EDITORIAL: Get back to work, Sen. Toomey

York Dispatch Editorial Board

Surely you've heard some of this before, senator.

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., visited York on Wednesday to discuss the effects the coronavirus pandemic has had on the local economy.

Apparently, he wasn't expecting to hear from local political leaders pleading for federal money.

York County President Commissioner Julie Wheeler, a Republican, and York City Mayor Michael Helfrich, a Democrat, went to the forum Toomey and Rep. Scott Perry, R-Carroll Township, were holding with economic leaders, and both turned the conversation to the struggles local governments are having.

York City, which has been in a precarious financial positions for years, is facing losses in revenue of 5% to 10%, Helfrich said. 

"I'm not hiring cops now because I have no money," he said. "They're retiring but I'm not hiring."

Wheeler pointed to the inequities of funding for counties from the CARES Act, which was passed in March. Counties with more than 500,000 residents received money directly from the federal government, while funding for York County, with about 450,000 residents, was funneled through the state. As a result, York County, with a population that's 83% of Lancaster County's, received less than half of the $95 million Lancaster received.

On top of that, York County last month resorted to setting aside $14 million of its $40.5 million CARES Act allotment to focus on small businesses, restaurants and nonprofits after the federal Paycheck Protection Program failed to reach too many small businesses that most needed it. 

"We have 14,836 businesses in York County. Ten thousand of those are small businesses," Wheeler said. "We anticipated that 70% of those 10,000 small businesses did not receive PPP."

In York County, at least $232 million in loans were doled out under the program. Of that, loans of less than $150,000 accounted for roughly $62 million, or 27%. About $170 million, or 73%, went to firms seeking more, up to $10 million.

Still, the senator argued that restrictions on CARES Act funding were put in place deliberately. Offering local governments unchecked freedom in regards to how those funds are spent "doesn't seem quite right," he said.

"When we go back and say, 'OK, well now we'll change the rules, and do whatever you'd like with that money,' it's just a complete windfall for dozens of states," Toomey said. 

He also said the initial restrictions to make sure the aid was used only to reimburse COVID-19-related expenses were expected to be at least partially lifted by now but haven't been.

There are a lot of other things that were supposed to happen by now but haven't, senator. When the CARES Act was passed in March, the thought was the pandemic would be over within weeks, but here we are five months later with case numbers still rising. 

On May 15, the House passed the Heroes Act, which would roll out $3.4 trillion in aid to extend increased unemployment benefits, provide another stimulus check, give aid to schools as they reopen, fund the U.S. Postal Service and more.

This happened, by the way, with no help from Perry, who voted against the Heroes Act, along with Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R-Lancaster, and nearly all other Republicans in the House.

Kevin Schreiber, president & CEO of the York County Economic Alliance, left, greets U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and U.S. Congressman Scott Perry (R- Pa. 10), right, before a forum Toomey sponsored with local economic leaders and business owners Wednesday, August, 26, 2020. The forum focused on economic issues resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The event took place at the York County History Center’s Agricultural & Industrial Museum. Bill Kalina photo

And nothing in terms of COVID-19 aid has moved in Congress since then. There were negotiations between the Democrats and the Republicans and the White House. There were various deadlines that came and went. 

Now, the Senate hasn't been in session for three weeks, even as expanded unemployment benefits expired and the Aug. 31 moratorium on evictions grows closer and local governments struggle.

We can't imagine that all of this has escaped Toomey's notice. Pennsylvanians, the people he is supposed to represent, are in urgent need during this crisis. 

We need him to go back to Washington and put pressure on his fellow Republicans in the Senate to make something happen for his constituents. The crisis isn't going away. There's no reason for senators to shirk their responsibilities any longer.