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Congress eyes $2T package as York County businesses struggle with shutdown

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey said Wednesday that Americans could receive financial relief checks by the first or second week in April if Congress passes the economic stimulus package being debated in the Senate.

The bill aims to stave off an economic crisis in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic by flooding the market, and the citizenry, with cash, as well as increasing unemployment compensation for those who are out of work.

"We recognize that the unemployment system is going to take a little while to catch up to this change in the law, and in the meantime, people have bills to pay," said Toomey, R-Pa.

The bill provides for a one-time $1,200 cash payment to Americans who make less than $75,000 a year, plus $500 per child per family.

Those payments would likely be delivered to people's bank accounts via wire transfer, Toomey said.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said Wednesday it was a “huge disappointment” that there's no language in the bill providing aid for mortgage, rent and student loan payments.

But Casey said the bill under consideration is still an improvement over what was voted down in the Senate over the weekend.

“(The Republicans’ proposal) wasn’t nearly as strong as the bill we’re going to be voting on,” he said. “And that’s because of the work of Senate Democrats. It’s as simple as that."

The Senate had yet to vote on the bill as of 5 p.m. Wednesday, after a few Republican senators signaled they might not support the legislation over concerns that higher unemployment compensation for workers could encourage layoffs.

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It's been a tough week for workers and business owners in Pennsylvania.

The state economy has all but shut down under orders from Gov. Tom Wolf, who mandated that all "non-life-sustaining" businesses had to cease operating at their physical locations beginning Monday in an effort to enforce social distancing and slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Pennsylvanians have filed more than 400,000 unemployment claims in the past week, according to The Associated Press, the highest number in at least a decade.

The Senate bill would provide small businesses with loans that would be forgiven if the funds were used to make payroll and pay for other costs directly tied to keeping the business open and maintaining staff, Toomey said.

There would also be about $5 billion sent to Pennsylvania to fund efforts to respond to the coronavirus, he said.

Kevin Schreiber, president and CEO of the York County Economic Alliance, said his immediate reaction after learning about the Senate bill was gratitude that the government is moving swiftly to address the economic crisis looming behind the pandemic crisis.

"I think what remains to be seen is just how quickly these dollars will get out into the street, and how they are deployed," Schreiber said.

At the local level, Schreiber and the YCEA are doing their part with PreparedYork.com, an online clearinghouse of information and resources for individuals, business owners and the wider community coping with the fallout of the coronavirus response.

As of Tuesday evening, the website had about 3,500 unique visitors from 35 states, including Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Jersey, Maryland and California.

The economic shutdown is already taking a toll on local businesses in York County.

Brandon Mueller, owner of Ace of Vapes, is shown outside the vaping supply company in Springettsbury Township, Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Brandon Mueller is the owner of Ace of Vapes, a vaping supply company with two stores in York County and other stores in Lancaster, Dauphin and Cumberland counties, as well as eSnaxx, a vaping juice manufacturing company in York County.

Mueller has 28 employees who are out of work right now, but before the shutdown order from the governor, he said business was booming.

"The week leading up to the ban … our sales numbers were just, they were unreal," he said. "It was Black Friday every day."

Mueller is still paying all of his employees and said he has no intention of shutting down, but he admitted it's impossible to know what the future holds with all of the uncertainty in the economy.

He applied for waivers with the state government to keep each of his store locations and the eSnaxx location open, but all six were denied.

"It’s unfair that big box (stores) can stay open but small businesses can’t, even though small businesses have the ability to control the number of people in their store," Mueller said, mentioning that he saw hundreds of people at a Walmart store just a few days ago.

As of Wednesday, there were 1,127 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, in Pennsylvania, and 11 deaths attributed to the illness, according to the state Department of Health.

The governor has placed several counties under shelter-in-place orders.

Nationwide, there have been 54,453 confirmed cases and 737 deaths, with a new epicenter emerging in New York.

Reporter Logan Hullinger contributed to this story.

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