Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf wants state lawmakers to release the $2 billion in American Rescue Plan funds that have been sitting in their coffers. Wolf, in particular, wants a portion of the money deposited into Pennsylvanians’ bank accounts. His plan is known as the “Pennsylvania Opportunity Plan.”
“Working families have been overburdened. Their budgets have been stretched to the breaking point. “They’ve actually been stretched beyond their limits with the recent dramatic price increases,” Wolf said.
According to the governor’s office, the plan is to assist families who are still struggling financially as a result of the pandemic. In addition to covering pandemic-related expenses, the funds are intended to assist households in better managing rising living costs.
Who would benefit from Pennsylvania’s stimulus funds?
Households with incomes of $80,000 or less would receive up to $2,000 under Wolf’s plan. Households earning $50,000 or less would receive a $2,000 one-time payment. Households earning $50,000 to $80,000 would receive $1,500.
If the bill is passed by the legislature, checks would be issued by the Pennsylvania Treasury and would not be taxed as income.
Wolf’s $1.7 billion proposal includes $225 million for small businesses, $325 million for the state’s healthcare system, $204 million for direct property tax relief, and $450 million for community conservation, preservation, and revitalization. In other words, the stimulus funds will be reinvested in the local economy.
The Governor’s reasoning
On April 14, Wolf said at the Pocono Family YMCA, “Pennsylvanians should not have to choose between paying for utilities or groceries, childcare or gas.” We have the opportunity and the means to ensure that they do not struggle and that they succeed. I’m asking the General Assembly to work together across the aisle on this for the sake of every Pennsylvanian, because when they succeed, our state succeeds. Let’s get this money out of our coffers and into Pennsylvanians’ pockets.”
Pennsylvania currently has more than $10.7 billion in its account, and state officials anticipate a $2.5 billion revenue surplus. It’s understandable that Wolf and his fellow Democrats see now as a good time to assist struggling families in surviving the rest of the pandemic.
Not everyone is ecstatic
Bipartisanship appears to be an issue in state legislatures just as much as it is in the federal government. Wolf is a registered Democrat. Republicans control both the Pennsylvania House and Senate.
Republicans, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, are taking their time. State Treasurer Stacy Garrity, for example, has urged lawmakers to look ahead to 2026. That’s the year, according to the Independent Fiscal Office, when the state will run a $1.4 billion deficit, spending more than it collects in taxes.
Gov. Wolf has reminded legislators that states must use American Rescue Plan funds by December 21, 2024, or the funds will be returned to the federal government.
Is there a demand?
However, as of today, 13.6 percent of Pennsylvanians are poor, and the unemployment rate was 4.9 percent in March. And these statistics don’t take into account those who work tirelessly every day, barely scraping by to stay afloat.
“This money will help the hardworking people our agency serves keep their lights and heat on so they can get ready for work and pay their car maintenance so it passes inspection,” says Kristina Valdez, executive director of the community action group Along the Way. It will allow them to continue working at the businesses on which we all rely in our community.”
Pennsylvania clearly has the funds available to send another round of stimulus checks. What is less clear is whether the proposal will be supported by the state legislature.