Protections for Front-Line Workers
As the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic continues on, I commend the healthcare workers who are taking care of our residents that need critical care. And although it seems as if everything in our lives has come to a screeching halt, the realty is there are thousands of people who are working every day to make sure the essential goods and services that are needed for survival are available during these difficult days. These “front line” employees include, but are not limited to, supermarket clerks, mass transit workers, mail and delivery carriers, communication workers, people providing cleaning services, restaurant and food preparation workers, and sanitation and waste management operators to name a few. Without these vital employees, the economic and humanitarian fallout from this virus would be even more devastating than it already has become.
With that being said, it is paramount that we do everything humanly possible to advocate for safeguards to be put into place for these front-line workers. A lot of these essential services are being provided to us by employees of low-wage industries who can’t afford to get sick and call off.
Additionally, many must continue to go to work because their healthcare is tied their employment. One may not realize, but during this unprecedented global crisis, a grocery store clerk's job can be just as dangerous as being a healthcare worker in a hospital. We must take preventative measures to help mitigate the spread of the coronavirus and come together to demand front-line workers are afforded commonsense protections.
A number of bills have been introduced by Senate Democrats that would put safeguards in place for many front-line workers:
- In the United States, the power to isolate and quarantine exists at both the federal and state level. Unfortunately, most states, including Pennsylvania, do not address whether an employer can fire an employee while under quarantine or in isolation. This bill would provide protection from retaliation while one is being quarantined or isolated during a public health emergency.
- This bill would fill several holes in the Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act by providing emergency paid sick leave for all employees not covered by the federal bill; Extending paid sick leave for an additional 4 days to cover the full two-week quarantine period as the federal bill only covers 10 days; Paid leave will be extended to those laid off or whose workplaces have closed; The state will cover the additional 1/3 pay rate for those who must take leave to care for a child whose school has closed so employees receive 100% of pay; Extend family medical leave to all employees at 100% wage rate starting immediately upon starting leave to cover the unpaid time under the federal bill and then the additional 1/3 pay to fill the gap for 100% pay rate though the term covered by the Family Medical Leave Act; and Requiring employers to reinstate workers returning from leave.
- The legislation provides emergency funding for safety equipment, including personal protective equipment such as N95 masks, and mental health supports for healthcare workers and other public sector workers classified as essential; Create clear standards for the implementation of containment control plans in healthcare facilities, including emergency standards and accountability; Prioritize front-line workers in COVID-19 testing; Suspend, or limit, in-person services to the greatest extent possible by shifting to virtual assistance working standards for public workers classified as essential; and Require cleaning standards for workplaces that remain open during this crisis to meet or exceed state and federal standards for COVID-19 prevention.
- Senate Bill 1101 - Workers at food processing/protein facilities would be designated as “essential employees” and/or “front line employees” for all matters/circumstances, including but not limited to childcare, safety measures and paid leave to be made available to these workers under this legislation. The bill puts further protections in place for spaces like breaks and meal periods, staggered start times, meetings and training, limits on the number of visitors, sick screening and cleaning guidelines, and sanitizer and protective gear. Additionally, if an employee is directed to quarantine, the employer shall provide financial compensation during the time period and attendance policies should be suspended.
- Senate Bill 1102 - Grocery store workers would be designated as “essential employees” and/or “front line workers” if benefits such as child care, safety measures and paid leave become available to those workers under this legislation. This bill would also improve working conditions for these workers while at the same time reducing the risk of community spread through requirements like floor markings added to the checkout lines, Plexiglas shielding registers, limits on the amount of customers in the store at one time, waive curbside pickup fees, designate specific times for high-risk/elderly customers to shop and reduced store hours to allow the store to be cleaned and restocked are some of the measures that would be taken. Additionally, if an employee is directed to quarantine, the employer shall provide financial compensation during the time period and attendance policies should be suspended.
- This bill creates a COVID-19 Crisis Fire and EMS grant program to provide a one-time grant to each fire and EMS company. The grants will be funded by a one-time transfer of $30 million from the Volunteer Companies Loan Fund.
