HARRISBURG, Pa. - Gov. Tom Wolf hinted Monday that he will reverse himself and extend Pennsylvania’s moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, which for almost six months has shielded renters from losing their homes for failing to pay rent during the pandemic.
Wolf, a Democrat, last week said he does not have the legal authority to extend the moratorium beyond the end of August, and urged lawmakers in the Republican-controlled General Assembly to pass legislation to extend the statewide moratorium, which has been in place for more than five months.
He has since hedged as to whether, legally, it must end by Tuesday, and on Monday said he no longer stands by his decision to let it expire. Asked whether he would extend the moratorium on Tuesday, he said, “you have to wait and see.”
The state House of Representatives returns to voting session Tuesday and the Senate was scheduled to return next week. Republicans have said they will discuss the matter, but gave no promises.
Like many Democratic and Republican governors and local officials around the U.S., Wolf imposed a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions to prevent people from losing their homes in the midst of the virus outbreak and widespread joblessness.
On July 9, he extended the statewide moratorium until Aug. 31, saying renters needed more breathing room. A landlords group and individual landlords tried to get the moratorium overturned, but the state Supreme Court dismissed their suit.
Housing advocates predict a rush to the courthouse and a wave of evictions once the moratorium expires.
In other coronavirus-related developments in Pennsylvania:
PAID SICK LEAVE LEGISLATION
Wolf is urging lawmakers to pass legislation that requires businesses to provide paid sick and family leave for workers, saying Monday that it will help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Wolf said many workers lack any paid time off, and those working paycheck-to-paycheck are likelier to go to work, even if they feel sick, and infect co-workers.
“Workers should not have to choose between their job and their health, especially during this pandemic,” Wolf told a news conference Monday morning in Harrisburg.
The disparity in access to paid sick leave grows farther down the income ladder, with many more low-wage workers lacking it, Democrats say.
Thirteen states and Washington D.C. have enacted laws to require paid sick leave, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. A few states have temporarily broadened access to paid sick leave in response to the coronavirus, but none have adopted permanent and broad paid sick leave measures.
Paid sick leave legislation introduced by Democrats has sat untouched since last year in the Republican-controlled Legislature, amid opposition by business advocacy groups. Senate Republicans, in 2015 and 2017, tried but failed to block a Philadelphia city ordinance requiring paid sick leave. Pittsburgh also has a paid sick leave ordinance.
Democrats have redoubled efforts to urge the bills' passage since the onset of the pandemic in March, saying requiring paid sick leave would lower health care costs, make workers and workplaces more efficient and improve public health.
RESTRICTIONS ON RESTAURANTS
Wolf gave no hint Monday that he is considering relaxing restrictions on restaurant and bar capacity, which he ordered limited to 25% in July amid a resurgence of the virus linked, by some contact tracing data, to people eating and drinking in bars and restaurants or working in them.
Asked if he had any plans to relax those restrictions as colder weather increasingly prevents outdoor seating, Wolf on Monday said he is focused on getting children back to school, “and anything we do to take our eyes off that ball is going to be a problem.”
Wolf also ordered nightclubs to shut down and bars to close, unless they also offer dine-in meals.
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