Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s response to the coronavirus has been wrong from the beginning.
The knee-jerk reaction of most politicians to what they deem to be a “crisis” is to limit freedom and expand government control.
Wolf is no different, and so that’s exactly what he did. He divided Pennsylvania businesses into life-sustaining and non-life-sustaining categories, categories that had never existed before, and then issued an executive order, without precedent in Pennsylvania history, closing the physical operations of all non-life sustaining businesses.
That decision has had catastrophic consequences to Pennsylvania’s businesses, the economy and the lives of millions.
More than a million Pennsylvanians have filed for unemployment compensation since Wolf issued his order. That is nearly one sixth of Pennsylvania’s civilian workforce.
The state agency that administers the program is overwhelmed and cannot process the claims on a timely basis or even respond to questions. The agency’s telephone number leads to an eternal busy signal. Email them and they’ll get back to you in thirteen days! The backlog in approving claims is so big that Wolf had to apologize.
Clearly, Wolf was unprepared for the obvious results of his own order. And this lack of preparedness hurts. Because so many Pennsylvanians live paycheck to paycheck, the delay in processing these claims could have disastrous consequences to them.
And those one million laid-off workers have been thrown into an economy that is about to get much worse.
Janet Yellen, former President Obama’s Chair of the Federal Reserve, on Monday warned Americans that the U.S. economy is in the throes of an “absolutely shocking” downturn in which unemployment could hit 13 percent and higher and the economy could suffer a 30 percent contraction in the second quarter.
“This is a huge, unprecedented, devastating hit,” she explained.
If Yellen’s prediction is true, we are about to go through the largest quarterly contraction since the Great Depression. Yet this economic catastrophe is not the result of the exuberance of capitalism; it is the direct result of Wolf’s and other governors’ business closure and stay-at-home orders. Many business owners are fighting back.
I filed a lawsuit requesting the Pennsylvania Supreme Court strike down Wolf’s order as beyond his statutory authority and violative of the constitution. Wolf responded that he has the authority to shut down every single business in Pennsylvania under the Emergency Management Services Code.
We disagree. But let’s assume he’s right. If he has this power, then where’s his plan to exercise it?
The Code created the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the PEMA Council, which comprises the governor, the lieutenant governor and the attorney general, among others, and the leadership of the General Assembly; and the Code required PEMA and the Council to develop a plan to combat “disasters.”
Yet the General Assembly seems to be as surprised as the rest of Pennsylvania by the governor’s actions in response to the coronavirus.
It obvious that neither PEMA, its Council nor the governor had a plan to combat viral illnesses, let alone one that calls for categorizing businesses into life-sustaining and non-life-sustaining, and shutting those down and establishing a waiver process for businesses to request permission to reopen.
Wolf just made it all up on the fly by mimicking the actions taken by other governors. If you don’t believe me, ask the governor to produce a written copy of his plan, dated prior to his March 6 disaster proclamation, that includes the actions he’s taken.
Businesses have roundly condemned Wolf’s actions as arbitrary, capricious and confusing.
For example, Wolf initially shut down my timber company client that harvests pulp wood needed to make tissues and paper towels, which help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, only to realize his mistake and change his mind hours later.
He declared that beer distributorships and candy shops are life-sustaining, while he shut down real estate agencies; even though the federal agency he claims he’s maintaining consistency with deems real estate services to be essential.
Wolf granted his former company, the Wolf Company/Wolf Home Products, a waiver, then when the media discovered the business was still open, he rescinded it.
Wolf has granted over 7,000 waivers. So it appears those businesses were life-sustaining after all. Wolf’s waiver process has a backlog of tens of thousands; it was so overwhelmed he simply closed it down for new waivers with almost no advance notice. Was that in his plan?
Since Wolf clearly had no plan to combat the spread of the coronavirus, and since his ad hoc approach may be plummeting Pennsylvania into a depression, I will suggest one.
The governor should immediately order that all Pennsylvania businesses be reopened provided they can and do incorporate coronavirus prevention and mitigation protocol into their operations.
With Pennsylvania’s businesses back up and running and its workers back to work, Wolf can then spend his time and focus his efforts on doing what he actually has the power to do: testing, quarantining or isolating individuals who are infected or suspected to be infected with COVID-19.
That more focused and direct approach will save our economy and help prevent the spread of the virus. Now that’s a plan.
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