HARRISBURG, Pa. (WTAJ) — Pennsylvania’s chief fiscal watchdog, the Auditor General, is criticizing a state program under which businesses could seek permission to operate under Gov. Tom Wolf’s pandemic shutdown.
The auditor general’s office has been investigating the business shutdown waiver program amid complaints it was managed unfairly.
“So far, we’ve found that more than 500 businesses received answers from DCED that later changed,” DePasquale said. “The waiver program appeared to be a subjective process built on shifting sands of changing guidance, which led to significant confusion among business owners.”
Numerous business owners and legislators complained that that DCED’s waiver process lacked
transparency, moved too slowly and provided inconsistent or changing answers.
Business owners typically received one of three answers from DCED: an approval of the request to
remain open, a denial or a statement that a waiver was not required to remain open. So far, auditors
- 171 waiver applications were changed from “No” to “Yes”
- 151 waiver applications were changed from “No” to “Not Required”
- 73 waiver applications were changed from “Yes” to “No”
- 48 waiver applications were changed from “Not Required” to “No”
“Some owners of small businesses may not have had the knowledge to use the right ‘buzzwords’ in their justification for remaining open, or realized they could ask a legislator for help to navigate the process,” DePasquale said, noting that some businesses submitted multiple waiver requests.
As a result of this program, DePasquale said today he finds it “almost impossible” some businesses did not permanently close their doors.
In response, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre/Mifflin) made the following statement:
“Not only did the Wolf administration devastate small businesses across Pennsylvania with his over-broad shutdown, but his administration added insult to injury by sowing confusion and angst among those seeking waivers by changing guidance and stacking the deck against mom-and-pop businesses simply looking to continue operating safely”
The toll on lives and livelihoods from this administration’s handling of COVID-19 continues to mount. Sadly, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Wolf administration’s non-transparent, go-it-alone approach to managing this virus has done severe harm to Pennsylvania.”
Wolf’s spokesperson referred questions to the Department of Community and Economic Development, which ran the program.
The department is planning to issue a response to DePasquale’s criticism later Tuesday.
You can read the Auditor General’s full findings in his release by clicking here.