Gov. Wolf Highlights COVID-19 PA Hazard Pay Grant Program at Brookings Panel Discussion on Essential Workers

Gov. Tom Wolf today highlighted the importance of supporting front line workers who put their health and lives on the line to provide essential services throughout the pandemic during an online event “Essential Workers: One Year into the COVID-19 Pandemic” hosted by Brookings, a Washington DC-based public policy organization.

“As the pandemic took hold in Pennsylvania, it quickly became clear that the title ‘essential worker’ goes far beyond our health care professionals and first responders. They are grocery store clerks, food distributors, security guards, public transit workers, janitors, and more, and they are essential to our daily lives,” said Gov. Wolf. “We must ensure that these workers, many of whom make at or just above the minimum wage, are appropriately compensated for their important work throughout the pandemic and every day.”

The governor participated in a panel discussion that focused on essential workers and ensuring access to equitable pay through hazard pay and increasing the minimum wage.

Pennsylvania is one of just three states that has allocated a portion of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to providing hazard pay to front line employees working in vital industry sectors.

Last August, the Wolf Administration announced the administration of $50 million in Hazard Pay grants to 639 employers, supporting a $3 per hour increase in pay 41,587 full-time equivalent employees across seven eligible industries: healthcare, food manufacturing, food retail, social assistance, janitorial, transportation and security.

Brookings estimates that 47% of front line essential workers earn less than a living wage.

Governor Wolf calls for increasing the state’s minimum wage to $12 per hour on July 1, with annual increases of $0.50 until reaching $15 per hour on July 1, 2027.

Pennsylvania’s current and embarrassingly low minimum wage mirrors the federal wage of $7.25. More than 1.1 million Pennsylvanians would benefit from a minimum wage increase.

“The pandemic has only increased the urgency to ensure workers are paid a living wage,” Gov. Wolf said. “This path to $15 would put $4.4 billion in the pockets of Pennsylvania workers in the first year, an important boost for our state and local economies as we recover from the pandemic.”

In 2018, the governor signed an executive order raising the minimum wage for commonwealth employees under the governor’s jurisdiction to $12 an hour with a pathway to $15 by 2024.

A recording of the online event is available at Brookings.