Latest News

Bizzarro, Merski, Harkins: Nearly $10,000 in pandemic relief to local arts and cultural organizations

(1 day ago)

ERIE, July 6 – Five local organizations dedicated to arts, culture and behavioral health will receive $9,650 in CARES Act funding to help stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic, state Reps. Ryan Bizzarro, Bob Merski and Pat Harkins announced today. The Erie lawmakers said the organizations – the Erie Philharmonic, the Erie Playhouse, the Erie Art Museum, Erie Arts & Culture and Stairways Behavioral Health – will each receive $1,930. “These grants will help support the arts in our community and ensure they maintain their position as economic drivers,” Bizzarro said. “The arts are a vital part of our state, and many Pennsylvanians go on to play a role in the industry globally. It’s key that we make sure our arts organizations have the support necessary to bounce back from this pandemic and continue to create and inspire.” Merski said, “The arts enrich our Erie community in so many ways. They bring us together across cultural lines through shared enjoyment of performances, and they encourage expression of diverse stories. They inspire young minds, and they stimulate economic growth by drawing other businesses and commercial activity to the area. Our arts, cultural and behavioral health organizations have been hit hard by the pandemic, and this funding will help provide support they need to continue operating.” Harkins said, “Arts and cultural institutions Read more

Harkins, Merski: Extended benefits available for those who have exhausted other UC benefits

(Jun 30, 2020)

ERIE, June 30 – Pennsylvanians who have exhausted their regular unemployment compensation and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation benefits may qualify for an additional 13 weeks of extended benefits, state Reps. Pat Harkins and Bob Merski, both D-Erie, announced today . The lawmakers said the additional payments are available under the state’s Unemployment Compensation Extended Benefits Program, which becomes available when Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate reaches a certain level determined by law. “The extended benefits program was put in place to help working families who find themselves in severe financial straits through no fault of their own,” Harkins said. “The eligibility requirements are the same as for regular UC benefits, and applicants who qualify may receive half the amount of regular UC for which they were eligible. That means an applicant who was financially eligible for 26 weeks of UC may receive 13 weeks of EB payments.” Merski said, “Extended benefits can provide critical assistance for Erie families at a time like this. The benefits become payable only after an applicant has exhausted current PEUC benefits, but I urge anyone who may qualify to learn more about the program now. The Department of Labor and Industry will also be mailing information to those who potentially qualify.” The legislators said that to be eligible, an applicant must: Be totally or Read more

Merski, Harkins support bill to permit fireworks regulation

(Jun 30, 2020)

ERIE, June 30 – Citing growing frustration by residents over neighborhood fireworks noise, state Reps. Bob Merski and Pat Harkins, both D-Erie, have signed on to legislation that would permit municipalities to regulate their use. “While most of us understand the well-loved tradition of celebrating warm-weather holidays with fireworks, the unintended consequence of expanding firework sales a few years back has been the chronic disruption of entire neighborhoods, especially in urban areas,” Merski said. “This legislation would help address the problem of fireworks in urban areas at all hours of the day and night and would strike a balance between permitting their safe, responsible use on one hand, and preserving residents’ right to peace and calm on the other.” Harkins said, “This issue has been simmering for some time, with residents calling to complain about terrified pets, disrupted sleep schedules and even traumatized loved ones who suffer from post-traumatic stress. This bill would bring some commonsense measures – including time-of-day limitations prohibiting fireworks use after certain hours – to help solve the problem.” According to the co-sponsorship memorandum , in addition to permitting municipalities to set and enforce regulations, the bill would limit fireworks use to between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. on Friday Read more

Harkins, Wentling measure to cast wider net for Lake Erie fishing permit funding options lands on governor’s desk

(Jun 26, 2020)

