Cartwright holds COVID relief town hall

By OWEN WALSH
Posted 2/25/21

EIGHTH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT — Last week, Northeast Pennsylvania’s Rep. Matt Cartwright held a virtual town hall to address COVID-19 recovery, both from the virus’s health effects …

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Cartwright holds COVID relief town hall

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EIGHTH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT — Last week, Northeast Pennsylvania’s Rep. Matt Cartwright held a virtual town hall to address COVID-19 recovery, both from the virus’s health effects and economic impact. Cartwright was joined by Keara Klinepeter, executive deputy secretary of the PA Department of Health, to take questions regarding the COVID-19 vaccine, and Small Business Association (SBA) deputy director Michael Kane and Eastern PA District Officer Director Steven Dixel to take questions on COVID-19 relief available to small businesses.

If you missed the town hall, below is a summary of the questions and answers discussed:

I’m a caretaker who falls into the 1a category for the COVID-19 vaccine, as does my care recipient. I’ve tried registering with my local hospital/pharmacy, but we both have yet to be vaccinated. What am I doing wrong?

Klinepeter said that the approach this resident has taken so far “makes good sense.” She encouraged her to go onto the Department of Health’s website and take the “Your Turn” quiz. Upon answering some questions about age, occupation and other demographic information, the website informs users whether or not they are eligible to receive the vaccine. If eligible, residents will be provided a map of all the available vaccine providers in their area. People can also call 877/PA-HEALTH to take the quiz over the phone.

Cartwright interjected and said that it sounded like the caller and her care recipient were both clearly in the 1a group and that they’ve already contacted their vaccine local distributor. He said he’s heard from many of his constituents that they qualify but aren’t having any luck booking appointments.Unfortunately, it’s a problem of supply, Klinepeter said.

“In a given week, we as an entire state get roughly 175,000 first doses [of the vaccine]; there’s over 13 million people who live in the commonwealth, and so there is this disconnect between the demand for the vaccine and the supply that’s available.”

The Department of Health is continuously advocating for a larger allocation of the vaccine for the commonwealth. Until that happens, Klinepeter said that residents need to remain patient. Cartwright noted that he expects the American Rescue Plan to pass the House—it may have already by the time this edition goes to print—and will include $160 billion for the national vaccination plan, arranging for the purchase of 200 million doses of the vaccine.

Is there going to be aid available to businesses that were either too new or too small to help in the first relief package?

Kane said that in order to qualify for emergency programs like the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) or the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), a business needs to have been started by February 15, 2020. He said that any sole proprietor, no matter how small their business, would be able to apply for both programs, as long as they have been in business since before that date.

Cartwright added that sole proprietors should know that they can qualify for unemployment compensation, which hasn’t always been the case.

Why are our neighboring states outperforming us with vaccine rollout? Are there any plans for mass vaccination sites using the National Guard?

Klinepeter said that 77 percent of the first doses allocated to Pennsylvania have been administered, while 35 percent of the second doses have been administered.

“That number might be a little lower than we would like at this point, due actually to some inclement weather incidents that we’ve had,” she said.

Klinepeter said that the idea of mass vaccinations was a good idea. However, currently the Health Department’s approach is to narrow the list of vaccine providers to “ensure that the vaccine is going to those providers who can do the greatest volume as fast as possible.”

Klinepeter said that the state needs to focus on getting vaccines administered as quickly as possible, “to move toward herd immunity” and “beat the variants” of the virus.

“We just don’t have the vaccine supply to vaccinate that many people, right now, that quickly [at a mass vaccination site] although that’s absolutely the goal,” she said. “Instead, we’re looking at where we can stand up these community vaccination sites to move people through quickly... but to ensure that we’re strategically placing those sites in areas where otherwise they may not have access to the vaccine.”

The department “doubled down” on this approach recently by ordering providers to use 80 percent of the first dosages within seven days of receiving a shipment.

Klinepeter also noted that such a community vaccination site was recently held in Pike County, which she called very successful, getting out about 1,000 first doses of the vaccine. She said the Pike County site is being used as a model for future efforts.

I have a sole proprietorship, I received a PPP loan and EIDL advance, I applied for forgiveness, I was approved—but I’m not sure how much is forgivable and how much I have to pay back.

Kane said that as part of the economic aid act passed at the end of December 2020, the “EIDL advance deduction,” was repealed. Prior to this, any money received through the EIDL advance grant would be deducted from the forgiveness on a PPP loan that a business also received. Now that Congress repealed this stipulation, PPP recipients can have their loans fully forgiven. Cartwright also noted that Congress has also loosened up the list of accessible uses for PPP money, giving businesses more flexibility in spending the funding they receive.

It seems unfair that workers who were laid off during the pandemic are receiving more money through unemployment than they made from their original job, while essential workers have had to remain “in the trenches.” Can essential workers expect hazard pay coming their way?

The congressman took this question himself, adding that he’d been “dreading it.” He said that providing unemployment to those the pandemic put out of work was the right move, however, he agreed it created inequity for those who continued to work and put themselves in harm’s way.

Cartwright proposed a bill last year that would provide $13 extra per hour for all frontline workers. He said his proposal was added to a larger package called the Heroes Act which passed in May 2020. However, the bill didn’t make it through the Republican-controlled Senate, nor did the second, slimmer iteration of the Heroes Act which cut out Cartwright’s proposal in order to make it cheaper.

“I was the leader in the House of trying to arrive at a solution [for hazard pay],” Cartwright told the caller. “But politics got in the way, and it didn’t happen.”

The full recording of the virtual town hall can be heard on the Congressman Matt Cartwright Facebook page.

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