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2020 Capitol Scenes calendar

Bizzarro, Merski, Harkins issue statements on weekend Erie protests that turned violent

(3 hours ago)

ERIE, May 31 – State Reps. Ryan Bizzarro, Bob Merski and Pat Harkins, all D-Erie, issued the following statements today in response to reports that peaceful community protests over the death of George Floyd turned violent last night in Erie: Bizzarro said, “ The events of the weekend, and the senseless acts against black Americans, are weighing heavily on our nation and our community. The injustices and struggles people of color continue to endure are disgraceful and must end. While I may never fully understand all the challenges they face, I stand firmly against racism. “Protesting is an important part of implementing change, but I believe our community must do so peacefully and without causing harm to others or property. I am calling for peace and unity in our community and for us to join together in support of our black neighbors, family and friends. They are afraid for their sons, daughters, fathers, mothers and more. We must be there to comfort and support them in this time and emerge with a new respect and camaraderie so we can make meaningful and bold steps to eradicate racism.” Merski said, "This weekend in Erie, peaceful protests over the death of George Floyd erupted into violence. It isn’t hard to understand the anger: George Floyd’s death at the hands of police was brutal and senseless – and sadly, a familiar reality for so many Americans of color. "While Read more

 

Merski, Bizzarro, Harkins: Decision to keep Erie County in yellow phase ‘the wrong move for our county’

(May 29, 2020)

ERIE, May 29 – State Reps. Bob Merski, Pat Harkins and Ryan Bizzarro, all D-Erie, issued the following statements in response to Gov. Tom Wolf’s announcement today that Erie County will not be among the Pennsylvania counties moving to the green reopen phase of the state’s reopen plan on June 5. “I am extremely disappointed in the governor’s decision to keep Erie County in the yellow, restricted phase,” Merski said. “Although our county saw a brief spike last week, the numbers have stabilized, and we are ready for the next steps in reopening. “I have been fighting for our county to move into the green phase because I’m convinced that our residents are able to do the right thing. Erie County residents have been doing their part to slow the spread of COVID-19 by wearing masks and social distancing, and will continue that responsible behavior in the weeks to come. We have done what was asked of us. It’s time to let Erie open all of its doors.” Bizzarro said, “I’m calling on the governor to reconsider his decision, which I believe is the wrong move for our county. Erie residents are responsible, resourceful and careful. Our business owners understand how to keep residents safe, and our community is aware of social distancing and other safety protocols. They want to get back to supporting our community and our local economy. It’s time to get Read more

 

Harkins, Merski: Bill would freeze cost-of-living adjustments for public officials

(May 26, 2020)

HARRISBURG, May 26 – State Reps. Pat Harkins and Bob Merski, both D-Erie, joined fellow lawmakers today in voting to suspend cost-of-living adjustments for public officials. House Bill 2487 , which passed the House unanimously, would amend the Public Official Compensation Law to freeze COLAs through 2021 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “Although in the big picture, this measure is a drop in the bucket given our state’s $5.5 billion deficit, I believe this is when we need to step up and look to see how we can save precious taxpayer dollars,” Harkins said. “We don’t know what lies ahead, but we are determined to get through this and put Pennsylvania back on solid financial ground as quickly as possible. We all need to share the pain.” Merski said, “Our community has been through so much since this pandemic struck, and every day, we’re encouraging residents to stay strong and asking them to make sacrifices. With so many residents out of work and struggling to make ends meet, we need to be looking for ways to save money, not worrying about cost-of-living increases. I’m glad the bill received a unanimous, bipartisan vote.” The bill now heads to the state Senate for consideration. Read more

 

Harkins, Merski: More than $1 million to help Erie child care providers safely reopen

(May 21, 2020)

HARRISBURG, May 20 – Erie County child care providers will receive more than $1 million in federal CARES Act funding to help them safely reopen their doors, state Reps. Bob Merski and Pat Harkins, both D-Erie, announced today. The lawmakers said the funding will ensure these businesses are able to resume operations while providing the safest possible environment. “As residents return to work and the economy reopens, it’s critical for families to be able to rely on good child care,” Merski said. “But it’s equally important for parents to have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that their children are returning to a safe, sanitary environment. This funding is going to help providers restore services, while also providing new protections.” Harkins said, “Our child care providers are so much more than a place for parents to bring their children for safekeeping. They stimulate our kids’ minds and provide a place for early learning and first friendships. That said, safety is still priority No. 1, and the pandemic has created a brand-new set of challenges. Thanks to this funding, our providers will have the resources needed to meet those challenges.” The funding is part of an initial $51 million round of funding that will go to nearly 7,000 child care centers statewide preparing to reopen. In all, Pennsylvania will receive a total of $106 million in funding to Read more

