to end this crisis,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, Jr. “Instead of taking the advice of our Health Secretary, they are trying to slow down our response and hasten the re-opening of non-essential businesses against the guidance of every public health entity in the country.”
The House Republicans were seeking even more egregious measures to provide civil immunity to big businesses, upend school districts ability to pay their teachers, and leave our corrections department employees at serious threat of the Coronavirus. Perhaps worst of all, the language does nothing to protect frontline workers, provide assistance to those that are out of work, or to help small businesses weather this crisis.
In an amendment to Senate Bill 327, House Republicans designed a task force with partisan appointees to usurp the Governor’s ability to rapidly respond to this quickly-evolving crisis. Their bill would require the Secretary of Health to leave PEMA, take hours away from public health crisis planning and defend her work in front of a redundant, political body.
The Senate Democratic Caucus will not support these bills. Alternatively, this caucus will be supporting legislation on the following issues:
- The American Working Family Relief Action Plan for front-line worker protections (Collett/L. Williams)
- Protecting workers during public health emergencies (Santarsiero)
- COVID-19 Food Worker Safety Act (Tartaglione)
- COVID-19 Grocery Store Worker Safety Act (Tartaglione)
- Payment of contract services in schools (Iovino)
- Childcare assistance (Schwank/L. Williams)
- Emergency expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act to provide paid sick leave (Farnese)
- Crisis grants for volunteer fire and EMS companies due to COVID-19 (Brewster)
- Require business interruption insurance to cover COVID-19 related business closures (Hughes)
- Eviction protection for all disaster emergencies (Farnese)
- Coronavirus disease and schools: allowing for online instruction (Dinniman)
- Creating a Common Wealth Fund to collect donations from individuals to provide for essential needs of those in need (AH Williams)
- Providing a presumption of eligibility for Workers’ Compensation benefits for workers that get sick in the workplace (Tartaglione)
- Ensuring receipt of a stimulus check from the Federal government is not included in an individual’s income for purposes of qualifying for social safety nets (Schwank)
- Exempting stimulus checks from the Federal government from State and local taxation (Brewster)
- Collaborating with financial institutions to mandate mortgage loan forgiveness, assistance to homeowners that were laid off due to state emergencies (Farnese)
“While many working Pennsylvanians are suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, facing lost hours or even complete unemployment, others who find themselves in more fortunate circumstances have expressed a desire to help their fellow citizens by either donating to a local charity or patronizing local businesses,” said Senator Anthony H. Williams. “By establishing the “Pennsylvania Common Wealth” restricted account, taxpayers could redirect all or a portion of their stimulus check to the state, which in turn would be authorized to direct those funds into programs which help the neediest Pennsylvanians – property tax & rent rebates, temporary assistance for needy families, CHIP or medical assistance.”
“Pennsylvania needs solutions that help protect its working people who have been hit the hardest by the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic,” Senator Vincent Hughes said. “We in the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus have put forth a number of policy proposals that would do just that, meanwhile House Republicans have chosen to ignore these needs and push an agenda that jeopardizes public health and puts additional pressure on working people by delaying immediate relief. Our mission should be helping people in this unprecedented time of need and we will remain vigilant in protecting hardworking folks across the commonwealth.”
“As public servants, our most important duty is to protect the health, safety and welfare of our citizens. This includes making difficult decisions in challenging times. We all want businesses to reopen, employees back on the job, students back in classrooms and some semblance of normal life to resume, but that cannot happen unless we first continue mitigation efforts and follow the advice of our scientists and experts,” said Senator Wayne D. Fontana. “Anything contrary can set back progress and cause further harm on our economy and most importantly, on human health. The bipartisan legislation the Senate approved provides some necessary guidance and relief to local governments, businesses, school employees and property taxpayers during this unprecedented situation. It is unconscionable that House Republicans blatantly disregarded that duty and have chosen not to act.”
“The spread of coronavirus has not quieted the voice of special interests in Harrisburg and that’s tragic,” said Senator Larry Farnese. “Mitigation through isolation is working and we have to recognize that sacrifice through legislation that actually helps front-line workers instead of just saying nice things on social media.”
“This crisis and the Commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic requires leadership, transparency and cooperation – not partisan politics,” said Senator John Blake. “While we’ve worked well with the Senate majority on real solutions that actually help people in this crisis, the House majority looks to undermine the executive authority of the Governor as well as the advice of medical and scientific experts regarding public health. I applaud the work being done by Governor Wolf and his administration to keep Pennsylvanians safe and to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. I will continue to support important legislation to help our business community, front-line workers and medical professionals; and to protect our citizens, schools and local governments across this state. We need to remain vigilant in following the recommendations of the PA Department of Health and the federal CDC.”
