Shrouded In Secrecy Levine and Wolf Picked Winners And Losers
PA Auditor General General Eugene DePasquale Investigation Reports: “To be clear, our analysis is – this was not a level playing field for businesses across Pennsylvania.”
KDKA Radio Staff 23 mins ago (7 Oct. 2020)
A new state Auditor General’s report is critical of the waiver process used to determine if a business could stay open in the early stages of the pandemic.
In March of this year, Governor Tom Wolf ordered all non-life-sustaining businesses to close in an effort to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Businesses were, however, allowed to apply for a waiver so they could remain open.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s interim report finds hundreds of businesses had their status changed for reasons that weren’t clear or were inconsistent in the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development’s (DCED) waiver process.
“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.”
He said it also helped to have a legislator or lobbyist intervene. “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.
“What is clear so far in our review, is that the waivers were not granted consistently,” said Depasquale. “That may not be news to business owners who’ve been complaining about this from the very beginning.”
Depasquale’s office has found the following in their audit so far:
• 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”
“We have verified that waiver decisions were being made by multiple individuals, based on constantly changing guidelines and relying in justification statements provided by businesses,” he said. “To be clear , our analysis is – this was not a level playing field for businesses across Pennsylvania.”
“The inconsistencies in the responses by the DCED illustrate the point that sometimes it made a difference depending on who in the DCED was evaluating the application of not only the business, but that particular application, because obviously businesses were getting different answers from multiple applications.”
DePasquale said the DCED used a call center to answer questions about the waiver process. Between March 20 and April 6, the department received more than 31,000 calls and over 4,100 emails. He said similar to the formal responses to aplications for waivers, the answers businesses received from the call center workers depended on who took the calls.
The investigation by the Auditor General’s office continues. The Wolf administration has been asked to furnish copies of emails or other communications from legislators and lobbyists with reference to specific businesses and the waiver process.
DePasquale said the DCED has been cooperative with his team, but outstanding issues still remain and must be resolved in order to complete the audit.
“Pennsylvanians deserve answers about the role that outside influence may have played in whether businesses were treated fairly and consistently.”
Secrecy shrouded what amounted to a shadowy process…
Pennsylvania officials suddenly revoked a number of business waivers after critics demanded transparency from Gov. Tom Wolf (D) regarding the criteria used in granting exemptions to “non-life essential” businesses, allowing them to operate during his stringent lockdown orders, PennLive revealed on Wednesday.
Wolf, alongside Health Secretary Rachel Levine, shut down all non-life essential businesses in mid-March, but the governor followed up with a short-lived waiver program, which allowed nonessential businesses to apply for the right to operate, even under the lockdown orders. Secrecy shrouded what amounted to a shadowy process, piquing the interest of GOP lawmakers, who subpoenaed additional information regarding the criteria used to determine which businesses could operate and which had to remain closed.
The Department of Community and Economic Development did not provide explicit details, instead releasing a list Friday containing the businesses that were granted requests, totaling 6,123.
Several business owners have indicated they received a waiver, which the government officials suddenly revoked without warning — an action that appeared to occur right before the administration’s release of the list of recipients.
“Just hours before the administration disclosed the first details about which businesses received waivers, state officials were still revoking exemptions without explanation, according to several interviews with business owners,” PennLive reported.
Question and answer(?) from the April 24, 2020 Pennsylvania’s daily Chinese Wu-Flu death update
PA health department director of communications: From WTAJ, from an independent appliance store, this is a yes or no question. Are appliances essential? And if yes why are area appliance stores [unintelligible] I’m sorry why are area… [the questioner was attempting to ask, if appliances are essential, why are appliance stores not allowed to be open and if no why is Lowes and Home Depot allowed to remain open? She may have gotten a little nervous asking her boss this one.]
Gov. Wolf: Actually Lowes and Home Depot are open because they sell essential services. Things that people need to keep their houses in order or clean. Uh… they… uh… uh… are open because of that. Again May 8 is when we start to reopen. Uh… Pennsylvania and uh… if you are not selling online uh… that’s the uh date that the uh… and places of business and parts of the commonwealth will be open.