Gov. Wolf pushes for $2,000 direct payments, without plan to bring GOP to the table

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks at a Capitol news conference

File photo: Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf speaks at a Capitol news conference Monday, July 11, 2022, in Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Marc Levy)

This story originally appeared on WESA.

Barbara Williams’ daughter died 19 years ago, leaving a 2-year-old granddaughter to care for. She moved from Homewood to Sharpsburg soon after, and she “had to learn to adjust.” But then her husband passed away. And she became confined to her wheelchair and couldn’t work.

She went into debt. “I just felt like I couldn’t get another job because we want to hire somebody in a wheelchair?”

Then she got involved in a program called Roots of Faith in Sharpsburg, a Methodist organization that she said helped her get out of debt and get job training.

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She lives off of Social Security and said even with a part-time job that she hopes will come through soon, she couldn’t make ends meet.

Kathleen Stanley, the outreach director of Roots of Faith, said its anti-poverty campaign has boosted the income of its 14 graduates last year. That’s one part of a larger effort, she said, that has cut poverty from 30% to 23% in Sharpsburg. But now, she said, inflation has cut into those gains.

Williams said a program from the state of Pennsylvania, the PA Opportunity Program, would help her get above water. It would send every Pennsylvania resident who makes less than $80,000 per year a $2,000 check.

“The program…will help because living on Social Security from month-to-month, that money is gone before the month is gone,” she said.

Williams spoke at a press conference in Sharpsburg Monday where Gov. Tom Wolf said he wouldn’t offer any additional concessions to Republicans to get them back to the table. Wolf proposed this program for the first time in February, but it didn’t win enough support to pass through budget negotiations this summer.

“I think sometimes in politics, persistence makes a difference,” Wolf said. “And if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

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One difference this time, Wolf said, is that Republicans argued previously that it wasn’t the state’s prerogative to give out federal COVID-relief funds. But now, Wolf said, there is more than enough money in the state’s own coffers to fund the $500 million program for more than 250,000 state residents.

Jason Gottesman, the press secretary for the Republican House Speaker, Rep. Bryan Cutler, criticized the proposal in an emailed statement because of its potential impact on inflation.

“While Gov. Wolf and his legislative allies spent the entire spring and budget negotiations working to put forward policies that would only exacerbate the record-breaking inflation that has driven up costs on even the most basic necessities and crushed real wage growth, Republicans were advancing a significant inflation-fighting economic agenda,” he said.

In February, the inflation level in the United States was at 7.9%. But some economists argued that it could prove temporary because of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine. Instead, inflation continued to increase.

The $500 million cost of the program is such a small fraction of the state’s more than $700 billion economy, Wolf said, that he didn’t think this new program would cause any additional inflation.

Rep. Sara Innamorato argued that the increase in inflation was the very reason that these $2,000 payments were needed.

“More and more, we are hearing from working people who are just trying to make ends meet in the face of a COVID-19 recovery, rising inflation on basic goods, and–despite fancy titles–jobs that don’t actually pay a living wage compared to actual expenses it takes to just survive,” she said.

Wolf said he didn’t have any new ideas or incentives to win Republican support. “I’m not sure this deserves negotiation,” he said.

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