Additionally, letters went out to the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania regarding complaints our caucus has received about there not being enough personal protective equipment (PPE) to combat the coronavirus for all healthcare workers and not just doctors and nurses. Many hospitals are rationing such things as masks, gloves and hand sanitizer and not distributing these vital supplies to individuals like technicians and service workers stating they do not engage in direct patient care. Everyone who is in a hospital are even more at risk than those who are in their own homes. This is unacceptable to say some workers are more worthy of protective gear than others.
The Senate Democratic Caucus also sent letters to the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association asking the same protective equipment be given to their employees as well, as they too are coming in contact with potential COVID-19 carriers. If these employees are expected to provide life-sustaining services to the public, then restaurant employees should be provided with vital personal protections.
As we are reminded by the news and doctors daily, this pandemic is expected to get worse before it gets better. It is believed that the state of Pennsylvania has not even reached the peak of the virus yet. Therefore, it is imperative our commonwealth places pressure and demands the industries that are still opening and operating take the best care of these front-line employees and at the minimum, grant them personal protective equipment. After all, this is the least we can do for those who have allowed us a small amount of normalcy during these uncertain times.
Statewide Stay-at-Home Order & Mask Recommendation
On April 1, Governor Wolf extended his previous stay-at-home order to all 67 Pennsylvania counties through April 30. All Pennsylvania schools will remain closed until further notice and non-life-sustaining business closures remain in effect. All essential state services will continue.
Individuals may leave their residence only to perform any of the following allowable individual activities and allowable essential travel:
- Tasks essential to maintain health and safety, or the health and safety of their family or household members (including pets), such as obtaining medicine or medical supplies, visiting a health care professional, or obtaining supplies they need to work from home
- Getting necessary services or supplies for themselves, for their family or household members, or as part of volunteer efforts, or to deliver those services or supplies to others to maintain the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences
- Engaging in outdoor activity, such as walking, hiking or running if they maintain social distancing
- To perform work providing essential products and services at a life-sustaining business
- To care for a family member or pet in another household
- Any travel related to the provision of or access to the above-mentioned individual activities or life-sustaining business activities
- Travel to care for elderly, minors, dependents, persons with disabilities, or other vulnerable persons
- Travel to or from educational institutions for purposes of receiving materials for distance learning, for receiving meals, and any other related services
- Travel to return to a place of residence from an outside jurisdiction
- Travel required by law enforcement or court order
- Travel required for non-residents to return to their place of residence outside the commonwealth
- Anyone performing life-sustaining travel does not need paperwork to prove the reason for travel.
The following operations are exempt:
- Life-sustaining business activities
- Health care or medical services providers
- Access to life-sustaining services for low-income residents, including food banks
- Access to child care services for employees of life-sustaining businesses that remain open as follows: child care facilities operating under the Department of Human Services, Office of Child Development and Early Learning waiver process; group and family child care operating in a residence; and part-day school age programs operating under an exemption from the March 19, 2020 business closure Orders
- News media
- Law enforcement, emergency medical services personnel, firefighters
- The federal government
- Religious institutions
Individuals experiencing homelessness are not subject to this order but are strongly urged to find shelter and government agencies are urged to take steps needed to provide shelter for those individuals.
International students, foster youth, and any other students who would otherwise experience displacement or homelessness as a result of campus closures are exempt and may remain in campus housing.
The Department of Education will be providing updated guidance and resources on the continuity of education for students to schools in the coming days.
At this time, law enforcement will be focused on ensuring that residents are aware of the order and informing the public of social distancing practices rather than enforcement. To report a noncompliant business, contact your local law enforcement agency’s non-emergency number or the nearest Pennsylvania State Police station. Please do not call 911 or the Department of Community and Economic Development to file reports. Law enforcement officers should refer to Business Closure Order Enforcement Guidance available online.
For the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 please visit https://www.pa.gov/guides/responding-to-covid-19/.
The governor also announced late last week that he was recommending, not requiring, that anyone who must leave their home, wear a mask. The Governor and Secretary of Health urge everyone to reserve N-95 and paper masks for healthcare workers. They are recommending the use of a cloth or homemade mask and directions for making your own are available at www.health.pa.gov or by clicking here. Universal masking is expected to be recommended by the CDC in the near future and it is important to do all we can to slow the spread of COVID-19.
