HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Gov. Tom Wolf’s business shutdown waiver program is being audited amid complaints it was managed unfairly, Pennsylvania’s chief fiscal watchdog announced Thursday.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said he is investigating how the Department of Community and Economic Development ran the waiver program, under which tens of thousands of businesses applied to remain open during the pandemic.

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In March, Wolf, a Democrat, closed businesses deemed “non-life-sustaining” to help slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has sickened more than 44,000 Pennsylvania residents and killed over 2,100.

The pandemic and the state’s efforts to contain the virus have caused economic devastation, throwing nearly 1.7 million Pennsylvania residents out of work since mid-March.

“During this pandemic, obviously our economy has taken a huge hit. The question we need to find out is, could more businesses have been opened?” DePasquale said in a video news conference. “And was this done in a fair process?”

Many businesses have complained about a process they contend has been slow and arbitrary. Senate Republicans had been pressing for an audit, and Wolf agreed to it, according to DePasquale, a fellow Democrat.

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“A lot of businesses do believe it was cumbersome and not fair. That’s their point of view and we’re going to investigate their claims,” DePasquale said.

In a separate video news conference, Wolf offered a vigorous defense of the waiver program.

More than 42,000 businesses applied for exemptions by the April 3 application deadline. Over 6,000 had been approved through the early part of this week, while nearly 14,000 applications were denied. Thousands more businesses applied for waivers that didn’t need them to stay open, according to state officials.

Wolf recently announced he is loosening restrictions on some industries and businesses as the virus threat begins to ebb, from construction to golf courses, and plans to gradually begin easing stay-at-home orders on May 8 in lightly impacted regions of the state.

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