Wolf calls for Ukrainian refugee money, further divestment in Russia

Budget
Gov. Tom Wolf
Commonwealth Media Services

Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday asked state lawmakers to allocate $2 million to fund refugee resettlement agencies to help Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion.

He also expressed support for legislation barring public investment in companies connected to Russia’s government and appeared open to potentially sending personal protective equipment from Pennsylvania’s stockpile to Eastern Europe.

“I want to do everything we can to show solidarity with Ukraine,” said Wolf, speaking at a news conference in Harrisburg.

Wolf said the $2 million would provide “faster and more flexible” money to help displaced Ukrainians get to Pennsylvania.

It’s unclear how many of those attempting to escape the violence would want to come to Pennsylvania, he added; however, the state’s Ukrainian American population, at more than 122,000, is second highest in the U.S., according to the governor’s office.

Meanwhile, Wolf indicated he would sign a bill floated by state House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, a Republican, that would ban public funds from investing in firms close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his supporters.

He urged leaders in Harrisburg to send him “clean legislation,” meaning without any add-ons or combined with other bills. The proposal would expand on a state law that currently prohibits investments in Iran and Sudan.

Wolf’s office has instructed state agencies to review their contracts to make sure there are no deals with Russian companies.

In addition, Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity is in the process of selling off $2.9 million worth of Russian investments under her purview, Wolf said.

Officials said pension funds connected to state employees and public school teachers have already divested of their Russian holdings.

Late last month, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board instructed state stores to pull a pair of vodkas made in Russia, as well as other products from the country available through special order.

With few coronavirus restrictions in place across the state, Republican leaders in Harrisburg last week called on Wolf’s administration to consider sending soon-to-expire masks and other PPE to Ukraine.

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks Monday, March 7, in Harrisburg to discuss efforts to support Ukraine and divest from Russia.Commonwealth Media Services

The lawmakers, including Bucks County’s Frank Farry, asked the governor’s office to make an inventory and check if Pennsylvania facilities need any additional supplies before authorizing the shipments.

“I think that’s a great idea for a lot of reasons,” Wolf told reporters Monday. “I want to make sure we replace it with stockpiles to serve Pennsylvanians as well, but I’m very open to that idea.”

During the press briefing, David Briel, deputy secretary for the state’s Office of International Business Development, said officials were working in conjunction with the federal government to make sure business owners understand the sanctions against Russia.

In recent years, the Wolf administration has reached out to Ukrainian companies to build stronger business ties, Briel said.

He added that Pennsylvania imports $28 million worth of products annually from Ukraine and exports $57 million.

The state typically exports just over $250 million to Russia and imports about $1.7 billion, much of which comes in the form of fossil fuels, Briel said.

Republican legislators, led by state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, have called on Wolf to increase Pennsylvania’s oil and gas production to lessen the burden on European nations that rely on Russian fuels.

Wolf has characterized the request as a thinly-veiled attempt at taking advantage of the war in Eastern Europe to boost natural gas profits and thwart politics aimed at combating climate change.

Despite the clash with Metcalfe, the governor indicated he is open to suggestions from Republican leaders.

“I think this is one of those things where Republicans and Democrats are actually united in trying to figure out what we can do,” he said.

State House GOP members have planned a news conference for Tuesday morning to discuss “empowering Pennsylvania energy production” as a way to divest from Russia.

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