By: KDKA-TV News Staff
HARRISBURG, Pa. (KDKA) – An audit of the Wolf administration’s business shutdown waiver program is revealing inconsistencies and “puzzling” decisions, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said Tuesday.
When Gov. Tom Wolf ordered “non-life-sustaining” business to close in March, businesses were allowed to request a waiver that would let them stay open. The Pennsylvania auditor general is still auditing the Department of Community And Economic Development’s process for giving those waivers.
DePasquale says this comes after complaints from business owners and legislators who said the process lacked transparency, moved too slowly and was inconsistent.
“So far, we’ve found that more than 500 businesses received answers from DCED that later changed,” DePasquale says in a statement. “The waiver program appeared to be a subjective process built on shifting sands of changing guidance, which led to significant confusion among business owners.”
There were typically three answers business owners would receive when submitted an application: approval to stay open, a denial or a statement that they didn’t need a waiver.
According to DePasquale, auditors have found that more than 170 waivers changed from a denial to an approval, while more than 150 changed from a denial to a statement saying a waiver wasn’t needed. More than 70 applications were changed from an approval to a denial and nearly 50 were changed from a “not required” to a denial.
DePasquale says some businesses submitted multiple waivers, and it seems like some didn’t know the right “buzzwords” for explaining why they should stay open, while others might have asked a lawmaker for help in the process.
For example, one York County business applied for a waiver five times and heard one “not required,” two “yes” and two “no” responses.
“I’ve asked the Governor’s Office to provide details on its communication with legislators and lobbyists about waiver requests. Pennsylvanians deserve answers about the role that outside influence may have played in whether businesses were treated fairly and consistently,” DePasquale says.
As for when the audit will be released to the public, DePasquale says there are still issues that have to be solved before it’s completed.