ERIE, June 26 - On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania House once again approved a measure introduced by Reps. Pat Harkins, D-Erie, and Parke Wentling, R-Crawford/Erie/Lawrence/Mercer, which would broaden the allocation of proceeds from Lake Erie fishing permits or stamps issued by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. “Put simply, the purpose of our legislation is to expand the types of fishing-related projects, such as marina improvements, installing additional fish cleaning stations and many other angler attracting incentives, that can be funded through revenue generated by the sale of Lake Erie fishing permits,” said Wentling. “Once enacted, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission would have greater flexibility in determining the best ways to invest these funds to improve and expand public fishing opportunities at Lake Erie, Presque Isle Bay and their tributaries.” Originally introduced as House Bill 1187, the language of the bill was inserted into House Bill 808 which was concurred by the House and sent to the governor’s desk. “We have been working on this legislation for the last six years and it is great to finally see some light at the end of the tunnel,” said Harkins. “It has been a pleasure to work with the many stakeholders to make sure that their wishes and concerns are considered. There is always a great need along the shores of Lake Erie to make sure our sportsmen and women Read more

Harkins, Merski: Neary $6,000 in mini grants to bring horticulture to curriculum, educate public about lakeshore habitat

(Jun 26, 2020)

ERIE, June 26 – Two mini grants totaling nearly $6,000 will broaden the Erie public school curriculum to include urban gardening and horticulture and will fund interactive signage to help educate the public about lakeshore habitat, state Reps. Pat Harkins and Bob Merski, both D-Erie, announced. The lawmakers said a $2,908 mini grant will allow the Erie City School District to develop middle school curriculum units – “An Urban Gardening Design Challenge” and “A Culinary Connection” – which will connect elementary school programming and high school career tracks. “By incorporating subjects like urban farming and horticulture into the school curriculum, we’re doing more than just teaching kids the hands-on basics,” Harkins said. “We’re generating a love of science, an appreciation for the natural world and an awareness about the world’s diminishing food supply. We’re also helping to create a culture of self-reliance and putting knowledge into the hands of our kids that can one day help sustain our community.” Merski said, “Garden classrooms are the perfect places to teach so many different lessons. They offer a hands-on look at the life cycle, teach kids about the importance of being good stewards of the environment and give them the thrill of seeing what they can produce with their own hands. They also provide real-world career tracks and introduce Read more

Harkins, Merski encourage farmers to apply to Dairy Indemnity Program

(Jun 22, 2020)

ERIE, June 22 – State Reps. Pat Harkins and Bob Merski, both D-Erie, are urging dairy farmers who have suffered economic losses because of the pandemic to apply to a new, federally funded program that can assist in their recovery. The Dairy Indemnity Program – funded through the federal CARES Act and administered by the state Department of Agriculture – will distribute $15 million in funding to dairy farmers who have suffered financial losses as a result of discarded or displaced milk during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The pandemic was like a double whammy for our dairy farmers, who have spent the past decade battling to survive in a shrinking market that has made it hard to keep a profit margin,” Harkins said. “Then, with major customers like restaurants and schools out of the picture because of the pandemic, farms have had to dump away more of their profits. It’s my hope that through this program, these important producers can recoup some of their COVID-19 related losses and continue moving forward.” “Dairy farms nourish our kids and our economy, creating thousands of jobs and contributing billions of dollars a year to Pennsylvania’s bottom line,” Merski said. “It’s critical to do everything we can to help keep them operating. The new program is accepting applications through Sept. 30, but I’m urging eligible farms to apply as soon as possible – our entire state Read more

Bizzarro, Merski, Harkins: Erie going green June 26 ‘the best possible news’

(Jun 19, 2020)

ERIE, June 19 – State Reps. Ryan Bizzarro, Robert Merski and Pat Harkins, all D-Erie, issued the following statements in response to news that Erie County will be moving to the green phase of the state’s reopen plan on Friday, June 26. “To say that this has been a trying period for Erie is an understatement,” Bizzarro said. “It’s hard to remember a time when our community’s endurance and patience were tested more severely, or for so long. “Our delegation fought hard to move Erie to green, but ultimately, it was the people of Erie, doing their part to slow the spread of the virus, that made the difference. To be sure, we face a long road ahead. But with the rest of our businesses soon free to reopen, a community ready and willing to support them and a small business grant program on the horizon, we will soon be forging a path to revitalization.” Merski said, “We fought for weeks to move Erie to green, and the announcement today that this is finally happening is the best possible news we could have received. The pandemic and related shutdowns stopped our economy in its tracks, placed a huge burden on business owners and working families, and left many in our community feeling isolated. Getting into the green will help change all that by lifting most restrictions. “Businesses already running at 50% occupancy will be able to run at 75% occupancy; barbershops and hair Read more