 

Harkins, Merski: Nearly $220,000 in funding to help food banks meet greater demand

(May 21, 2020)

ERIE, May 21 – State grants totaling $219,243 will help three Erie food banks serve the greater numbers of residents impacted by food insecurity because of the COVID-19 pandemic, state Reps. Pat Harkins and Bob Merski, both D-Erie, announced today. “Our local food banks have always played a key role in helping low-income families combat food insecurity,” Harkins said. “But when the pandemic hit, it drove up demand, bringing logistical challenges. “Banks are partnering with new providers, such as farms, to meet the increased demand, but preparing, storing and transporting larger amounts of food requires additional resources. This funding is going to provide those resources so our local food banks can meet the needs of more families quickly and efficiently.” The representatives said the funding is going to help these important community providers connect more people with food and help them combat food insecurity. Merski said, “Fast, safe and efficient food distribution depends on the right equipment and transportation. This funding is going to help our local food banks purchase the additional equipment they need – such as refrigerated trucks and vehicles – to ensure that food gets to a broader sector of the community.” The grants were awarded under the Food Recovery Infrastructure Grant Program and include $95,000 to Emmaus Ministries. $70,902 to Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest Read more

 

Democrats seek more support for Pennsylvania workers

(May 21, 2020)

HARRISBURG, May 21 – Democratic leaders said any review of Unemployment Compensation during the current pandemic should be aimed at fixing problems and putting workers’ needs first, rather than simply blaming the Department of Labor and Industry for factors mostly beyond its control. The House Labor and Industry Committee today received an update on benefits for unemployed claimants from senior leaders in the department including Secretary Gerard Oleksiak. “The COVID-19 pandemic triggered a sudden, widespread economic dislocation and prevented people from working in numbers never seen before,” said Democratic Leader Frank Dermody. “It’s important to understand how the department is responding to the demand for its services while many people are still waiting for unemployment benefits. “It’s also clear that after being starved of resources for years the department is doing its best with the limited tools it has and is intently focused on getting people their benefits,” Dermody said. “We need to get payments in the hands of workers who have earned them,” said Democratic Labor and Industry Chairman Pat Harkins. “I’ve heard from many constituents about their difficulties getting unemployment payments. They are understandably frustrated and I can see why.” Harkins thanked Oleksiak for answering the committee’s questions and being Read more

 

Harkins, Merski: New law will bring earlier tax, rent rebates

(May 19, 2020)

HARRISBURG, May 19 – Seniors and other Erie residents approved for property tax or rent rebates will no longer have to wait for July to receive their payments, thanks to a new law authorizing the state to process and distribute those rebates on a first-in-first-out basis, state Reps. Pat Harkins and Bob Merski, both D-Erie, announced today. “The pandemic has created insecurity and strained budgets all around, but those problems are intensified for vulnerable, low-income seniors who are living on fixed incomes and possibly struggling with food insecurity,” Harkins said. “I supported this law because it gets rebate money into the hands of eligible seniors at a time when the funds are most needed to bring a greater measure of security. I’m urging residents who have not already done so to apply now so they can receive their rebates as soon as possible.” Merski said, “In previous years, residents had to wait until July for rebates to be distributed. The new law means that homeowners and renters who apply will be able to get their rebates much earlier. It’s a smart improvement to an important law, and one that is especially helpful right now, as residents deal with the challenges the pandemic brings.” The state will begin issuing rebates under the new law as early as tomorrow. More information about the law is available here. Read more

 

Harkins: New program can help residents in danger of losing utilities

(May 15, 2020)

ERIE, May 15 – State Rep. Pat Harkins, D-Erie, is advising residents about a new program to help households struggling with utility bills because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Harkins said the newly announced Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) Recovery Crisis Program will provide a crisis benefit and a supplemental payment for households that previously received a crisis payment made directly to utility companies or fuel providers to help offset utility costs. “LIHEAP has been key to helping low-income households keep the power on,” Harkins said. “But when the pandemic struck, it created a whole new series of challenges. This new program will provide essential help during these emergency times, when keeping the power on and stay connected are more important than ever. I’m urging all residents to learn about the new program and how it may be able to help.” Harkins said that LIHEAP Recovery Crisis benefits may be available if a household: Has had their main or secondary energy source completely shut off. Is notified that their utility service will be shut off in the next 60 days. Has broken energy equipment or leaking lines that must be fixed or replaced. Is in danger of being without fuel in 15 days or less. Owes funds to a utility provider that would constitute a service termination if not for the Public Utility Commission’s Read more

