Pa. coronavirus recovery: Masks mandatory in public spaces

Effective immediately, Pennsylvanians statewide must wear a mask every time they leave the house.

(Yong Kim/Philadelphia Inquirer)

(Yong Kim/Philadelphia Inquirer)

Updated 4:05 p.m.

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On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported 87,242 coronavirus cases since the coronavirus pandemic began, and 6,687 deaths.

As of Wednesday, Philadelphia’s Department of Public Health has reported 26,257 cases and 1,609 deaths.

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Wolf expands mask mandate; must be worn every time you leave the house 

Following Philly’s mask order from a few days ago, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine signed an order Wednesday expanding the mask-wearing directive beyond just inside businesses.

Effective immediately, Pennsylvanians statewide must wear a mask every time they leave the house and when social distancing isn’t possible.

“This mask-wearing order is essential to stopping the recent increase in COVID-19 cases we have seen in Pennsylvania,” Wolf said. “Those hot spots can be traced to situations where Pennsylvanians were not wearing masks or practicing social distancing – two practices that must be adhered to if we want to maintain the freedoms we have in place under our reopening.”

There are limited exceptions to the order, such as people who cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition including those with respiratory problems or other health issues; children under the age of two years old; people who cannot remove a mask without assistance; and people for which the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication.

The order will be sent to local officials and law enforcement and others will be tasked with educating the public about the order.

Pennsylvania sounds the alarm about $600 COVID-19 payments running out

Federal unemployment assistance payments that help many out-of-work Pennsylvanians get by will end at the end of this month, warned state officials on Wednesday.

Without a new stimulus package, the $600-a-week payments created through the federal CARES Act added will run out on July 25. These payments are currently added automatically on top of state-issued unemployment benefits, which max out at $573 per week.

Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry secretary Jerry Oleksiak said Pennsylvania would like to see them stay. “Anything that the federal government can do to help the citizens of America, and particularly Pennsylvania, get through this crisis will be welcomed,” he said.

The extra $600 payments were intended to keep people home during the pandemic, keep households afloat, and lubricate the economy as the country’s unemployment rate hit its highest point since the Great Depression. Workers say the additional funds have helped keep their heads above water, while some employers complain it is incentivizing their employees to stay home.

On average, unemployment compensation covers only around 41% of a person’s previous income, according to the Brookings Institution. However, about half of all Americans earn wages so low that they stand to make more on this enhanced unemployment, per an analysis by the Wall Street Journal.

Democrats in Congress support keeping the payments, but some Republicans have said they would prefer to eliminate them, or replace them with a bonus for returning to work.

Congress will not meet again until the second half of July.

In the event that more federal support doesn’t materialize, state officials urged Pennsylvanians to apply for other forms of assistance, such as Medicaid and SNAP, or food assistance payments.

“I just want Pennsylvanians to know no matter what happens at the federal level, they don’t have to weather this time alone,” said Secretary Teresa Miller of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services. The applications for those forms of assistance can be found here.

Made In America festival canceled, rescheduled for 2021 

As the Mann Center, the Roots Picnic, Firefly Festival and many others canceled their outdoor summer concerts — Jay-Z’s annual Labor Day Weekend music festival along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway has been canceled and rescheduled for 2021.

“Now is the time to protect the health of our artists, fans, partners and community as well as focus on our support for organizations and individuals fighting for social justice and equality in our country,” a statement from festival organizers reads.

Hold on to your tickets, organizers say, as they’ll be valid for next year. If you would prefer a refund, an email will be sent from the festival where you can request one.

Festival organizers will release more information as it becomes available via the Made in America website and on social media.

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The festival has been held every Labor Day weekend in the Art Museum area since 2012.

Philly sets sights on COVID-19 scammers

A global pandemic isn’t stopping scammers from trying to swindle people of their hard-earned money. Federal regulators say predators are even adapting their schemes to the times, falsely advertising cures to COVID-19 or targeting businesses waiting for coronavirus-related funds.

“We know that when consumers fall victim to fraudulent schemes, it not only hurts them, but it drains wealth from our communities and our overall economy, as residents are often forced to turn to social services for assistance,” said Mayor Jim Kenney.

On Wednesday, Philadelphia announced it would begin planning a local consumer financial protection effort with support from the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The effort would help protect Philadelphians from such scams.

The city will receive a nine-month technical assistance engagement partnership from the groups, as well as $10,000 to identify critical consumer issues in the city and survey the legal landscape which will inform the agency’s creation.

Mitchell Little, executive director of the Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity in Philadelphia, said as the nation confronts disparities in economic mobility and racial equity, it’s important to note who is often the target of scams.

“Historically, communities of color have been the focal point of many of these fraudulent and predatory schemes, which has contributed to the wealth gap,” Little said.

The Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund and the Annie E. Casey Foundation picked Philadelphia alongside cities such as St. Paul, Minnesota and Detroit, Michigan for the program.

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300K Pa. residents received early rebates 

Many Pennsylvanians enrolled in the state’s Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program — which supports older homeowners, renters and people with disabilities — received their rebates early this year.

$162 million in payments were distributed a month and a half ahead of the usual start date, according to Pennsylvania Treasurer Joe Torsella.

Under state law, July 1 is typically the earliest day that rebates can be issued — but through a collaborative effort between the Department of Revenue and the Treasury Department — more than 310,000 Pennsylvanians were able to get their check before then.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed a bill in May that allowed rebates on property taxes or rent paid in 2019 to be issued earlier than normal to provide financial support to state residents during the pandemic.

“These rebates on property taxes and rent have added importance this year, because they have provided support to our older and vulnerable residents at a time when they may need it most,” Wolf said.

Torsella said the Treasury Department will continue to work closely with the Wolf administration to process rebate payments to those enrolled in the Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program as quickly as possible.

For people who are eligible and have yet to file their rebate program application, claimants are encouraged to call 717-772-9236 for guidance.

The Department of Revenue website has the Property Tax/Rent Rebate claim form and more information.

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