HARRISBURG – Today the House Appropriations Committee heard from the Department of Agriculture
(PDA), Penn State University, the University of Pittsburgh, Temple University, Lincoln University
and the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs
(DDAP). Here are the key takeaways from the day:
It takes two to tango:
· Once again, the governor’s budget proposal eliminates long-standing, bipartisan and value-added programs such as Agriculture Research and Food Marketing and Research appropriations, along with increases that were allocated for Penn State and Penn Vet laboratories and Livestock and Consumer Health Protection. PDA Secretary Russell Redding admitted under questioning that, “it’s a dance” and said, “we will work with you to have them restored.” Since budgets reflect priorities, it seems the administration prefers the two-step to the polka. It is unfortunate that the governor would choose political dances over funding food and health safety priorities during a pandemic.
PDA deputized for COVID-19 citations and storage:
· When asked which statutes give PDA the authority to enforce COVID-related mandates on restaurants and issue citations, Redding said that his department was “deputized” by the Department of Health (DOH). He added that proceeds from citations are going to DOH, but he could not provide an estimate on how much has been received.
· Redding also testified that the Farm Show Complex has been the primary storage facility for the Commonwealth’s stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE) and has received $3.7 million in federal funds to do so.
Fully funding higher education in FY2020-21 served as an anchor for universities:
· Dr. Richard Englert, Temple University President, testified that the General Assembly’s decision to fully fund higher education in May of last year served as an anchor that allowed
the universities to meet the needs of their students for the current academic year, coupled with federal CARES Act funds and utilizing university reserves. Other university presidents echoed the sentiment.
· All of the state-related universities received direct federal funding through the CARES Act and other federal relief appropriations. Penn State received $139,962,520, the University of Pittsburgh received $51,879,931, Temple University received $72,982,740 and Lincoln University received $9,015,751.
Opioid death counts during COVID expected to increase:
· While DDAP’s Opioid Data Dashboard currently shows that overdose deaths in 2020 are down from 4,458 in 2019 to 3,954 in 2020, DDAP Secretary Jennifer Smith testified that, due to lags in data, she expects the number will actually increase dramatically and will more closely reflect numbers when Pennsylvania hit the peak in 2017. According to the dashboard, opioid-related overdose deaths peaked in 2017 at 5,396 deaths.
House Republican Caucus
Pennsylvania House of Representatives