 

Harkins, Merski: Nearly $8.7 million to Erie schools to support continued learning during pandemic

(May 07, 2020)

ERIE, May 7 – Area school districts will receive approximately $8.68 million in federal funding under the CARES Act to ensure students have the resources they need to continue learning during the pandemic, state Reps. Bob Merski and Pat Harkins, both D-Erie, announced today. The lawmakers said the funding to five school districts and their schools will be key to helping develop and deliver ongoing education and supports. “Like every aspect of life, our kids’ education came to a standstill during pandemic,” Merski said. “It was reassuring to see our dedicated teachers return to the job eager to provide online and remote lessons. But revamping the system to offer the maximum benefit requires planning, purchasing, student supports and a host of other resources. “Securing this funding will not only help get the framework in place, it will ensure that our Erie students have the resources they need to continue learning and thriving in this new environment, now and into the future.” Harkins said, “Although remote learning can’t take the place of the rich classroom experience students receive with peers, it’s an essential substitute for times like these, when safety requires distancing. The funding on the way will ensure that our students remain safe and have the equipment and other resources they need to succeed, regardless of household income.” The lawmakers Read more

 

Harkins, Merski vote for comprehensive COVID-19 testing

(May 05, 2020)

HARRISBURG, May 5 – Pennsylvania moved one step closer to providing residents with meaningful COVID-19 testing Monday after the House voted to develop and implement a testing plan, state Reps. Pat Harkins and Bob Merski announced. Harkins and Merski, both D-Erie, said H.B. 2455 would require the state to first develop and then fund a comprehensive testing plan. Funding would include resources for development and manufacturing of testing equipment and supplies, contact tracing and other measures. Health care and other essential workers would be given testing priority once the plan was activated. “Like other communities on the verge of reopening, our residents and small-business owners welcome these first steps on the path back to normal,” Harkins said. “But without adequate testing, we’re flying blind because we can’t fully assess the nature of the risk. This legislation would do something to address this very real problem by getting a testing plan in the works.” Merski said: “We have some excellent safety protocols in place, but it isn’t practical or realistic to assume those blanket efforts will protect us in the long haul, after we’ve opened up our communities. We can’t fight what we can’t identify, and we need to pinpoint who is at risk so we can target our efforts, learn who is or is not at risk, and act accordingly. I’m glad the bill passed Read more

 

Harkins, Merski: House unanimously passes bill to prevent state, local taxation of stimulus payments

(May 04, 2020)

HARRISBURG, May 4 – Pennsylvanians would not have to surrender any portion of their federal stimulus checks to state or local taxes under a bill the House passed unanimously today, announced state Reps. Bob Merski and Pat Harkins, both D-Erie. Merski and Harkins said they voted for H.B. 2408 – which would exempt cash payments to individuals and couples under the CARES Act from state and local taxation – to ensure residents receive the maximum benefit from the emergency federal funding. “The pandemic dealt a huge blow to working families that no one could have expected or prepared for,” Merski said. “It was a tidal wave, and it wiped out household budgets that were already stretched to the limit. Now, Erie families need every single dollar to help them get back on their feet. I’m glad we’re one step to closer to ensuring that happens.” Harkins agreed, saying: “The CARES Act was meant to help residents hurt by the pandemic, not to supplement the state treasury. The dollars it authorizes are intended to keep food on the table and make sure families can purchase prescriptions and pay rent. Taxing any part of that is taking away money Erie residents need to survive. I’m encouraged that this bill passed unanimously today.” CARES Act stimulus payments to individuals and couples are not subject to federal taxation. The bill Read more

 

Harkins, Merski support expansion of allowable business activities for real estate

(Apr 28, 2020)

