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Candidates weigh in on area jobs, economy

A worker without a paid-up union card is roughed up as he tries to enter Bethlehem Steel during a strike in May of 1942.

Candidates in this year’s election say boosting the economy and increasing numbers of jobs comes down to either reopening more businesses and/or bringing more government money to employers and employees.

COVID-19, they agree, has posed unique challenges for many people out of work and businesses struggling to get back to normal, even as the nation recognizes Labor Day today, about seven months after much of the country shut down.

“It’s time to reopen the economy,” state Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Loyalsock Township, said.

For Pennsylvania, it shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all strategy either, according to the lawmaker.

Rather, rural areas without large numbers of coronavirus cases should not be restricted in the same way as those with many more cases.

“The role of government is to provide accurate data to not only businesses but also individuals to keep everyone safe,” Wheeland, who is running for re-election for the 83rd House seat, said. “Our economy here in Lycoming County was doing quite well prior to COVID-19. Now is the time to get people back to work.”

His Democratic opponent, Airneezer Page, said her heart goes out to those who are struggling.

“It is unfortunate that there are still so many people unemployed and business can’t be done as usual. Those laid off and out of work have found it difficult to manage with the resources they have. The problem is there is a financial literacy issue in our society.”

Page said her hope is that everyone will adhere strictly to mandates from Gov. Tom Wolf to wear masks and isolate themselves to help reduce numbers of coronavirus cases

“This COVID-19 has really paralyzed the economy. We all know that if actions had been taken earlier we would not be in this situation,” she said.

State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalock Township, said people are eager to go out and spend money, and that means opening up businesses more than they are now.

“That is how how you get the economy moving again,” he said.

Yaw said he continues to be frustrated over some of the restrictions that prevent restaurants and other business from operating as they did prior to COVID-19.

“Opening up and socializing is needed,” he said. “Everything is based on fear. I think we need to be aware of problems we have, but I don’t think we can operate on this fear factor.”

Yaw’s Democratic opponent, Jackie Baker, could not be reached for comment for this story.

Amanda Waldman, Democratic candidate for 84th state House, said, “We need to put money into the economy.”

She called for attracting environmentally friendly businesses and jobs that will help sustain the economy.

“These are not normal times. We need to get money in the hands of people through more stable industries,” she said. “We also need to stop the corporate welfare we are handing out in Pennsylvania. Our people need help, not the big corporations.”

Her Republican opponent, Joseph Hamm, said, “I think there are a lot of things that can be done. The one-size-fits-all approach by Wolf to shut businesses down has hurt employees and employers. There were parts of the state that did require more shutdowns, but rural Pennsylvania is not same as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.”

Hamm said the state needs to be more business-friendly.

Toward that end, it should reduce the corporate tax rate, which is among the highest in the nation, along with cutting regulations which stifle business growth.

U.S. Rep. Fred Keller, R-Kreamer, noted that federal programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program Economic Injury Disaster Loan programs for small businesses and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Economic Impact Payments for individuals and families, have been instrumental in minimizing the economic damage during the pandemic.

“While the federal government has rightly stepped in to provide relief measures and expanded benefits for small businesses, individuals and families, these programs are naturally limited by time and the government’s ability to fund them in the face of mounting deficits,” he said. “Any additional relief legislation should narrowly target the hardest-hit industries. I have also been leading the effort in the House to provide additional support to the airlines industry to ensure continued service to the Williamsport Regional Airport. In addition, working to reduce regulatory burdens can help jumpstart the private sector and lead to robust job creation. Government simply cannot endlessly throw money at this problem and hope it will fix everything. We need to get Pennsylvanians back to work.”

Keller’s Democratic opponent, Lee Griffin, said the recovery includes the health and safety of people.

“We need a health recovery in the way of a vaccine to make it safe for people to go out. We need to work to get through that,” he said. “We also have to make sure we have these small business resource programs in place and to continue with them. We can’t just flip a switch and everything goes back to normal. It will take some time. The important thing to remember is you are not just an employee, you are also a customer of many businesses. You need to create a market to ensure businesses thrive. People need to have money in their pockets.”

The focus, Griffin said, needs to be on working people, farms and small businesses.

“Those are the areas where the struggle is happening,” he added.

Liz Terwilliger, who is staging a write-in candidacy for Keller’s 12th Congressional seat as a Libertarian, noted that restaurants provide many jobs for people through the region, and getting those businesses back to full dining capacity is a key to sparking the economy.

“Most of the counties in the district are extremely low risk for COVID-19,” she said. “My biggest push is to reopen where we can, but obviously, keeping in mind the risk.”

People need the ability to secure jobs, she said.

“We need less regulations and red tape. We need to streamline things so it’s easier to open up a business,” she said.

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