York County's COVID-19 aid less than half of Lancaster County's

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

York County will be forced to work with less than half the amount of federal aid than Lancaster County and substantially less than six other counties as it charts its recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although York County's population is about 83% of Lancaster County's, it is slated to receive $40.5 million in federal recovery aid compared with Lancaster's $95 million. Commissioners and those spearheading recovery efforts on Wednesday said they aren't pleased.

“Obviously, it’s a disparity that we’re not happy about,” said Silas Chamberlin, leader of the YoCo Strong Recovery Task Force. "York County and Lancaster have a similar population. We should have received a similar amount of funding. We haven’t. So we’re moving ahead the best we can.”

York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler listens as John Porter, executive vice president and COO of WellSpan Health, speaks during a press conference at the commissioner's chambers Monday, March 16, 2020. Wheeler declared a state of emergency in the county due to the Coronavirus. Bill Kalina photo

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The funding discrepancy stems from just one factor: York County doesn't have enough people.

With a population of roughly 450,000, it fell just short of the 500,000 threshold required to receive direct aid from the federal CARES Act that passed in late March.

Instead, it has to wait for the state government to divvy up CARES Act pandemic relief funding.

Late last month, Wolf signed a $25.75 billion funding package that provided $625 million in federal CARES Act funding to counties for recovery efforts.

York County isn't expected to receive its cut until mid-July, said President Commissioner Julie Wheeler.

The state's disbursed funds proved small compared with Lancaster and the other six most-populous counties in the state: Philadelphia, Allegheny, Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware and Chester, all of which surpassed the 500,000-resident threshold and received funding directly from the federal government.  

"We were not happy with the inequitable distribution of money," Wheeler said. "But like York County, we rise to the challenge and do with the best we have."

Chamberlin detailed how the YoCo Strong Recovery Task Force hopes to apply the funding York County did receive to rehabilitate a local economy hit hard by the pandemic and better prepare the county for future crises.

On Wednesday, state officials reported York County has had 1,102 COVID-19 cases and 30 deaths linked to the virus since the outbreak began.

Chamberlin unveiled a variety of recommendations that were put together by representatives from 13 business sectors, he said. Those present noted, though, that not every recommendation may be adopted by the county.

Perhaps most notably, the task force suggested the creation of a York County health bureau. There are only six counties in the state and four municipalities that have such bureaus, one of which is York City.

"We've done quite well, but we believe there's significant room for improvement," Chamberlin said.

Other recommendations included establishing a permanent county emergency task force, producing crisis and pandemic resource tools so businesses aren't blindsided, and pushing for increased access to broadband. 

In addition, the report found that the county should mull a permanent funding pool for small businesses and create a stockpile or joint purchasing program for personal protective equipment.

What's critical and key to some of these recommendations, Chamberlin said, is that the county commissioners use their political influence to advocate for change at the state and federal level to ensure the county is more prepared going forward.

The task force's full plan can be found at www.preparedyork.com/reopen/.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.