HARRISBURG, April 28 – State Reps. Pat Harkins and Bob Merski, both D-Erie, expressed their support for newly released state guidance authorizing certain in-person activities related to real estate transactions. The lawmakers said the guidance – which allows resumption of certain activities by appraisers, notaries, home inspectors and title companies – are positive steps that can be accomplished without compromising public safety. “The guidance issued today allows these professionals to resume their work, provided they follow safety guidance from Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” Harkins said. “The move fits with our state strategy of opening up PA business in a safe, deliberate way that benefits our workers while also protecting the public safety.” Merski agreed, noting that residents also stand to benefit from the new guidance. “The guidance is one more step toward getting us back to business,” Merski said. “When the pandemic swept in, it brought so much of daily life to a standstill. Real estate has been one of the many sectors affected, which has made it extremely difficult for Pennsylvanians with ongoing transactions to complete them. The guidance announced today makes sense and will allow us to start opening the door for those sales.” More information on the updated guidance for real estate industry professionals can be Read more

 

Harkins: $10,000 state grant to ensure students can access remote learning during pandemic

(Apr 22, 2020)

ERIE, April 22 – A $10,000 state grant will ensure students have the resources they need to access online and remote lessons during the COVID-19 pandemic, state Rep. Pat Harkins, D-Erie, announced today. The Continuity of Education and Equity Grant to the Robert Benjamin Wiley Community Charter School will fund laptops and other remote-learning equipment for students unable to afford it. “Every student deserves the same chance to succeed, and our educators are committed to making that happen – even during the COVID-19 crisis,” Harkins said. “But the pandemic has forced changes to learning that require students to have additional resources – including equipment some students may lack. “Securing this funding will keep the playing field level by ensuring no student is left behind because they are unable to afford a laptop, a tablet or other resources they need for remote learning." CEEG grants are designed to help provide access and inclusion for all learners by bridging the gap for students who are currently limited in their ability to participate in continuity of education. The grants may be used to purchase computer equipment, such as laptops, tablets and internet hot spots, or used to provide instructional materials, such as paper lessons and coursework. Schools with the highest percentages of students lacking access to resources were given priority in receiving these grants. Read more

 

Harkins praises governor’s decision to reopen some jobs

(Apr 20, 2020)

ERIE, April 20 – State Rep. Pat Harkins, D-Erie, lauded Gov. Tom Wolf’s announcement today that the state will be reopening online auto sales later today and some construction jobs May 8, saying it will bring welcome relief to some workers and small business owners. “The governor’s decision today gives some of our skilled workers the green light to return to the job,” said Harkins, who is Democratic chairman of the House Labor and Industry Committee. “In the midst of this pandemic, our workers and small business owners understand the importance of staying safe, but they are also frustrated and believe that there are many jobs, such as construction jobs, that can be performed without increasing the risk of exposure. “We have been pushing to persuade the governor to recognize this and reopen those jobs that will not endanger workers, and the governor has listened. After sharing their frustration, it’s great to be able to share some good news. “The decision to allow online auto sales is another sound move. I have been working closely with local dealership owners like Matt Clark to get this moving. Their efforts, along with the statewide auto dealers’ association, produced the sensible solution of allowing consumers to teleshop online for vehicles. “These are just the first steps, but they’re steps in the right direction. I’ll continue working to be sure Read more

 

Letters to Sec. Levine and Attorney General Shapiro about Twinbrook Nursing Home

(Apr 06, 2020)

Letters to Health Secretary Levine and Attorney General Shapiro on Twinbrook Nursing Home. Read more

 

Harkins urges all residents to complete U.S. Census

(Apr 01, 2020)

ERIE, April 1 – State Rep. Pat Harkins, D-Erie, is reminding all residents on Census Day that their participation in the U.S. Census is vitally important. “The census happens every 10 years, on years ending in a zero, and it’s mandated by the U.S. Constitution because this critically important count helps the federal government determine how to allocate billions of dollars in funding,” Harkins said. “Pennsylvania receives nearly $27 billion in funding each year based on our response to the 2010 Census. “Now, the census has come around again, and it’s more important than ever to make sure our Erie community receives its fair share of that funding – for health care, transportation, education, and more. But it’s up to our Erie residents – it only happens if everyone responds and gets counted. I’m urging everyone to do their part.” Harkins noted that over the past 10 years, more than $268 billion in federal spending has gone to Pennsylvania communities for important federally funded programs. In encouraging residents to respond, Harkins said they should not be concerned about safety or security because census answers can’t be used against a person, and data security is managed by high-level security experts. Moreover, the law prohibits the U.S. Census Bureau from releasing any information that identifies individuals, under penalty of large Read more

 

Fill out the 2020 census!

