Wolf comes to Philadelphia to push for small business grants

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks Thursday, March 24, at a news conference at Bridesburg Recreation Center.
Jack Tomczuk

Gov. Tom Wolf visited Bridesburg Recreation Center Thursday afternoon to advocate for his proposal to devote $225 million in federal funds to replenish a state small business assistance program formed in the wake of COVID-19.

Standing on the building’s hardwood floors, under the basketball hoop, Wolf said the grants, which would range from $5,000 to $50,000, would help business owners deal with rising costs.

“Pennsylvania’s small businesses are in a tight spot,” he said. “We have the money to help, and we need to spend it.”

Jesus Garcia, owner of Nemi restaurant, speaks in support of Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan to distribute additional business aid.Jack Tomczuk

Using unallocated money from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, a new round of funding would aid about 11,000 businesses and prioritize minority-and-women-owned firms and those in rural areas, officials said.

More than 10,000 businesses benefited from the COVID-19 Relief Statewide Small Business Assistance Program in 2020, according to the governor’s office.

Jesus Garcia, owner of Nemi restaurant in Port Richmond, received a grant in that initial round, and he said government funding and outdoor seating have given eateries “a chance to survive.”

The small business initiative is part of a broader plan to spend $1.7 billion in ARP dollars on a variety of programs, such as property tax rebates, money to help nursing homes and funding for agricultural conservation.

“The money is supposed to help Pennsylvanians right now,” Wolf said.“It’s for right now, because this is where the need is, and it’s past time that we use this money.”

Wolf proposed the plan in early February, and he has been campaigning around the state to build support. Spending the ARP money would require support from the GOP-controlled legislature in Harrisburg.

After Wolf released details of his proposal, state House Republican leaders derided it, saying the governor and his Democratic supporters devised the plan “in a fiscal fantasy land where concern for future fiscal years apparently doesn’t exist.”

“We would be open to any conversation about how that money should be used, if they have other ideas,” Wolf said Thursday. “Our ears are open, but we need to use it.”

State Rep. Joe Hohenstein speaks Thursday, March 24, at a news conference at Bridesburg Recreation Center.Jack Tomczuk

In addition to the business grants, the $1.7 billion would fund the “PA Opportunity Program,” which Wolf’s representatives said provide money to families to help cover household costs.

The governor’s plan also includes a tax relief initiative that would provide about 466,000 residents around Pennsylvania with an average rebate of $475, according to his office.

A significant amount, $250 million, would be spent on strengthening the workforce in long-term care facilities, and another $35 million would go toward student loan forgiveness for people who work in the healthcare industry.

“We’ve got to loosen up the funds that the federal government has already given us to make sure that our neighborhoods and our people are supported,” said state Rep. Joe Hohenstein, whose district includes Bridesburg.