As we continue to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, this edition of the monthly News & Views Special Edition: JOBS focuses on what sectors are looking for work at this time. I also want to use this space as an opportunity to focus on what resources are available for employers and employees.
Legislation to Exempt Purchases of PPE from Taxes
With Governor Wolf’s order that all Pennsylvanians wear a facemask when in public, and the threat of the coronavirus making a comeback in the fall, I am introducing legislation that would make personal protective equipment (PPE) exempt from Pennsylvania sales tax.
Many personal protective items like medical-grade facial masks and gloves are already exempt from sales tax. However, the current pandemic has caused a shortage of these items which has led to many residents and businesses making protective items on their own, in many cases purchasing the necessary materials at local stores. For this reason, facial masks will be considered essential and a necessity under my bill, just like articles of clothing. Therefore, any of the supplies needed to make a mask, like fabric and elastic, will be considered “clothing” and not an “accessory.” The same would apply for items like rubber or latex gloves that can be found in household goods.
My bill would also extend to the workplace. Currently, safety equipment and devices like gloves and masks worn by production personnel in manufacturing, processing, public utility, and farming, to name a few, are tax exempted. This legislation would make PPE purchased and worn by non-production personnel like grocery store clerks or restaurant workers, tax exempt as well.
These are trying times in our state and our country. Food and clothing as essential items are exempt from Pennsylvania sales tax. Items like masks and gloves and the materials used to make them have become essential in 2020 and Pennsylvanians should not be subject to paying a sales tax.
PA CareerLink, a partnership of the Departments of Labor & Industry and Human Services, has put together a listing of employers around Pennsylvania that are in need of hiring individuals for critical roles. Regardless of whether you’ve lost your job due to a COVID-19 related business closure and would like to work or simply are looking for employment, I encourage you to visit CareerLink’s COVID-19 Employment Opportunities site which can be viewed by clicking here.
The site lists what companies are hiring, the types of positions open, business locations and provides links to apply for positions online. Employers that have openings and are interested in promoting through CareerLink can also access the site to complete an Employer Intake Form so their openings can be listed.
In last month’s edition of my News & Views Special Edition: JOBS!, I provided a listing of companies and organizations locally that were seeking workers. That listing can be viewed by clicking here.
DCED has created a Business-to-Business Interchange Directory to connect organizations and businesses directly to manufacturers producing COVID-19-related products and supplies. The directory can be accessed by clicking here.
Company and product information provided in the directory were gathered in good faith as a means of connecting Pennsylvania businesses and organizations that are seeking various PPE and other related items to combat the COVID-19 crisis. The information made available is from those entities who voluntarily contacted the commonwealth through the Manufacturing Call to Action Portal or the Pennsylvania Critical Medical Supplies Procurement Portal.
Currently in the directory are manufacturers of N95 masks, fabric and other masks, and surgical masks. Additional supplies and materials will be added to the directory as DCED identifies potential manufacturers. Businesses that would like to be added to the directory or those with questions should contact RA-DCEDPAMCTAP@pa.gov.
Citiparks Recruiting Lifeguards
Citiparks is currently recruiting lifeguards in anticipation of pools opening sometime during summer 2020. While it has not yet been determined when pools will open due to COVID-19, Citiparks is recruiting now so that lifeguards can be trained when the City of Pittsburgh can safely open pools.
Lifeguards are hired to work the City’s 18 outdoor locations and Citiparks offers two free lifeguard training courses prior to the season for candidates to become certified or update their training. Requirements for applicants must be at least 16 years old by June 2020, reside in the City of Pittsburgh, provide Red Cross Lifeguard Certification valid through Sept. 7, 2020, submit criminal background clearances, pass a medical exam, and be available to work at any of the 18 Citiparks aquatics facilities.
Online applications are available by clicking here.
Unemployment Compensation Updates
Pennsylvania’s unemployment system continues to handle an unprecedented number of claims as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. I understand the frustration many are experiencing waiting for their benefits to be paid and not being able to reach anyone in the unemployment office. Please know my office can try and assist anyone having difficulty contacting unemployment by submitting a request to the unemployment office. Just call my office at 412-344-2551 and leave a message with your contact information, or email email@example.com.
An individual may be eligible for unemployment benefits if: their employer temporarily closes or goes out of business because of COVID-19; their employer reduces their hours because of COVID-19; they have been told not to work because their employer feels they might get or spread COVID-19; they have been told to quarantine or self-isolate, or live/work in a county under government-recommended mitigation efforts; or even if their regular working hours are considered part-time.
Applications can be filed online at www.uc.pa.gov beginning with the first week an individual is affected. The website will also allow claimants to file bi-weekly claims, check claim status, and view payment history. I encourage anyone with questions about the process to visit the Unemployment Compensation Guide by clicking here. Please remember that the waiting week and job search requirements have been temporarily lifted during the emergency declaration.
The federal CARES Act expanded eligibility for individuals who have traditionally been ineligible for unemployment benefits like self-employed workers, independent contractors, gig workers, and workers with certain religious entities. Individuals in these categories can apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). A temporary federal program, PUA provides up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits to individuals not eligible for regular unemployment compensation or extended benefits, including those who have exhausted all rights to such benefits. Please know the application process for PUA is separate from traditional unemployment. Anyone wishing to apply for PUA can visit www.uc.pa.gov and click on the “File for PUA” tab or click here. As this is a new program, the unemployment site will continue to provide updates at www.uc.pa.gov going forward.
The federal CARES Act also provides for a temporary emergency increase in unemployment compensation benefits, referred to as the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program. This program provides an eligible individual with $600 per week on top of the weekly benefit amount he or she receives from certain other UC programs. An individual must first be eligible for unemployment benefits to qualify for the additional $600 per week in benefits. Individuals do not need to do anything extra to receive the $600. Continue to file bi-weekly claims on your traditional unemployment and benefits should be automatically updated. Beginning the week that ends April 4, 2020 and all eligible weeks through July 25, 2020, individuals will receive the extra $600 FPUC for all weeks they receive UC or PUA benefits.
Also created through the federal CARES Act was a new temporary federal program called the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) program. PEUC provides up to 13 weeks of additional unemployment benefits to individuals who previously collected state or federal unemployment compensation (UC) but exhausted those benefits.
The PEUC system has not been completed yet. Instructions on how to apply will be provided at www.uc.pa.gov once the system is launched.
As the construction industry goes back to work, and we see some outdoor recreational activities re-open, and as the governor’s re-opening plan continues to take form, please continue to observe existing worker and building safety orders.
I want to again commend all the frontline workers like health care professionals, first responders, police, firefighters, grocery and pharmacy workers among others who have been providing essential services in a dangerous environment. I thank these workers for all they are doing and encourage everyone to express your gratitude form a safe distance, when encountering these individuals.
Offices of State Senator Wayne D. Fontana
| Brookline District
1039 Brookline Boulevard
Pittsburgh, PA 15226
Weekdays – 9 am – 5 pm
543 Main Capitol |
Harrisburg, PA 17120
Weekdays – 8:30 am – 5 pm
524 Pine Hollow Road
Weekdays – 10 am – 4 pm
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1660 Broadway Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216