HARRISBURG – Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released a status update on his ongoing audit of the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development’s (DCED) waiver process for businesses that appealed Gov. Wolf’s COVID-19 closure order.
“So far, we’ve found that more than 500 businesses received answers from DCED that later changed,” DePasquale said. “The waiver program appeared to be a subjective process built on shifting sands of changing guidance, which led to significant confusion among business owners.”
On March 19, Gov. Wolf ordered that businesses that were not categorized as “life-sustaining” had to close to slow the spread of COVID-19, but allowed business to request a waiver that would allow them to remain open.
Numerous business owners and legislators complained that that DCED’s waiver process lacked transparency, moved too slowly and provided inconsistent or changing answers.
Business owners typically received one of three answers from DCED: an approval of the request to remain open, a denial or a statement that a waiver was not required to remain open. So far, auditors have found:
- 171 waiver applications were changed from “No” to “Yes”
- 151 waiver applications were changed from “No” to “Not Required”
- 73 waiver applications were changed from “Yes” to “No”
- 48 waiver applications were changed from “Not Required” to “No”
“Some owners of small businesses may not have had the knowledge to use the right ‘buzzwords’ in their justification for remaining open, or realized they could ask a legislator for help to navigate the process,” DePasquale said, noting that some businesses submitted multiple waiver requests.
DePasquale also called on the Wolf Administration to provide copies of any emails and other communications it may have received from legislators and lobbyists regarding specific businesses involved in the waiver process.
“I’ve asked the Governor’s Office to provide details on its communication with legislators and lobbyists about waiver requests,” he added. “Pennsylvanians deserve answers about the role that outside influence may have played in whether businesses were treated fairly and consistently.”
DePasquale said DCED has cooperated with his audit team, but there are still outstanding issues that must be resolved before the audit can be completed and the results released to the public.
Learn more about the Department of the Auditor General online at www.PaAuditor.gov.