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Pennsylvania Lawmakers May Tap Into Coronavirus Relief Funds To Balance State Budget

HARRISBURG (KDKA) - Pennsylvania still has not spent $1.3 billion received under the federal CARES Act to deal with the coronavirus pandemic relief, and some are worried that money could get diverted to close a budget deficit in Harrisburg.

Coronavirus took a chunk out of state revenues as businesses shuttered and residents lost jobs, and that may happen again this winter.

Now some are concerned that lawmakers will use the remaining $1.3 billion out of the $3.9 billion CARES Act funding allocated to the state to balance the budget instead of providing relief to Pennsylvanians.

With so many unmet coronavirus needs, why hasn't Harrisburg spent the remaining billion-plus federal dollars it got?

"They had it in the back of their minds to balance this second half of the budget, they might want to draw on these funds, and that's something that's been talked about for some time," says Marc Stier, executive director of the non-profit Pennsylvania Budget And Policy Center in Harrisburg.

"Originally, the money was designated to meet the immediate needs created by the pandemic, not to backfill lost state revenues," Stier told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Thursday.

Stier says this money should be used for COVID-impacted schools, housing relief and even cash grants to out-of-work Pennsylvanians.

Can this money fill a budget hole?

There are some restrictions, said Stier, but, "The way they're going to justify using it to backfill lost state revenues is that they're going to say, 'all right, we're going to put it into the Health Department, we're going to put it into public safety, we're going to put it into human services.'"

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, a Hempfield Republican, says, properly used, these dollars can help balance the budget without raising taxes on Pennsylvanians.

"The federal government said you could use – they kind of loosened their standards awhile ago and said you can use it for anything that is coronavirus-related, any impacts it has caused," says Ward.

Ward rejects any idea the money will be misused.

"We're using it for items that are coronavirus-related, so for things the virus has caused because it has had a great impact, as you know, on our economy, and a great impact on our employment."

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