By Rep. Anita Kulik
The Pennsylvania House of Representatives met the week of February 1. After a two-day snow delay, the House entered session to take up voting on several impactful bills.
This past year, especially, countless Pennsylvanians were faced with food shortages for themselves and their families. More than ever, residents in need relied on food banks and religious organizations for help. I have volunteered at local food banks, and I can tell you that the demand is great.
Too often, however, those wishing to donate food are forced by law to throw away food products that are past label dates or have other minor issues.
A lot of these products are still fit for consumption.
House Bill 187 was given a unanimous "yea" vote from the House. It amends the Donated Food Limited Liability Act by expanding donor immunity to include good faith donations to non-profit and religious food recovery programs.
Certain food products may not be considered readily marketable due to conditions not affecting their actual fitness for consumption, such as appearance, surplus or manufacturer label dates.
Under the bill, these products can still be donated if, after inspection by the donor, it is reasonably believed that the food is fit for consumption.
The donor will not be subject to civil or criminal liability so long as the donor is reasonable in making the determination that such items are appropriate for donation. This will enable less waste of food and get more to those in need.
A somewhat minor, but very important, change was made, to allow SNAP benefits to college students who qualify. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program rules have been temporarily changed to now be open for college students who qualify based on the income of their families.
Normally they would not be eligible, but the challenges of the pandemic have demonstrated that many students are suffering food insecurity. There is a need for these students to receive more assistance.
Access to COVID-19 vaccines is of great concern to a vast number of citizens. The vaccines themselves are supplied to the states from the federal government. Each state receives a weekly allotment and the number received is determined by the federal government. Supply remains the great obstacle, but distribution also remains a concern.
Residents and legislators alike are frustrated by the process of registering and obtaining appointments.
In an attempt to help with administering vaccines once received, the House passed HB 326. We moved this bill quickly through the Veterans Affairs Committee, and on to the House.
This bill will allow the Pennsylvania National Guard to work with the Department of Health and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to develop plans for the establishment and operation of community vaccination clinics in response to the current pandemic.
Members of the National Guard, who possess the proper training, will also be able to administer the vaccine where needed. This will especially help in those areas that have a lack of medical professionals available to administer vaccines.
In my last article, I discussed a resolution that would put a question on the ballot for a Constitutional Amendment that would change the manner that emergency declarations are managed by the government. This will now be addressed by Senate Bill 2, which passed the House on concurrence. I was one of four Democrats who voted "yea" on this bill.
My opinion remains that the citizens of Pennsylvania should have a say. It is the citizens, whether a laid-off worker or a business owner or a head of household, that have suffered greatly during this pandemic, whether from a medical standpoint or an economic standpoint.
Therefore, it should be for the citizens to decide if the proposed revisions outlined in SB2 should be made part of our Commonwealth's Constitution. Basically, this bill would limit the authority of any Governor in times of emergency.