Pennsylvania auditor general will look into how state handled business waivers

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale will audit how the state managed the waiver process used to give businesses exemptions to Gov. Tom Wolf’s shutdown order.

“Some business owners complained that the department’s waiver process was too slow and not transparent enough,” DePasquale said.

The announcement came a day after Senate Republicans called for the audit. DePasquale said in a virtual news conference that he had considered the audit before the letter from the senators.

He said the audit is underway, and hopes it will not be a long process.

“This is not a complicated audit,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it’s not important, but it’s not overly complicated.”

Wolf on March 19 ordered all non-life-sustaining businesses and operations to close their physical locations in an effort to slow the spread of covid-19. As of Thursday, covid-19 had killed more than 2,200 and infected more than 45,000 in Pennsylvania.

The governor’s office created a waiver application for businesses that were ordered to shut down but thought they were life-sustaining and should remain open.

Republicans in the Senate say the Wolf administration has lacked transparency in explaining how the waiver process was handled. The state has declined to release a list of businesses that were provided waivers.

PennLive reported the example of a Franklin County builder who was denied a waiver to complete work on a home lost in a fire.

A group within the Department of Community and Economic Development processed the waivers.

DePasquale said his office will look into any patterns in exemptions and probe adjustments the Wolf administration made to the national standard of “life-sustaining businesses.”

“(We’ll be) asking for some of the reasons why those changes were made and how that impacted some of the waivers that were approved and not approved,” DePasquale said.

Wolf, on a call with reporters Thursday morning, said he welcomes the audit.

He said about 42,000 businesses applied for a waiver and about two-thirds were granted one or told they already were considered life-sustaining.

Of the million or so businesses in the state, he said, about 1% “went through (the waiver process) and didn’t get what they wanted.”

Wolf pointed to other states that ordered businesses to shut down without any wiggle room.

“I figured that probably wasn’t as fair or commonsensical as one that said, ‘OK, this is the list, but if you have a problem with that, tell us,’ ” he said.

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