OpEd by Senator John Kane
About six months ago, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan, a historic investment in the working families and communities who had been hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic. At the time, I applauded that bill – it was proof of what good government can do, of how we can invest in working people to build our economy back. In addition to funding federal programs, the American Rescue Plan also provided money directly to the states. Pennsylvania was allocated $7 billion, for programs to help Pennsylvanians through their pandemic recovery. I hoped my Republican colleagues in Harrisburg would act quickly to get this money, your tax dollars, back into our communities.
I was wrong. For the past six months, the majority in Harrisburg has failed, time and again, to take action and allocate these funds. Instead of working for you, they decided they had done enough, and went home for the summer.
Well, now we’re back in session, with the opportunity to spend that $7 billion. The need is there. Right now, Pennsylvania has the second highest rate of student debt in the entire country. Our elementary school students go to school in buildings with asbestos in the tiles and lead in the paint. Parents, many of whom were forced to cut back their hours during the pandemic, are now facing childcare costs that are impossible to manage.
The challenges of the pandemic haven’t ended, either. There are still Pennsylvanians across the Commonwealth waiting on unemployment checks, living paycheck to paycheck and wondering how they’re going to put food on the table. I’ve been there – I know what that feels like. Folks who have been able to find post-pandemic jobs are facing a minimum wage that hasn’t been raised in over a decade, not even earning enough to stay above the poverty line. And for the 11 million Pennsylvanians still lacking access to high-speed broadband, the new, online-only jobs are completely inaccessible.
This funding is also an unprecedented opportunity to address the issues Pennsylvania was facing before the pandemic. We have addiction treatment facilities that are completely out of beds because of the opioid crisis – last year, overdose deaths increased by 30% nationwide. One in nine Pennsylvanians, and one in seven children, face food insecurity, and more than 15,000 Pennsylvanians on any given day are experiencing homelessness.
My Republican colleagues wanted to put this money into a Rainy Day Fund. Well, it’s raining.
We’re back in session next week. We could pass SB 12, to raise the minimum wage to a livable wage. We could pass SB 51, guaranteeing comprehensive healthcare coverage. We could pass SB 123, to properly allocate our education funding. We could pass legislation to expand access to affordable housing, support health care and access to mental health treatment, invest in our community infrastructure, and increase resources for working families.
We have an unprecedented opportunity to make investments that will benefit Pennsylvanians for decades to come. We have an unprecedented opportunity to invest in working families, to support individuals who are struggling, to prove that government really does work for the people. We have an unprecedented opportunity to make a real change.
It’s time for my colleagues on the other side of the aisle to free the funds.