“Issues that the Commonwealth was already facing have been exacerbated by this pandemic, and child care services and early learning programs are near the top of the list. Childcare centers are teetering on the brink of insolvency, which is why part of our legislative package addresses early childhood learning and safe, quality childcare. We will not be able to restart Pennsylvania’s economy without this key component,” Senator Judy Schwank said. “Additionally, it’s vital that the income requirements of state programs like PACENET and Property Tax and Rent Rebate are adjusted so that Pennsylvanians receiving federal aid are not penalized later.”
“The key to an effective response to the pandemic is to ensure that our citizens are protected, health risks are addressed, and our economy restarts quickly,” Senator Jim Brewster said. “That’s why I introduced a six-point stimulus plan that will help small business, protect workers and create jobs once we are clear the threat posed by the pandemic. In addition, we need to make sure to address the immediate and long-term needs of first responders and all workers and businesses who are providing essential services during this time of extraordinary stress.”
“There is no segment of our Commonwealth that hasn’t been upended by this crisis. Everything is a priority. But in order to save livelihoods, we must first save lives,” said Senator Maria Collett. “As a nurse, I know firsthand the challenges our health care workers are up against and the urgency of passing legislation like the American Working Family Relief Action Plan for Front-Line Workers. Our doctors, nurses, first responders, senior care aides and others should not have to worry about getting sick or infecting others while performing their essential work.”
“It is irresponsible for the state to reopen businesses at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak. Those who are not essential workers should remain home,” said Senator Art Haywood. “We need to do all we can as legislators to support essential employees risking their lives on a daily basis,” said Senator Haywood (D-Montgomery/Philadelphia). “I will continue to support the work Governor Wolf and Secretary Levine have done to inform the public to remain safe and stay home.”
“The citizens of Pennsylvania are counting on their elected representatives to save lives by responding swiftly, pragmatically, and in a bipartisan manner to slow the spread of this highly contagious virus,” said Senator Pam Iovino. “To fulfill our duty to the public, we must follow the consensus guidance of public health professionals, focus on protecting front-line essential workers, and put in place protections that allow furloughed or unemployed workers and small businesses to weather the economic disruption.”
“As the Democratic chair of the Local Government Committee, I worked with stakeholders for weeks to craft the provisions of SB 841, I am disappointed these commonsense measures, which passed the Senate with bipartisan support, are being held up by House Republicans for little reason,” said Senator Tim Kearney. “The House should immediately pass SB 841 and focus on bringing relief to Pennsylvanians, rather than sabotaging the Governor’s efforts to keep our families safe.”
“Yesterday, the majority party in both chambers failed to use their legislative power, where they can literally pass any bill they want to, and instead decided to pack up and go home without,” said Senator Katie Muth. “Failing to pass meaningful bills when people are fighting for their lives is simply negligent.”
“Now is not the time to play politics,” said Senator Steve Santarsiero. “Saving lives has to be the first priority. In order to do that, we must all do our part and follow the Governor’s and Department of Health’s plans as they’ve been explained to us countless times. SB 841 is just one of many ways our caucus has worked in a bipartisan effort to provide relief to those who need it most. However, SB 327 is exactly what our healthcare professionals warn us against. Promoting a premature return to normalcy will only undermine our effort to keep the public safe, and further endanger thousands of lives.”
“Government’s most important role is the protection of its people. Since the COVID-19 crisis the Senate has met three times, with little to show for it. Communities across the commonwealth have no interest in the paralysis of government especially in the most desperate of times. What they do care about is the protection of our essential workforce, the interruption of our small businesses, job loss, staying in their homes and educating their children. The only thing that matters is the preservation and protection of every resource needed to keep families safe during this health crisis,” said Senator Sharif Street.
“We need to be back in Harrisburg, we need to get back to work. We must work together to ensure our communities are protected during uncertain times.”
“As thousands of Pennsylvanians continue to get sick and hundreds die, now is no time to play partisan politics,” Senator Tina Tartaglione said. “As public leaders, we must unite behind the common goal of reducing the threat of this virus and mitigating the harm being done to our constituents. The package of bills we have proposed will directly help all Pennsylvania families, including essential workers, displaced workers, first responders, school children, those who have become sick, and those in need. I urge all legislators from all political parties to support these bills.”
“Stopping the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives is our top priority. We also need to protect and support our constituents, our communities, and our businesses,” said Senator Lindsey Williams. “Our front-line essential workers – our hospital workers, grocery store workers, emergency service personnel and others – cannot afford to wait for PPE. They needed it weeks ago. Our childcare facilities need our help to stay open and provide care to the children of our essential workers while they risk their lives for us. Our small businesses need financial support to stay afloat. Our municipalities need the ability to meet remotely and make decisions that will ensure the safety of all of residents. There are a lot of needs right now and our constituents do not have time for us to waste playing partisan games or naming bridges. The Senate Democrats have offered concrete solutions that will help people. We should all be working together to get them to the Governor’s desk for signature as soon as possible.”
More information on the work of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus during the COVID-19 crisis can be found at pasenate.com/covid19.
