HARRISBURG, PA — At a budget hearing Thursday at the state Capitol, Rep. John Lawrence (R-Chester/Lancaster), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, questioned Budget Secretary Jen Swails on Gov. Tom Wolf’s failure to address COVID-19 vaccinations in his recently released budget proposal.
“Madam Secretary, the No.1 issue I hear about from constituents right now is COVID vaccines,” said Lawrence. “I looked through the governor’s proposed budget, and in all 916 pages, the governor does not allocate a single dollar for COVID vaccinations. I’d like to know why COVID vaccinations, the top issue in this state today, didn’t even get a mention in the governor’s budget address.”
“Vaccinations [are] a federal effort,” replied Swails, who went on to note that both federal and state funds were being used to distribute COVID-19 vaccines in Pennsylvania.
“Don’t you think it would be? at a minimum? common sense to outline [a plan for COVID-19 vaccinations] in his budget address?” asked Lawrence.
“I think we talk about it often enough. It doesn’t need to be in every address,” Swails replied to a stunned Lawrence.
For decades, Pennsylvania’s state budget has included funding for various medical initiatives. Lawrence noted Wolf’s proposal included earmarks to treat Lyme disease and cystic fibrosis, and even addressed rabies vaccinations for dogs, yet failed to prioritize a single dollar to fund the distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccinations.
Later in the same hearing, Swails seemed unaware that the governor’s constituent telephone line was out of service for months during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Wolf recently reminded Pennsylvanians to contact their elected officials, even though his office was nearly unreachable for most of 2020.
“For months, the governor’s phone line forwarded callers directly to voicemail at the Department of Health. Trying to actually get someone at the governor’s office was impossible,” said Lawrence. “Are you unaware that the governor’s phone line was forwarded to the Department of Health for months?”
“[The] constituent line?” asked Swails.
“Yes,” said Lawrence.
“To answer COVID-related questions?” replied Swails.
“To answer any question at all. Are you not aware of that?” asked Lawrence.
“Obviously I’m not in charge of that,” replied Swails.
Recent press reports indicate the Wolf administration has distributed far fewer vaccines per-capita to Southeastern Pennsylvania’s “collar counties,” including Chester County, than to other counties in Pennsylvania. Bipartisan calls from county and state officials to reallocate vaccines to these population centers remain unanswered by the Wolf administration.
See Lawrence’s questioning of Swails here: https://s3.us-east-2.amazonaws.com/pagopvideo/460082077.mp4.
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