(Mar 30, 2020)

In Pennsylvania, everyone counts and April 1 is National Census Day! If you haven’t already, don't forget to fill out your census form. Our population count determines our voice in government and how much federal funding we’ll receive for education, health care, transportation and more. Whether you respond online, mail or by phone , participate and help shape PA’s future. Your responses are anonymous and protected by law. To learn more, visit pa.gov/census #PAcounts #2020Census Read more

 

Check out my Community Resource Guide

(Mar 27, 2020)

The following is a link to local resources for Erie residents. Read more

 

Merski, Harkins: House unanimously passes COVID-19 response bills

(Mar 25, 2020)

ERIE, March 25 – The House today unanimously passed bills that would temporarily change the way students learn and Pennsylvanians vote during the COVID-19 epidemic, state Reps. Bob Merski and Pat Harkins, both D-Erie, announced. Merski said he and Harkins both supported the amended S.B. 751 – which eliminates the 180-day requirement for all the commonwealth’s schools and authorizes the state Education secretary to keep schools closed until after the COVID-19 epidemic is over. “Difficult times call for creative solutions,” Merski said. “Pennsylvania’s incredibly dedicated teachers are ready to rise to that challenge by providing online lessons and resources to keep our kids learning and let them understand that although their routines may have changed, their education is still the No. 1 priority. “This bill would provide the flexibility for that to happen, while also ensuring that these teachers and other school workers are continued to be paid for their work.” Harkins and Merski also supported S.B. 422 , which would postpone the state primary to June 2 to give counties extra time to make adjustments and allow polling places to be consolidated and moved out of high-risk areas, among other things. “The COVID-19 crisis has changed nearly every aspect of daily life, and voting is no exception,” Harkins said. Read more

 

Merski, Harkins support COVID-19 bill package

(Mar 19, 2020)

ERIE, March 19 – State Reps. Bob Merski and Pat Harkins, both D-Erie, are supporting a package of bills that will help Pennsylvanians navigate financial challenges resulting from the COVID-19 epidemic. “State efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19 have dramatically changed so many aspects of our daily lives,” Merski said. “From businesses being forced to close their doors to workers being told not to come in, the impact is being felt across the state. “As lawmakers, it’s incumbent on us to be proactive and take steps that will lessen the impact on residents. That’s why I’m joining with fellow legislators to support a package of bills that will better prepare residents to meet financial challenges caused by this public health emergency.” Harkins agreed, adding, "We Pennsylvanians are strong, and our communities are caring in times of crisis. This package of bills will help ensure that, as we work our way through this unfamiliar territory, we all make it through together and with as little impact as possible." The lawmakers said the bill package includes measures that would: provide a 60-day extension for filing state income tax returns due to an emergency declaration over COVID-19. extend the application deadline of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program until all funds are expended. provide funding for all voters to vote by Read more

 

Bizzarro, Merski, Harkins issue statements on weekend Erie protests that turned violent
3 hours ago

Merski, Bizzarro, Harkins: Decision to keep Erie County in yellow phase ‘the wrong move for our county’
May 29, 2020

Harkins, Merski: Bill would freeze cost-of-living adjustments for public officials
May 26, 2020

Harkins, Merski: More than $1 million to help Erie child care providers safely reopen
May 21, 2020

Harkins, Merski: Nearly $220,000 in funding to help food banks meet greater demand
May 21, 2020

Democrats seek more support for Pennsylvania workers
May 21, 2020

Harkins, Merski: New law will bring earlier tax, rent rebates
May 19, 2020

Harkins: New program can help residents in danger of losing utilities
May 15, 2020

Harkins, Merski: Nearly $8.7 million to Erie schools to support continued learning during pandemic
May 07, 2020

Harkins, Merski vote for comprehensive COVID-19 testing
May 05, 2020

Harkins, Merski: House unanimously passes bill to prevent state, local taxation of stimulus payments
May 04, 2020

Harkins, Merski support expansion of allowable business activities for real estate
Apr 28, 2020

Harkins: $10,000 state grant to ensure students can access remote learning during pandemic
Apr 22, 2020

Harkins praises governor’s decision to reopen some jobs
Apr 20, 2020

Letters to Sec. Levine and Attorney General Shapiro about Twinbrook Nursing Home
Apr 06, 2020

Harkins urges all residents to complete U.S. Census
Apr 01, 2020

Fill out the 2020 census!
Mar 30, 2020

Check out my Community Resource Guide
Mar 27, 2020

Merski, Harkins: House unanimously passes COVID-19 response bills
Mar 25, 2020

Merski, Harkins support COVID-19 bill package
Mar 19, 2020