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Pennsylvania County to Use COVID Funding for Broadband

COVID funding is being used to get Internet services to all of Schuylkill County, Pa., via collaborations with local school districts and other work in underserved areas, one of Schuylkill’s commissioners said.

(TNS) — COVID funding is being used to get internet services to all of Schuylkill County, Pa., one of its commissioners said.

The semi-annual Legislative Forum hosted by the Manufacturers and Employers Association Friday morning turned into a free-wheeling discussion about the many facets of the pandemic.

With the state House of Representatives having canceled its voting session Thursday after a Franklin County representative tested positive for the coronavirus, the only legislator who attended the forum was Sen. David G. Argall, R-29, Rush Twp. But also in attendance were all three Schuylkill County commissioners — George Halcovage, Barron “Boots” Heatherington and Gary Hess.

Halcovage said one of the initiatives the commissioners are tackling with some of the county’s COVID money is broadband.

“We are working together with the school districts, setting up some different microwaves,” Halcovage said. “We’re getting out into underserved areas, like some places in the Tri-Valley School District, the Williams Valley, the Blue Mountain School District, or up in the North Schuylkill School District.”

Halcovage said getting internet service is not only crucial for education — when students have to get their education at home, like during the pandemic — but it is also crucial for retention of employees.

“The training the MAEA provides not only for our manufacturers, but for the schools with the YES program, is off the charts,” Halcovage said, referring to the Your Employability Skills program, a one-credit program taught in high schools that teaches students soft skills like showing up to work on time and dressing properly.

Halcovage also said the Luzerne/Schuylkill Workforce Investment Board “does a phenomenal job getting employees into great” programs.

“What we heard today is employee recruitment is so crucial,” said the current MAEA chairwoman, Julie Masser Ballay, of Sterman-Masser. “When we think about quality of life for our employees and what people look for to try and bring employees into this area, and get them to stay in this area, broadband is just one example that becomes so huge.”

Christine Jensen, site administrator for Pennsylvania CareerLink in Luzerne County and LSWIB, said there is funding available to retain employees.

“We had a very successful summer internship program,” Jensen said. “We were able to reimburse employers for hiring interns and creating a pipeline for your next employee by getting them to stay in Northeast Pennsylvania.”

In the last nine years, employers were reimbursed more than $1 million for on-the-job training, she said.


Argall said there have been a number of bills put forward in the House regarding COVID-19 liability protection.

“There was some movement in the House this week,” he said. “There was a bill that was moving that had the support of some of the state’s legal community. There was another bill that was moving that had the support of manufacturers and chambers of industry. They tried to merge them together.”

Carl Marrara, vice president of government affairs for the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, said there are seven business organizations calling for safe labor protections.

“There’s some really good language that includes a safe harbor for businesses that are operating safely to be protected, but there is a really bad piece connected with this called a false claims act which is being sought by trial lawyers in the Philadelphia area,” Marrara said.

Argall said the courts have been “heavily involved” in COVID issues, including Thursday’s appeals court ruling that allows Gov. Tom Wolf’s indoor and outdoor crowd size restrictions can remain in effect for now. Argall has been critical of many of Wolf’s actions in response to the pandemic.

“In the beginning, people were patient,” he said. “That is over.”

He predicts the crowd size battle is far from over.

“Ultimately, I think it is going to go to the United States Supreme Court,” he said.

©2020 the Standard-Speaker (Hazleton, Pa.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.