Harrisburg, Pa. − April 30, 2020 − The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness (VAEP) Committee led by Chairman Mike Regan (R-Cumberland) today held a hearing, not to address veterans’ affairs nor emergency preparedness, but rather to issue subpoenas to officials in Governor Tom Wolf’s Administration.

Senate Democrats voted against this measure, but it passed with Republican-only support, 7-4.

“The Senate Republicans convened an incredibly wasteful, offensive and political hearing of an important committee in the midst of a crisis today,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, Jr. “There is important work that the VAEP Committee should undertake in its hearings, all of which was ignored today by the committee .”

Issues that the Committee failed to address in today’s hearing:

  • 26 COVID-19 related deaths at the Southeastern Veterans’ Center in Chester County. Auditor General DiPasquale and the Chester County Coroner have asked the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to conduct an investigation and release more information about the care that our Veterans are receiving in state-run Veterans homes.
  • A growing number of nursing homes around the Commonwealth that are requesting assistance from the Pennsylvania National Guard to take care of patients.
  • How to get more PPE to nursing homes that account for approximately 50% of the COVID-19 related deaths.
  • Getting information on county emergency management agencies
  • Hearing testimony, first hand, from first responders, health care workers or other front-line essential workers

The information requested in the subpoena from the Senate Republican caucus will already be released in an audit by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. The Auditor General had already announced his intention to do a review, at the behest of the Senate President Pro Tempore. The Department of Community and Economic Development and the Office of the Governor had already agreed to participate in the review.

Senate Republicans went forward with their politicized hearing anyway.

“A duplicative review of the same program and information is a waste of taxpayer resources and takes our administration’ s officials away from fighting COVID-19,” said Senator Costa. “As the United States crossed 60,000 deaths from COVID-19, Senate Republicans called a last-minute Senate Committee meeting to try to attack the Governor who has decisively and steadfastly led our state through this outbreak. “

VAEP Democratic Chairwoman and decorated Naval Officer Pam Iovino made the following statement during the committee proceedings:

“A global pandemic was a known threat.

That bears repeating: a global pandemic was a known threat.

There was reason to have Public Health experts as part of the National Security Team.

A strategic plan to pull from the shelf would have been a good thing.

But Pennsylvania, like every other state, was afforded the opportunity to figure it out on our own. That is not the way to go to war.

So with only a broad objective – prevent the spread of the virus, do not overwhelm our healthcare system, and keep people from dying… we were scrambling to do the best we could.

And that is how we came to the life-sustaining business waiver process to keep as many people at home as possible to avoid the spread of the corona virus.

The process was flawed.

I do not believe there is disagreement about that from anyone.

I, like all of my colleagues, have heard from many businesses with legitimate grievances with the waiver process.

I mentioned that one of the other reasons the military is so highly regarded is the routine practice of continually seeking improvement….

inspections, after-action reports, assessing operations and training exercises…Taking a close, objective look and finding where better methods make sense.

We need to do this with the waiver process. And not just because we agree it was flawed, but because unfortunately, we may find ourselves needing it again.

The Auditor General’s decision to conduct an audit, and the Governor’s and DCED’s cooperation with that audit, is the best way to comprehensively and independently review the waiver process, improve the process, and give Pennsylvanians the transparency that they deserve from their government.

The office of the Auditor General is the official entity whose mission is (and I quote) “to serve the people of Pennsylvania by improving government accountability, transparency, and the effective use of taxpayer dollars.”

This audit is warranted. And it best serves the people of Pennsylvania.

Finding deficiencies merely to find fault does not serve the people of Pennsylvania. Having the Auditor General do his job of finding deficiencies in the waiver program to improve on it must be the goal here.”

Senator Lindsey Williams also offered remarks at the hearing.

“We are in the middle of a global pandemic and instead of addressing that crisis, we are having a committee meeting that is pure political theater.

Instead, we are sitting in the Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee talking about the Department of Community and Economic Development business waiver process. As minority chair of the Community, Economic, and Recreational Development Committee, which has jurisdiction over DCED, I do not understand why we are not talking about this in the CERD committee.

I believe in government transparency and accountability. To the best of my knowledge, I am the only person on this committee who has actually worked on behalf of employees who blew the whistle on government waste, fraud and abuse.

This subpoena is not about transparency. It is about a political stunt. It is about driving up to Mount Wolf and serving a subpoena on the Governor with a camera crew in tow.”

Senator Maria Collett, a member of the VAEP Committee, also offered remarks on her “no” vote.

“Issuing subpoenas now that will take people away from the good work of helping our communities just to spend countless hours sifting through documents to satisfy discovery requests is undoubtedly a waste of taxpayer money. And it further wastes the energies of people we so desperately need to continue working to get our Commonwealth back on track for a safe, effective re-opening.

The administration needs to better target their relief efforts to make sure the money gets in the hands of those who need it the most, in districts like mine that have been closed the longest and to the families and small businesses that have been hardest hit. My focus right now is making sure this happens. My vote reflects the distraction I think launching this type of legal investigation now will be towards the goal of bringing desperately needed financial relief to my district.”

Members of the Senate Democratic Caucus are continuing their work to fight COVID-19, protect front line workers, and get all Pennsylvanians back on their feet financially.

The caucus has proposed PA CARES, a plan to spend $5 billion in federal stimulus dollars. Details of the plan can be found at pasenate.com/pacares.