Gov. Wolf agrees to release federal funds to Lebanon County

Lebanon

LEBANON COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM/AP) — The frosty relationship between Lebanon County and the Wolf administration looks to have eased on Friday as the governor announced that $12.8 million in federal funding will be delivered.

The county will finally receive its CARES Act funding after county leaders had initially bucked against the governor — opting to reopen early without his approval — and having its federal money withheld. The dispute eventually escalated to it seeking legal action against the governor.

“Don’t come and say you want something from the state when you haven’t followed the rules. There are consequences. These are the consequences,” the governor said during a news conference in Mid-July.

Wolf’s decision left Lebanon as the only Pennsylvania county to have been cut off from a $625 million pot of federal coronavirus relief money distributed by the state.

In response, the region’s congressman, GOP Rep. Dan Meuser, said Wolf lacked the legal authority to withhold the money and implored him to release it, writing to the governor: “Lives and livelihoods are at stake.” The local chamber of commerce called it an “unacceptable exclusion of just one county” and said Wolf’s decision unfairly punishes small businesses, nonprofits, and others.

Wolf’s administration and the county have now reached a compromise.

“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 said in a release. “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.”

The governor said as part of the agreement, Lebanon County will launch a $2.8 million campaign to emphasize the importance of wearing face masks to mitigate the spread of Covid-19 and protect lives.

“I’m pleased that Lebanon County will launch a campaign to encourage the use of face masks,” Wolf said. “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.”

Lebanon County Rep. Russ Diamond, a Republican who has stoked opposition to Wolf’s pandemic shutdowns — and who has spoken out against the wearing of masks — excoriated the settlement.

“No matter how sweet you think your deal with the devil is, you will eventually end up in hell,” Diamond wrote on Facebook. “This is absurd and borders on extortion. I don’t even know how you’d spend $2.8 million to advertise anything in Lebanon County.”

County commissioners who had previously blasted Wolf’s shutdown orders were far less dubious when announcing the settlement Friday.

“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 communities,” the statement said.

Wolf said the county will distribute the funds as follows:

  • $250,000: Behavioral health/substance use/ suicide prevention treatment cost
  • $1 million: Municipal government/school district for expenses/reimbursement for COVID-related costs
  • $1.5 million: Economic development corporation efforts/forward Lebanon promotions/large business
  • $2 million: Grants and personal protective equipment to nonprofit 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(19) organizations
  • $2.25 million: Grants and personal protective equipment to tourism-related business and county fair
  • $2.8 million: Campaign to promote universal mask-wearing
  • $3 million: Small business grants and personal protective equipment distribution (under 100 employees)

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