Gov. Tom Wolf will withhold federal funding from counties and revoke licenses from businesses that reopen without his permission, he said in a rebuke of Lancaster and other counties who said they intend to move to “yellow” this Friday and defy his orders.
Lancaster County officials from the county, federal and state levels announced their intention to disobey Wolf’s stay-at-home order and begin reopening some businesses. Under Wolf’s reopening plan, Lancaster should be in the “red” phase with strict social-distancing directives and an order for businesses that aren’t life-sustaining to close.
Wolf called the self-declared move to yellow among a growing number of Pennsylvania counties a “cowardly act.”
“To the politicians urging businesses to risk their lives, and to risk the lives of their customers or employees by opening prematurely, you need to understand that they are engaging in behavior that is both selfish and unsafe,” Wolf said during a news conference Monday.
Business owners could face individual repercussions from state licensure boards and may face increased risk in insurance liabilities if they choose to reopen against Wolf’s orders.
But Lancaster County is unique among the counties that have announced they’ll move to yellow: They already received $95 million from the federal stimulus coronavirus relief bill.
“Threatening to withhold federal CARES Act money, meant to fight the virus, from counties is disturbing,” Lancaster County Commissioner Josh Parsons, a Republican who signed the letter to Wolf, wrote in a statement. “It should shock the conscience of every Pennsylvanian. Fortunately, Lancaster County already has (CARES Act allocation). However, we are all now paying the price for his failed leadership.”
As part of federal coronavirus aid, local governments with populations of 500,000 received dollars directly for coronavirus-related expenses. Pennsylvania was allocated nearly $5 billion in COVID-19 relief, but approximately $1 billion was allocated directly to the state’s seven largest counties.
Lancaster County has already drafted how it will spend the $95 million it received. But the county is at risk of losing any future stimulus dollars for “operating illegally,” a spokesperson for Wolf said.
State and county Republicans criticized Wolf for his “cowardly” comments and consequences he put on businesses and counties that reopen without permission.
U.S. Rep. Lloyd Smucker, R- Lancaster, who signed the letter to Wolf, said Monday’s news conference was another example of Wolf’s “go-it-alone approach,” noting the Wolf administration’s past secrecy in decision-making processes like business waiver applications.
“He could’ve said he is looking forward to conversations with commissioners in these counties who intend to move forward with or without his support, but none of that,” Smucker said.
“Really, he’s been doubling down on the way he’s approached this all along,” Smucker added.
Sen. Scott Martin, R-Martic Township, another signer who stressed his time as a county commissioner and relationships with local officials and first responders, said he “had a tough time getting past” Wolf’s comments.
“To call them cowards or deserters is an insult,” Martin added.