Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Lebanon County Commissioners reached an agreement Friday that gets the rogue county its $12.8 million in CARES Act funding.
That’s the $12.8 million Wolf’s been withholding from Lebanon County since it decided to abandon the Governor’s color-coded coronavirus reopening plan. And that’s the plan that superseded the initial narrative that Pennsylvanians would have to close businesses and lose millions of jobs in order to “flatten the curve” to not overwhelm hospitals in the state.
Remember, Schuylkill County planned to take the same course as Lebanon but changed its mind days after sending a letter to Wolf and Health Secretary Rachel Levine saying it would move itself into Wolf’s Yellow phase. In the Yellow phase of that reopening plan, the Stay at Home order was lifted and allowed some businesses to reopen.
Wolf and Lebanon County Reach Deal on CARES Act Funding
But when you read the language of the deal Wolf and Lebanon County reached on Friday, it reads more like extortion and less like a mutually agreed-upon deal.
Of course, that’s not how Wolf spun the accord when he announced it.
First, the most important part of the deal was that Lebanon County the $12.8 million it was due from an allocation of the CARES Act. And one part of the deal actually spells out how that money will be spent. That’s something we haven’t seen from Schuylkill County and how it’s managing its CARES Act money.
Deal Requirement: Tell Everyone How Greats Masks Work
But not all of that $12.8 million is going to help every resident of Lebanon County. Part of the deal requires Lebanon County spend $2.8 million on a public advertising campaign on the benefits of wearing a mask.
If Lebanon County didn’t agree to this part of the deal, then there was no deal.
Here’s what the settlement between Lebanon County and Wolf actually says:
“The County understands and agrees that it will forfeit in an amount up to but not to exceed the total CARES Act County Block Grant provided to the County under this agreement, the opportunity to receive future grants relating to COVID-19, or administered by the Office (of the Governor), DCED, or the Pennsylvania Office of the Budget if it fails to adhere to the terms of this Agreement or the terms of the Grant program.”
Here’s how Wolf spun it in an announcement to make it sound less extorting:
“I’m pleased that Lebanon County will launch a campaign to encourage the use of face masks.”
Another part of the deal that the Governor won’t tell you about is the silence he’s demanding from Lebanon County Commissioners.
Wolf forbids them from publicly criticizing any part of the deal or his coronavirus reopening plan. Because again, if they do, he’ll yank away that CARES Act funding a lot faster than he eventually dished it out.
This is what the deal Wolf and Lebanon County actually says:
“Through a mutually agreed upon press release and statement, the County will announce its support for and intent to comply with the Governor’s orders and Plan to Reopen Pennsylvania and will, in each announcement, urge all Lebanon County residents to abide by those orders. Neither party will make any disparaging comments or remarks relative to this dispute between the Parties or the terms of this agreement.”
That sounds like Lebanon County is one step shy of being forced to release one of those hostage videos. Actually, it sounds exactly like extortion.
And again, Wolf doesn’t say that’s what in the deal. Instead, he says:
“Throughout the process, I have remained committed to helping the people of Lebanon County and we have found a solution to directly inject nearly $13 million into the community. My hope is the money will help businesses to succeed and pay workers and allow important local organizations to provide vital services that people need.”
Just as he has throughout the entire pandemic, Wolf totally disregards anyone else’s opinion and voice but his own. And then Wolf attempts to paint himself as some type of benevolent leader.
Reactions to the Deal
US Congressman Dan Meuser (PA-9) released a statement related to the deal. He says Wolf continues to act politically vindictive.
“Unfortunately, the settlement reached yesterday by the Governor and the County further perpetuates the unfair political attack against the residents of Lebanon County,” Meuser says. “All of this funding was intended to help businesses open, provide assistance for our schools and support our frontline workers. They were NOT meant to be used for a public relations campaign. To siphon off $2.8 million of that critical funding on a campaign to encourage individuals to wear masks is excessive, wasteful and hurts the Lebanon County residents meant to receive this support.
“This Governor has proven time and time again that he favors petty politics over the interests of the hardworking people of Lebanon County. It’s a mindboggling decision made during a pandemic,” Meuser adds.
In a Facebook post expressing extreme disapproval with the deal between Lebanon County and Wolf, State Rep. Russ Diamond really goes after the Governor:
“I know you think you were being cute or clever or whatever with that $2.8 million demand for Lebanon County to launch a mask promotion, but here’s the thing: it will change ZERO minds and those of us who ignore your dopey mask policy will now just do it with more resolve and glee.
“BTW, way to screw over those in our community with mental health needs (there’s a whole lot of them thanks to your tomfoolery). Oh yeah, our fire companies could’ve used a little money too since your data-free lockdown decisions shuttered some of the social clubs that support them.
“I hope your ego is all better now. I guess you’re large and in charge, huh? Well, except on those tough decisions about schools and sports. On those you just stepped back, just like you did on your duty to protect our most vulnerable citizens in long term care facilities. Over 5,000 dead, guv. That’s on you. That’s your legacy. Own it.”