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Reversing course, Wolf releases CARES Act funding to Lebanon County

  • Benjamin Pontz
Shown is a view of Lebanon, Pa., Tuesday, May 12, 2020.

 Matt Rourke / AP Photo

Shown is a view of Lebanon, Pa., Tuesday, May 12, 2020.

Lebanon County will receive its share of money from the federal CARES Act after the Wolf administration reversed course, the governor announced in a press release Friday afternoon.

Gov. Tom Wolf had previously announced that he would withhold the money in response to the effort by Lebanon County’s commissioners to ignore the Wolf administration’s coronavirus restrictions back in May.

“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,” Wolf’s release said. “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.”

Less than a month ago, however, Wolf said in a press conference that Lebanon County was facing the consequences of its commissioners’ actions.

“Don’t come and say you want something from the state when you haven’t followed the rules,” he said in a press conference on July 16.

A spokesperson for the Wolf administration did not directly answer a question about what changed the governor’s calculus, stating only that the resolution was “amicabl[e].” In a statement, the Lebanon County Commissioners said they were “pleased the entire balance of the approximately $12.8 million in funding will promptly be transferred to the County.”

The federal CARES Act set aside $150 billion to aid states and local governments. Pennsylvania received a total of just under $5 billion. The largest seven counties in the state received allotments directly from that pot, while the remaining 60 — including Lebanon — had to wait on the state to distribute its funds, which was done via a formula passed by the legislature.

Wolf had previously asserted his executive authority to justify the planned withholding, a claim legal experts thought was dubious. In fact, Lebanon County sued the Wolf administration to reverse the block on the CARES funds, and a status update had been scheduled for next Monday prior to the agreement announced Friday afternoon.

“The litigation will end with this settlement,” county administrator Jamie Wolgemuth confirmed in a phone call Friday.

According to the agreement announced by the governor on Friday, the $12.8 million will be spent as follows:

  • $1,000,000 Municipal Government/School District for expenses/reimbursement for COVID-related costs
  • $3,000,000 Small Business Grants and PPE distribution (under 100 employees)
  • $2,250,000 Grants and PPE to tourism-related business and County Fair
  • $2,000,000 Grants and PPE to non-profit 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(19) organizations
  • $1,500,000 Economic Development Corp efforts/forward Lebanon Promotions/Large Biz
  • $250,000 Behavioral Health/Substance Use/ Suicide Prevention Treatment Cost
  • $2,800,000 Campaign to promote universal mask-wearing

The release of the funding was conditioned upon those line items, Wolgemuth said. Other counties approved to receive CARES Act funds were not required to have the state sign off on detailed allocation plans like Lebanon’s, according to application guidelines from the Department of Community and Economic Development. The department has not, however, provided records to PA Post requested under the state’s Right-to-Know Law on June 18 that would shed light on county applications and how the department reviewed them.

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