Pennsylvania has been granting waivers to businesses that haven’t been deemed “life-sustaining” to allow them to remain open during the coronavirus shutdown. But this week, some businesses that were granted waivers back in late March have suddenly had them rescinded without explanation, while others who were initially denied a waiver have been surprisingly approved.
Spotlight PA reported on the stories of several business owners caught in the confusing and frustrating process, such as Tiffany Kuhn, who runs a mobile notary business that had received a waiver to continue operating on March 23. Last Thursday evening, around 9:30 p.m., however, Kuhn received an email from Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D-PA) administration saying her waiver had been rescinded. She received no explanation as to why.
Kuhn told Spotlight PA that she had taken precautions while continuing to operate her business by wearing gloves and a mask. “My first thought was, someone turned on me,” Kuhn told the outlet, suspecting a competitor might have said something.
She’s not alone. The confusing and much-criticized waiver process has allowed some businesses to operate while others in the same industry were told to close.
“Businesses have criticized the waiver process, saying the decisions were made in secret and applied unfairly, causing some in the same industry to operate while competitors were forced to remain closed. In some cases, a waiver could mean the difference between a business’ surviving the shutdown or going bankrupt,” Spotlight PA reported.
Micah Durling, who owns a photography business that specializes in real estate photos, had been granted a waiver on March 25, the outlet reported. Like Kuhn, he had taken precautions while operating – wearing protective gear, cleaning equipment after each shoot, and taking pictures when residents were not in their home. On Monday afternoon, Durling’s waiver was pulled – just days after a competitor complained about not receiving a waiver as well.
Last Friday, Wolf’s administration made public a list of those who had received waivers. Many whose names were not included on the list – such as Kuhn and a Central Pennsylvania garden store – were informed their waivers were pulled the night before the list was published. Others, such as Durling, were notified after the list was published.
Then there’s the case of Stacy White, who owns a trucking company with her husband just north of Scranton. They had been told they would not receive a waiver, but the night before the list was published, they received notification that they could now operate.
“I was like, huh, backpedal a little bit? … Fixing what went wrong?” White told the outlet.
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Officials with the Department of Community and Economic Development said the revocations were part of “a quality control review process” that began several weeks ago. In all, 69 businesses had their waivers revoked, spokesperson Casey Smith said, although she was unable to immediately say when they were notified.
“During that process, which is ongoing, we are rescinding waivers that were issued in error or do not meet the appropriate criteria,” Smith said.
The administration’s handling of the waiver process has been fraught from the start. The Department of Community and Economic Development has never detailed the criteria used to consider applications, nor has it made those applications public. It also hasn’t identified which businesses were denied, or those that were approved and then had their waiver revoked.
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