Pa. lawmakers approve $50 million in emergency coronavirus funding for needed medical supplies

The House and Senate passed several emergency measures Wednesday, with many lawmakers participating remotely.

  • By Gillian McGoldrick of LNP | LancasterOnline

This story was produced as part of a joint effort among Spotlight PA, LNP Media Group, PennLive, PA Post, and WITF to cover how Pennsylvania state government is responding to the coronavirus.

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania lawmakers approved $50 million in state funding Wednesday to purchase medical equipment and supplies for hospitals, nursing homes, and emergency workers, though it’s unclear how quickly it can get some of the most in-demand items.

Health systems and nursing homes across the state are pleading for supplies, in particular N95 masks and ventilators, as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to rise exponentially. The situation is expected to deteriorate in the coming weeks.

The legislation now goes to Gov. Tom Wolf. If signed into law, the administration will have the discretion to appropriate the funds and supplies directly to health care systems.

“Fifty million [dollars] is a pretty good start, but depending on how long this emergency lasts, and to what level it gets to, there may be need for future assistance,” Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre) said after the vote.

Wolf has not requested any other emergency funding for the near future, Corman said. But that could change as the pandemic continues to develop across the state.

“As I’ve been saying, this is where we are at 4:37 p.m. on Wednesday,” Corman said. “At 5:15 Wednesday, it might be a whole different place.”

The Senate approved the bill during its first-ever remote session, with about 40 lawmakers participating through video software, Corman said. The head of the Senate, Joe Scarnati, said that the upper chamber was transformed into a “Zoom Room.”

Both the House and Senate considered emergency measures, such as moving the state’s primary from April 28 to June 2 and making emergency changes to the state’s unemployment compensation law. All passed.

The proceedings of the Rules Committee, which are usually not seen by the public, were also broadcast from the chamber.

The House held its first remote session Tuesday, with members who aren’t in leadership allowed to vote by text or email. Still, approximately one third of members came to the Capitol.

House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said other state legislatures have reached out to Pennsylvania seeking guidance on how they can enact similar temporary rules to find “a way to continue to function in these troubling times.”

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