New Resource for Manufacturers to Produce COVID-19-Related Supplies
The PA Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) has created the Pennsylvania Manufacturing Call to Action Portal, which will mobilize manufacturers that are producing COVID-19-related products and supplies or can pivot to producing COVID-19-related supplies.
The portal was developed through a joint effort between DCED, the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association, the Pennsylvania Chemical Industry Council, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, IRC Network, Life Sciences PA, Pennsylvania Life Sciences Greenhouses, and the PA Chamber of Business and Industry.
Last week, Governor Wolf announced the creation of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Critical Medical Supplies Portal to source the most needed supplies for medical providers, emergency responders, and health care professionals. The Pennsylvania Manufacturing Call to Action Portal builds on those efforts to help manufacturers produce COVID-19-related supplies or retool their operations to begin creation of those supplies.
The Pennsylvania Manufacturing Call to Action Portal will help facilitate business connections for expansion of supply chain capacity and manufacturing innovation. The goal is to match manufacturers and distributors to fill specific supply chain needs to meet increasing demands for medical supplies and related products, assist manufacturers that have workforce needs or gaps and aid them in identifying skilled workers, and identify manufacturers that can pivot or innovate to fulfill the demand for medical supplies and related products.
Pennsylvania’s manufacturers, distributors, and other suppliers should visit the portal to report their critical supply chain capabilities, needs, or workforce gaps or innovative opportunities, which will help DCED staff identify opportunities and solutions.
Questions can be directed to RA-DCEDPAMCTAP@pa.gov
Small Business Paycheck Protection Program
The SBA's Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) is a loan designed to provide a direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll. The SBA will forgive loans if all employees are kept on the payroll for eight weeks and the money is used for payroll, rent, mortgage interest or utilities. Eligible business include those with less than 500 employees (including sole proprietorships, independent contractors and self-employed persons), private non-profit organization or 501(c)(19) veterans organizations affected by COVID-19. The PPP will be available through June 20, 2020.
Applications can be submitted through any existing SBA 7(a) lender or through any federally insured depository institution, federally insured credit union, and Farm Credit System institution that is participating.
Click here for more information and to apply.
New Primary Election Date, Mail-in Ballots
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, I want to remind everyone that Act 12 of 2020 changed the date of the Primary Election in Pennsylvania from April 28 to June 2. I also want to encourage voters to consider applying for a new Mail-in ballot.
Act 77 created mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania beginning with the 2020 Primary Election. Unlike the current absentee ballot application, mail-in ballots can be requested by any voter with no excuse required.
The current absentee ballot process remains in place, where voters can request an absentee ballot if they are sick, disabled, or going to be out of their municipality on Election Day. However, anyone can request a new mail-in ballot. Additionally, voters can also request an annual mail-in ballot. If a voter indicates on the mail-in ballot application that they would like to be added to the annual mail-in ballot request list, they will receive an application to renew their request for a mail-in ballot each year. Once the application is approved, the voter will automatically receive ballots for the remainder of the year, and they do not need to submit an application for each election.
Applications can be downloaded at www.votespa.com. Voters can also submit an application on the site.
The new deadline to apply for Mail-in ballots is May 26. Applications must be received by the Allegheny County Elections Division by 5 p.m. The deadline to return completed Mail-in ballots is 8 p.m. on Election night, June. 2.
I also want to remind everyone that the deadline to register to vote, or make changes to a voter registration is May 18. Anyone wishing to register or make changes can do so at www.votespa.com.
Did You Know…
Did you know that as of March 12, more than 22,000 voters had requested a Mail-in ballot for the Primary Election while more than 40,000 had requested an Absentee ballot?
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is warning all Pennsylvanians that scammers are trying to take advantage of the historic rise in unemployment across the Commonwealth by using fake unemployment filing websites in order to steal personal information or to harvest the data to sell to others for uses not properly disclosed to the user.
