School is expected to open in the fall

Milford. The Pennsylvania education secretary says school districts may choose from various options to meet social distancing guidelines. Nursing homes in Pennsylvania to release data. The moratorium on evictions has been extended. Unemployment claims for gig workers have a bumpy start. Expiration dates for drivers licenses have been extended.

13 May 2020 | 01:15

(AP) Gov. Tom Wolf's education secretary told lawmakers that he expects students to go back to school in the fall, and the Department of Education will provide guidance in the coming weeks to prepare teachers and staff to return to school buildings.

Education Secretary Pedro Rivera, testifying in a Senate committee hearing, acknowledged that schools will need additional aid to respond to various challenges posed by school closures and the need to contain the virus. He downplayed the notion that students might not return to school buildings in the fall. The department intends to reopen schools, but keeping students and staff safe might mean changes that involve following state health department recommendations, he said.

Rivera said he did not expect to require a particular approach for each school to reopen. Rather, the department will allow school districts to choose from various options to meet social distancing guidelines, Rivera said. Those could include smaller class sizes.

While the department will not mandate testing in the fall after it canceled standardized tests this spring, its reopening plan will need to account for remedial education that students may need because of lost classroom time during the closures, Rivera said. Every school district and charter school complied with the requirement to submit a plan showing how they would educate students during the school closures, Rivera said.

NURSING HOMES

After weeks of deliberation, the state Health Department has decided to release data on COVID-19 at individual nursing homes. Health officials have been under mounting pressure to name long-term care facilities with virus cases, with the state's chief fiscal watchdog, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, urging greater transparency. Health Department officials have said they were weighing the public's right to know against patient privacy and the dictates of state law. Statewide, 2,552 residents of nursing homes and personal care homes have died -- over two-thirds of the state's COVID-19 death toll.

EVICTION MORATORIUM

Gov. Wolf and state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a fellow Democrat, jointly announced the eviction moratorium, saying it advances public health efforts to quell the virus outbreak by allowing people to stay at home. "No one should have to worry about losing their home during this health emergency,'' Wolf said at a video news conference. But a board member of one of the state's largest landlord groups said the moratorium gives tenants the ability to live rent-free without consequence for months, and that operators will be hard-pressed to keep up with taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance and mortgage payments. Wolf noted that renters and homeowners are still required to make monthly payments. But he called on landlords to work with tenants through the crisis.

UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS

Self-employed people, gig workers and others not normally eligible for unemployment compensation were supposed to be able to start filing backdated claims on May 7 under a new federal benefits program being administered by the state. But the rollout was rife with complaints, and some applicants reported glitches that prevented them from completing the process.

The Department of Labor and Industry offered no immediate explanation for the reported problems. Since March 15, more than 174,000 people have applied to the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. The state began accepting applications April 18 but wasn't able to pay benefits while it built out the system. On May 7, the Department of Labor and Industry had said it was fully operational.

DRIVER LICENSES

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) said expiration dates for driver licenses, identification cards, and learner’s permits, will be extended for Pennsylvania residents in response to statewide COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Expiration dates for driver licenses, photo ID cards and learner's permits scheduled to expire from March 16, 2020, through May 31, 2020, are now extended through June 30, 2020.These extensions are in addition to those announced on March 27.Additionally, all Driver License Centers and Photo License Centers and the Harrisburg Riverfront Office Center in Pennsylvania are closed until further notice. Customers may complete transactions at dmv.pa.gov.

FARMERS MARKETS

Farmers markets and farmers in Pennsylvania are being offered grants to provide free wireless point-of-sale equipment for farmers markets and direct-marketing farmers who would like to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits but do not have the technology to do so. Devices are available at no cost from a grant awarded to the Department of Human Services from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to support access to fresh, healthy foods for SNAP recipients while supporting Pennsylvania’s agricultural economy .Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Teresa Miller said, “As Pennsylvania navigates the public health crisis, this grant allows farmers markets and farmers who sell their products directly to expand their customer base and provide more options for SNAP recipients across the commonwealth.” Pennsylvanians can apply for SNAP online at compass.state.pa.us.