Lebanon will finally get millions in CARES Act money, after the county and Gov. Tom Wolf’s office agreed to settle a lawsuit Lebanon filed over the withholding of funding to the county.
Lebanon filed suit on July 22 over Gov. Tom Wolf’s decision to withhold the CARES Act funding through the County Relief Block Grant program. During a July news conference, Wolf indicated it was a consequence of the county commissioners’ 2-1 vote in May to move Lebanon to the yellow phase of reopening against state orders.
According to a news release from Wolf’s office, part of the agreement is that Lebanon will launch a $2.8 million campaign emphasizing the importance of wearing face masks.
“I’m pleased that Lebanon County will launch a campaign to encourage the use of face masks,” Wolf said in the release. “Mask-wearing is important to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to protect people, schools and businesses. It’s a simple and easy way for all of us to fight this virus and control case counts in Lebanon County and across the state.”
According to a news release from the county about the agreement, the governor’s office intends to work through the Department of Economic and Community Development to release the $12.8 million in funding as follows:
- $1 million: Municipal Government/School district for expense/reimbursement for COVID-related costs
- $3 million: Small business grants and PPE distribution (under 100 employees)
- $2.25 million: Grants and PPE to tourism-related business and the county fair
- $2 million: Grants and PPE to non-profit organizations
- $1.5 million: Economic development corp. efforts/Forward Lebanon promotions/large businesses
- $250,000: Behavioral Health/Substance use/Suicide prevention treatment cost
- $2.8 milion: Campaign to promote universal mask-wearing
The county news release provided no more information on the proceedings, but the commissioners did “affirm their commitment to the best health and safety practices.”
“The Commissioners urge all residents of Lebanon County to follow all of the Administration’s recommended practices to mitigate the impact of COVID 19 in our community,” the news release said.
Background on suit
In the lawsuit, Lebanon argued that Wolf did not comply with Act 24, which is legislation that provides counties with block grants through the CARES Act.The lawsuit also took issue with a provision added by the state requiring counties to follow orders and regulations related to the COVID-19 pandemic to be eligible for the CARES Act funding as reasoning for withholding the funds.
Lebanon County Commissioners voted 2-1 in May to move county operations to the “yellow phase” of reopening, against state orders. Though the resolution only applied to county operations, some elected officials encouraged businesses to reopen to yellow phase guidelines.
The suit argued that the eligibility requirements are a “gross abuse of power and not supported by the Emergency Powers Act.”
Wolf denied the withholding of funds was retribution for the yellow phase vote during a July news conference.
“When they were saying ‘We’re not going to abide by the restrictions we’re going to make our own rules or regulations,’ … OK, then don’t come say you want something from the state when you haven’t followed the rules,” Wolf said in July. “There are consequences, these are the consequences.”
Nora Shelly can be reached at 717-454-7817 or firstname.lastname@example.org