The Attorney General urges Pennsylvanians to stay away from websites purporting to help people file unemployment compensation claims. Information contained on these websites may be outdated, inaccurate and/or incomplete. Moreover, these websites solicit information not needed for the filing of an unemployment claim such as information about your mortgage or credit company. These websites may use your personal data for other purposes, including, but not be limited to, selling, licensing or sharing your information with third-parties for various marketing purposes, such as telemarketing, e-mail marketing, text messaging, and direct mail.
In Pennsylvania, unemployment claims can only be filed with the Department of Labor & Industry at www.uc.pa.gov. There are many tools and FAQs on the website to assist applicants with questions about the COVID-19 emergency. No other website that requests personal information, provides instruction on how to file, and/or provides an opportunity to “file an unemployment claim” is necessary or part of filing an unemployment claim.
Consumers can sign up for text scam alerts at https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/consumer-alerts/, which offer tips for consumers to avoid becoming a victim of a scam, warn about new scams or update subscribers on consumer protection issues. Pennsylvanians can also file a complaint about an active or potential scam by visiting https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/submit-a-complaint/scams-complaint/.
Local Government FAQ’s
The Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED) has created a Frequently Asked Questions page on its website for local governments. This page offers guidance to local governments on many issues related to operating during this pandemic. I encourage municipal leaders and elected officials to utilize this resource. The page can be viewed by visiting www.dced.pa.gov or by clicking here.
Reactivation for additional retirees: Temporary waivers cover more professions
The Pennsylvania Department of State was granted the authority to temporarily waive regulations and costs for reactivation of an inactive license for additional professions and licensing boards. The Department of State and the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs (BPOA) previously obtained approval from the governor to allow retired practitioners to re-enter the field more easily and without paying reactivation fees.
This latest temporary waiver adds the following boards and licensing types:
- Behavior Specialists (State Board of Medicine)
- Dentists (expired 5 years or less)
- Dental Hygienists (expired 5 years or less)
- Expanded Function Dental Assistants (expired 5 years or less)
- Funeral Directors
- Nursing Home Administrators
- Practical Nurses (LPNs)
- Social Workers
- Clinical Social Workers
- Marriage and Family Therapists
- Professional Counselors
- Veterinarians (expired 5 years or less)
- Certified Veterinary Technicians (expired 5 years or less)
The Department also received approval to waive any reactivation prerequisites that are “administrative” in nature. For example, the Department has received approval to waive the requirement that psychologists seeking reactivation provide a notarized affidavit that they did not practice psychology while their license was inactive or expired. Similar affidavit requirements have been waived for dentists, dental hygienists, nursing home administrators, as have waivers for those professions ordinarily required them to provide proof of current CPR certification.
A number of practitioners have already been granted similar waivers for reactivation. Those prior waivers were for: Nurse-Midwives and certain practitioners under the State Boards of Medicine (Medical Doctors, Physician Assistants, Respiratory Therapists and Perfusionists) and Osteopathic Medicine (Osteopathic Doctors, Physician Assistants, Respiratory Therapists, Perfusionists), as well as Registered Nurses, Clinical Nurse Specialists, Certified Registered Nurse Practitioners, and Pharmacists.
Applications for reactivation a license should be filed with the applicable licensing board. Please visit www.pals.pa.gov.
LCB Online Sales
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (LCB) has resumed limited sales from www.FineWineAndGoodSpirits.com, accepting a controlled number of orders per day with plans to increase order capacity as fulfillment capacity increases.
Customers will be limited to purchasing up to six bottles per transaction from a reduced catalogue of about 1,000 top-selling wines and spirits. All orders must be shipped to home or non-store addresses, and only one order per address will be fulfilled per day.
Access to www.FineWineAndGoodSpirits.com will be randomized to avoid overwhelming the site with high traffic, prevent order abuse and prolong access throughout the day, so that order availability isn’t exhausted in seconds or minutes each day.
The PLCB will be fulfilling orders from various facilities and is implementing public health best practices like facility sanitation, social distancing, and limiting the numbers of employees working in any facility at a time in an effort to protect its employees. As order fulfillment capacity increases, the PLCB will consider increasing the number of orders it takes each day.
