An Open Letter to Governor Wolf

Honorable Tom Wolf
Governor
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
225 Main Capitol Building
Harrisburg, PA  17120

Dear Governor Wolf:

This letter is written on behalf of the vast majority of the 250,000 residents of the 23rd Senatorial District. 

Over the last two weeks, my staff and I have literally dealt with a thousand communications regarding the effect of your “essential business” and “stay at home” orders.   While the total lack of logic in some of the administrative decisions is always a question, the overwhelming issue is the necessity of getting back to work.  People want to work.  This issue far exceeds any concerns about healthcare or the possibility of individual sickness.   The crisis in my district and much of the state is not coronavirus, it is the restriction of the ability to work.

When talking about a return to work, we have had constituents use every descriptor from “please help us” to “we implore you to help us” to “we have nowhere to turn” to “we are begging for help.”   We have had persons crying on the telephone as they relate the impact of not being able to work, coupled with the failure of state agencies to respond either at all or in any meaningful manner.  I have had staff members crying as they listened to the plight of these good people who live in my district.  I have done a lot of work on the opioid crisis in Pennsylvania, but I must say that the current state of affairs created by the administration in Pennsylvania is the most gut-wrenching situation I have ever encountered.   And, perhaps most frightening, the ramifications of the devastation caused to Pennsylvania’s economy will last far beyond your term in office.

Constituents have explained things better than I could.  One stated: 

“I am 68 years old and have a (medical) history.  This gives me 2 strikes and puts me in the category of being more at risk for the coronavirus than others…WE (my wife and I) practice safe distancing…Now that people seem to be better equipped about the dangers of the virus and the precautionary steps that need to be taken, I am becoming gravely concerned about a potentially more severe illness and dying crisis…I am talking about the economic illnesses that the shutdowns are inflicting upon people.  Employees who might be living from paycheck to paycheck.  Business owners who have sunk their life savings into their businesses  only to see their cash flow abruptly stop…We are adults…YOU NEED TO GIVE US THE OPPORTUNITY AND THE FLEXIBILITY TO WORK.”

Another related: 

“We are a third generation family owned business…We bought the business 4 years ago…we have a massive loan along with 13 employees…When Governor Wolf brought the state of Pennsylvania to a screeching halt…I sent my husband home with our 3 kids and I stayed at our office…trying to figure out what to do with all of the jobs that we were in the middle of.  How to move our equipment back to our shop so they didn’t get vandalized…a state police officer showed up…asking me what I was doing there.  I proceeded to tell him.   They then stated I needed to close up per the Governor’s orders.   I wasn’t even allowed to figure out what I needed to do in our next steps??  It makes zero sense to me that scrap yards, landscapers, quarries and landfills are allowed to be open, but we are not.  We do the SAME THING!  I am pleading with you to get this reversed.   Open the economy back up.  This is killing our small business along with all the other small businesses in this area.”

Still another constituent stated: 

“People are struggling to pay their bills, feed their kids, teach their kids at home and all you seem to care about is the power you have to destroy the state’s economy.  People are also struggling with being locked up in our homes and having no sense of normalcy.”

I am sure your healthcare advisors will tell you that mental well-being is a critical factor in the overall health of a person.   Based on my observations and contacts, the mental health of my district is not good.   People are tired of being closed in, people are tired of being told what to do, people are tired of hearing platitudes with no substance, people are tired of not being treated like adults capable of following directions and guidelines.   At the top of the list of frustrations is a state unemployment compensation system which is dysfunctional if not inept.  Phones are not answered, voice mails are not accepted, email systems are not operational.   Can anyone say with a straight face that the decisions which created these issues is in the best interest of the citizens of Pennsylvania?  More health problems are going to result from your cure than perhaps from the disease itself.

My constituents realize that there is risk involved in every aspect of life.   We all face health risks everyday whether it is a physical problem, falling, an auto accident or even a crime.   From the time we are born until we die, we face risk every day.   Weighing job and economic loss against the possibility of contracting coronavirus in their workplace, my constituents opt to return to work.   That is a risk worth taking.

A few businesses in my district have maintained a relatively normal working schedule due to their essential classification.  One in particular employs over 500 workers and their experience since the close down began—zero incidents of COVID-19.  That is not an anomaly, it is the result of following safety guidelines and good management.  

Literally, there are others standing in line who can achieve the same result.   My constituents can handle what needs to be done.  Please give them the guidance and respect that they deserve and let them get back to work.

Sincerely,

GENE YAW
SENATOR