Bizzarro, Merski, Harkins: Nearly $155,000 awarded for law enforcement coronavirus preparedness

(Jun 10, 2020)

ERIE, June 10 – Erie law enforcement will be able to apply for up to $154,780 in emergency funding to address challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, state Reps. Ryan Bizzarro, Pat Harkins and Bob Merski, all D-Erie, announced today. The lawmakers said the federal Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding – administered by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency – will fund critical protections for workers and the communities they serve. “I know from my work as a victim/witness coordinator and victims’ rights advocate how much of our criminal justice system depends on face-to-face, time-sensitive work such as interviewing witnesses and supporting and treating crime victims,” Bizzarro said. “ This funding is going to help address the added challenges staff face in carrying out those essential duties safely in the midst of the pandemic.” Harkins said, “Law enforcement agencies and staff already face a host of challenges, and the pandemic has added another whole layer of logistical problems. Containing the spread of COVID-19 – whether in our county jails, juvenile detention centers, courthouses or the general community – requires resources and planning. This funding will help our agencies implement infection control and keep our dedicated criminal justice workers safe in the field.” Merski said the funding will support a broad Read more

Erie lawmakers express anger, frustration over failure to move Erie to green

(Jun 05, 2020)

ERIE, June 5 – Joined by fellow Erie lawmakers on the steps of the county courthouse, state Reps. Pat Harkins, Bob Merski, and Ryan Bizzarro, all D-Erie, expressed deep frustration that Erie is not among the counties moving to the green phase of the state’s reopen plan Friday, June 12. “We had a conference call with one of the governor’s staff, and it did not go well,” Harkins said. “Secretary Levine was on the call. We presented the numbers we are working from, and we asked for additional information. We never received it. “As I was on the phone most of last evening, my line was blowing up with calls from residents and business owners I totally sympathize with. Then, this morning, after we had a press call arranged with the governor, he jumped off the call. “I ran for this office 14 years ago to speak for people who don’t have a voice in Harrisburg. Now, I feel like we don’t have a voice. I worked with the Teamsters and with UPS for 25 years, and I have never experienced anything like this. I have supported Tom Wolf and worked well with him, but this is uncalled for. We need to stick together and do what we have to do to move Erie green.” Merski said, “Today, from the data we received from the state, there are five new cases. We’re keeping this county closed for five new cases. This is ridiculous. “I have stuck with the governor and I Read more

Bizzarro, Merski, Harkins renew demand to move Erie to green, open phase

(Jun 03, 2020)

ERIE, June 3 – Renewing their demand to open Erie County, state Reps. Ryan Bizzarro, Bob Merski and Pat Harkins, all D-Erie, have written to Gov. Tom Wolf urging him to add the county to the list of others moving to the “green” phase of the state’s reopen plan on June 5. The lawmakers say they hope the letter – co-signed by state Sens. Dan Laughlin and Michele Brooks; state Reps. Curt Sonney and Brad Roae; and local mayors and county executives – will bring swift action. Bizzarro said, “We’re continuing to push the administration to move Erie to green, for the sake of our small businesses and local economy. Each day that goes by makes it that much harder for these businesses to get back on their feet. To be sure, the health of our residents is priority No. 1, but we must not ignore the health of our local economy, which is hanging in the balance.” Merski said, “Keeping Erie in the yellow is doing nothing to keep residents safer; it’s only hurting our local businesses. Surrounding counties – including those in Ohio and New York – are fully open, forcing Erie consumers to travel elsewhere for services. It only creates unnecessary competition for our business community and increases the risk of spreading the virus. “What’s more, the numbers don’t support the continued restrictions: Statistics from our local health department show that our county Read more