Gov. Tom Wolf announced this week a series of COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted or altered starting April 4. The changes include allowing bars to resume alcohol-only service, lifting the curfew on alcoholic drinks, and a 75 percent capacity limit for bars, restaurants, gyms, and entertainment facilities like casinos.
“We’ve come so far and now is not the time to stop the safety measures we have in place to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities,” Wolf said. “Keep wearing a mask, social distancing, and, please, get vaccinated when it’s your turn.”
While this is a welcome change for small business owners, the announcement drew some criticism. Jason Gottesman, spokesman for House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff said, “while the Governor’s announcement is certainly welcome, it has not come soon enough and does not go far enough to help Pennsylvania’s workers, small businesses, and hospitality industry recover from a year’s-worth of unprecedented Wolf administration-mandated shutdowns.”
As Wolf was preparing to announce the changes, Senate Republicans offered a package of six bills aimed at helping small businesses called Prioritize PA: Small Businesses.
“As we celebrate moving toward herd immunity, reopening our economy, and returning to a sense of normalcy again, we must not forget our small businesses, particularly those in the hospitality industry, that have suffered immensely throughout this pandemic,” said Sen. Ryan Aument (R-Lancaster). “The punitive mitigation efforts from this Administration have unfairly and disproportionately harmed our once thriving small business community, and it is my hope that the bills in this package will provide both the immediate and long-term relief that they so desperately need.”
Aument was joined by Sens. Camera Bartolotta (R-Beaver, Greene, Washington), Kristen Phillips-Hill (R-York), and Judy Ward (R-Blair, Cumberland, Franklin, Fulton, Huntingdon). According to the Senate Republicans, “the package will include no-interest loans to struggling small businesses, a tax credit program modeled after the successful Education Improvement Tax Credit Program, a temporary waiver of fees for various state licensing, the ability to deduct property taxes from the state’s Corporate Net Income or Personal Income Tax liability, and a three-year option to offset earnings from prior years or future years against current year losses and get refunds for prior years (carryback) or cut future tax bills (carry forward).”
The announcement came with support from local business leaders in the form of taped messages from across Pennsylvania, as well as from industry groups such as the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association. PRLA CEO John Longstreet said, “the Prioritize Pennsylvania: Small Businesses package is a coordinated approach that will not only help us get through the end of this pandemic but will also make significant reforms to improve and revitalize the state’s economic climate to strengthen our small businesses.”
The Senate returns to session this week as hearings and discussions continue on the state budget due June 30. Business leaders and organizations have been laying the ground-work for weeks to include some type of business relief in the final package.