Pennsylvania governor’s budget priorities criticized for lacking vaccine distribution


Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf faced criticism Thursday after lawmakers said his forthcoming budget proposal places zero focus on speeding up vaccine administration.

Wolf previewed his priorities during a news conference in a wide-ranging proposal that included a stepped increased of the minimum wage to $15, a severance tax on natural gas to fund workforce development programs, investments in infrastructure and schools, legalizing adult use cannabis, reducing the corporate net income tax and building on election law reform.

Wolf again pushes natural gas severance tax as new state revenue stream(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said Thursday the state should levy a “reas…
“The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed Pennsylvania and exacerbated existing barriers for too many Pennsylvanians. It continues to have negative consequences for businesses, workers, and families throughout the commonwealth,” Wolf said. “To get Pennsylvania back on track from the disruptions the pandemic is causing, we need to make major, targeted investments to strengthen our economy, support workers and small business owners, rebuild our infrastructure, and help all Pennsylvanians build a path to financial security.”

But House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, took issue with what wasn’t included in Wolf’s spending plan – any mention of vaccine administration.

“The governor and his administration should have no other top priority than getting Pennsylvanians vaccinated,” Benninghoff said. “Pennsylvania ranks near the bottom of the country in terms of vaccine deployment efficiency, and the confusing and short-sighted guidance from the administration has caused significant public angst. Getting vaccines into the arms of Pennsylvanians is the most significant key to getting Pennsylvania back to normal and beginning to solve many of the problems the governor outlined today.”

Pennsylvania has administered about 45 percent of the 1.9 million immunizations received from the federal government as of Thursday, according to The New York Times vaccine tracker. On Tuesday, the Department of Health said limited supply and overwhelming demand meant administration was going slower than officials had hoped.

Earlier this month, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention widened the scope of Americans eligible for vaccination in the first phase to include those 65 or older or those with chronic health conditions. This new guidance enveloped 3.5 million Pennsylvania residents into the first round, though the federal government’s weekly supply to the state remained around 140,000 doses.

Jason Gottesman, spokesperson for the House Republican Caucus, said Republicans members continue brainstorming ways to speed up the process. Rep. Tim O’Neal, R-Washington, introduced a measure on Wednesday to involve the National Guard in vaccine deployment after health officials told The Center for Rural Pennsylvania that many providers lack enough manpower to “put shots in arms.”

“The limiting step as we get into larger groups to be immunized is staff,” said Dr. George Garrow, chief medical officer of the Primary Health Network, the state’s largest federally qualified health center, during a Jan. 13 panel discussion with state lawmakers. “We’ve actually had to close offices because our staff has been impacted by COVID.”

Gottesman said the House Health Committee will also host a three-hour meeting on Feb. 1 “to exercise our oversight functions and ask questions about the abysmal rollout of the vaccine.”

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