The PLCB is not considering reopening stores at this time, although the agency continues to monitor the situation in consultation with the Wolf Administration and public health officials.
Food Distribution Event for Veterans
Nearly 26 percent on Pennsylvania households receiving food assistance have at least one person who has served or is currently serving in the military. MilitaryShare, a program of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, is designed to provide nutritious foods for veterans and military families.
The Food Bank in conjunction with the Veterans Leadership Program, is hosting a MilitaryShare food distribution event for veterans and military families in need of food on Monday, April 13 from noon – 5 p.m. The distribution event is being held at the Veterans Leadership Program, located at 2934 Smallman Street in the Strip District. Registration will take place on site, at the event.
Each eligible and registered family will receive items such as fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy items and pantry staples based on the Food Bank’s available inventory. The Emergency Food Assistance Program is operated in accordance with United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) policy, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, age or disability. Eligibility is based on the income guidelines listed below:
*Per additional person, add $6,630/year or $553/month
For more information, please call the Veterans Leadership Program at 412-481-8200.
While the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh branches remains closed to the public, they are still able to offer various services and resources remotely. They are actively assisting the public with library card registration, eResources and general questions. The Library continues to offer storytimes, book clubs and streaming and download services and are continuing to provide services for job seekers and small business owners. They have also launched the Stay In and Read reading challenge to encourage reading alone together!
The Library is monitoring their library information line at 412-622-3114 and email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) on a daily basis. A virtual chat option is also available from 10 am – 5 pm daily at www.carnegielibrary.org.
I also encourage anyone in Allegheny County that utilizes resources at neighborhood libraries outside of the Carnegie Library system to stay connected with local libraries remotely. The Allegheny County Library Association has created a page on their website where customers can search for, and contact their local library. Please click here to get started.
During these difficult days, while we practice social distancing in an effort to slow and ultimately stop the spread of COVID-19, there are many individuals in our neighborhoods across the country who continue to work on the front lines, providing life essential services. Health care professionals, first responders, police, firefighters, grocery and pharmacy workers among others continue to work in a dangerous environment. I want to thank these workers for all they are doing and encourage everyone to express your gratitude from a safe distance, when encountering these individuals.
As we have seen over the last several weeks, even those who are not on the front lines, are making contributions for the betterment of us all. We have heard and seen stories of people sewing needed masks, making monetary donations, donating blood, checking on elderly residents, delivering food. Businesses and other organizations are stepping up to donate supplies and money to help those in need.
It is important during this time we hear of the positive contributions so many of our citizens continue to make. I would like to highlight these efforts in this space. I encourage everyone out there to share stories of these selfless and heroic acts that are taking place in our neighborhoods. Please email me at email@example.com so I can share these stories with everyone.
A few businesses/organizations I’d like to highlight this week include:
MSA Safety, Inc. recently donated 65,000 N95 protective masks to our region’s medical community.
Eatn'Park Restaurants teamed with PNC Foundation to create the Students and Families Food Relief Fund. It will be used to provide more than 250,000 meals for families in need.
Knotzland, Protohaven, KerfCase, Firecracker Fabrics, Cut & Sew Studio, and Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse have established www.maskmakerspgh.org where people can make and send homemade masks to be used by healthcare providers where masks are not available.
The Downtown CDC reported that Martina Hanoglu, owner of Giovanni's Pizza & Pasta in downtown Pittsburgh is providing customers with a pair of gloves and a homemade, reusable, washable mask. Her employees also wear the gloves and a mask.
Wigle Whiskey, a local, family-owned business is beginning to produce hand sanitizer and will be donating the product to the Pittsburgh Public Safety Department for distribution to the city’s first responders, healthcare organizations and high-risk groups.
More than 77 percent of people in the U.S. experience stress that affects their physical health and 73 percent have stress that impacts their mental health. With April being National Stress Awareness Month and as we deal with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it is important to know there are many resources available to help people cope with stress. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is one organization that can help with improving mental health. Please visit https://www.nami.org/ to learn more.
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
| Beechview Satellite
1660 Broadway Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15216