Harrisburg, Pa. − June 24, 2019 − Members of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus today jointly sent a letter to Governor Tom Wolf requesting a disaster declaration for gun violence in the Commonwealth.
“We believe it is necessary to raise the public’s awareness of the massive loss of human life and the suffering inflicted on affected family, friends and neighbors where this tragedy is unfolding daily,” they wrote. “Just as you have signed six disaster declarations to provide every tool at the Commonwealth’s disposal to combat the opioid epidemic, the death toll and impact from illegal guns should merit immediate and coordinated attention.”
Specifically, a disaster declaration could do the following:
- Establish a task force led by the Department of Health to create and implement a public health framework for addressing gun violence
- Establish a command center in the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to coordinate state and local law enforcement response
- Enhance the Joint-Local State Firearm Taskforce through additional personnel and funding to take illegal guns off the street
- Expand information gathering and sharing between all levels of law enforcement and community groups
- Increase law enforcement presence, both local and state, in targeted areas where gun violence is most prevalent
- Expedite and expand grants and other funding sources for community groups and nonprofit associations with a proven record of violence reduction and prevention
- Provide additional state resources for behavioral and mental health
- Bringing to bear the significant wealth of knowledge and experience in the Departments of Health and Human Services to provide de-escalation and de-confliction training throughout the community
- Require the Pennsylvania Department of Education provide training and professional development on trauma-informed education
View full letter →
Wilkinsburg, August 4, 2016 – At the request of state Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, a joint state Senate-House Democratic Policy Committee hearing was held today on efforts and resources to fight blight within our communities, including the successes and challenges of land banks.
“Blight is a scourge that impedes both business and residential interest in a community,” Costa said. “We must do what we can to give our municipalities the resources, tools and flexibility they need to quickly eradicate blight and begin revitalization efforts.”
Costa said blight poses health and safety risks, reduces neighborhood property values, drains municipal revenue on enforcement and maintenance efforts, and discourages community investment and growth.
Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton), who chairs the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, said “transforming dilapidated properties from community liabilities to revitalization linchpins must be our shared goal.”
Boscola added that Pennsylvania has approximately 300,000 vacant properties – many of them eye-sores. She said legislators should steer clear of “one-size-fits-all solutions” and give local government leaders the “flexibility to tailor revitalization efforts that fit their unique needs.”
State Rep. Ed Gainey (D-Allegheny), who co-chaired the hearing, said the state has passed several laws in recent years aimed at assisting local governments in blight removal and revitalization initiatives. He added that there are also numerous proposals under consideration in the legislature that would generate more funding for demolition and revitalization work and toughen penalties against absentee owners.
Costa said a 2012 law that established land banks provides an innovative way to acquire and ready properties for reinvestment. He pointed to the local Tri-COG Land Bank as a “promising program that numerous Allegheny county communities should look into.” Tri-COG recently received a pledge of $1.5 million in seed funding from the Heinz endowment.
A land bank acquires blighted properties, clears delinquent taxes and liens, and prepares the property for investment and revitalization – all aimed at returning the property to the tax rolls and productive use. A county or municipality must have a population of at least 10,000 to form a land bank. Local governments have the option of joining and must pay 5 percent of yearly delinquent tax collections to help fund the program.
Urban Redevelopment Authority Director Kyra Straussman lamented that a fourth of the city’s footprint is abandoned and vacant property that the government does not control.
“While our tax base is eroding, we are simultaneously directly paying millions in tax dollars annually to keep problem vacant and abandoned property just as it is,” she said.
Matt Madia, who serves as chief strategy and development officer for Bridgestone Capital investment program, discussed his firm’s revitalization work, including its $9.6 million effort to revitalize the Homewood neighborhood in Pittsburgh. He said some of their business loans have resulted in new businesses occupying commercial space that would otherwise be vacant. He said providing this core business sector with its products and services helps make a neighborhood “welcoming and livable.”
Mark Mohn, vice-chair state Association of Realtors Legislative Committee, said rising property local taxes has worsened the blight problem by making home ownership less affordable. He said lawmakers should consider shifting the tax burden away from homeowners to more broad-based local and state resources.
“It’s time to stop picking the pockets of homebuyers,” Mohn added, suggesting that lawmakers should consider allowing bond referendums and Social Impact Bonds where municipalities can pay back outside investors for transforming blighted properties into productive ones.
Others who testified were: Cynthia Whitman Daley, policy director of the PA Housing Alliance; Tracey Evans, executive director of the Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation; A. William Schenck, TriState Capital Bank Board Member, Pennsylvania Economy League of Greater Pittsburgh; An Lewis, Director, Steel Rivers COG; Daniel Lavelle, board member, Pittsburg Land Bank; and Liz Kozub, Community Development coordinator, Turtle Creek COG.
Joining Costa, Gainey and Boscola were Senators John Blake (D-Lackawanna), Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland), Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny), and Representatives Chris Sainato (D-Lawrence) and Paul Costa (D-Allegheny).
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