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Support of Businesses by the State of PA with Katie Muth

Podcast published: July 31, 2020

With businesses re-opened, and as schools across Pennsylvania consider how best to re-open, many business owners and leaders are looking for answers and support from the government at many levels. We spoke with Senator Katie Muth, the PA Senator for the 44th District in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. We discussed how the State of PA is working to support businesses in Chester County and the greater Philadelphia area.



Where does Sen. Muth get health information about COVID-19?

Challenges of Reopening in Pennsylvania

What is PA doing to ensure employee and customer safety in efforts to reopen the economy?

  • In our conversation with the Victory Brewing Company, we learned about how Victory’s customers were concerned about how other customers would respond to health guidelines.
  • Most steps from the State of PA have happened through Executive Order
  • Enforcement of health guidelines around wearing masks can be very confusing
    • In the State of PA, 20% of non-compliance is 2 million people
    • We can legislate deterrence to behavior
    • Public “shame train” can help, but the State of PA needs to find ways to support good operators
  • Working to address personal protection equipment (PPE) shortages in the state
    • PPE is not widely manufactured in the United States
    • The State is now working to encourage PA manufacturers to produce PPE
    • The State is working to have tests produced locally
    • The State is coordinating with tech companies to produce a contact tracing system
  • 1/3 of countries across Pennsylvania are experiencing an increased positivity rate of COVID-19, including Chester County

How is the State of PA supporting working parents with school age children?

  • That’s a work-in-progress at the state level
  • Over 170 day care centers have closed since COVID-19 started
  • There are real challenges in working from home and teaching

Intro: Hey, everybody. And welcome to another episode of Start Local, a podcast focused on helping businesses in Chester County, PA and the greater Philly area as they try to navigate through the COVID-19 economy.

Joe Casabona: I’m Joe Casabona, and I am happy to be back here after a few weeks of paternity leave with my fellow co-host, Liam Dempsey. Liam, how are you? 

Liam Dempsey: Joe, it’s fantastic. What’s a podcast without you on the other side of the mic? Welcome back. I hope the family’s well. The bigger family.

Joe Casabona: Thank you very much. Everybody’s doing great. The boy is sleeping very well. Teresa’s loving being a big sister, and we’re adjusting pretty well as well. But, we’re not here to talk about my family life today. We are here to talk to Senator Katie Muth. She is the PA State Senator for the 44th District, which includes Chester County. We are honored to have you here. Senator Muth, how are you today? 

Katie Muth: I’m doing well. Thank you for having me. And congratulations on the new member of your family.

Joe Casabona: Thank you. Thank you very much. We are excited to welcome him to our family. We’re now a family of four. Super exciting. And we are honored to have you with us today. So we’re going to be talking about kind of how the county is continuing to react to COVID-19 in a various, in a bunch of different ways. But before we get into that, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Katie Muth: Sure. So I am a lifelong Pennsylvanian. I actually grew up in Western Pennsylvania in Westmoreland County. Then, I went to Penn State. And now I’m on this side of the state. So, I’ve been here all my life with the exception of when I went to grad school in Arizona, and I came right back.

And so, I grew up in a working class family. I’m not personally wealthy. My dad  never went to college. My dad was a single dad after my mom passed away. So, I grew up with very limited means, but a great family life in terms of my aunts and uncles and grandparents. And, education was a big thing. And my family making sure that, you know, my brother and I had good schools to go to both, you know, Pre college and then into college.  

And I decided to run for office in 2018 for the Senate. I knew nothing about politics, you know, beyond the basics.I did not even know who my state senator was prior to running. I’d never received any communications from them or any outreach. And it really prompted me based on a lot of it was a healthcare system. I worked in sports medicine. And I also taught anatomy prior to becoming a senator and how limited access to health insurance impacts families, student athletes.

I’ve worked in the NFL, where there’s tremendous healthcare benefits. And then I’ve worked in Division III colleges and, you know, unfunded public schools as well. So, you know, there’s a struggle there. And then it really actually drew me to the money in politics and how the money in politics drives policy and not the needs of the people. And  it was from then I decided who makes decisions on our behalf did not have the best interest in mind. And I took a sort of leap of faith, and I ran for office in a seat that no one thought could flip. And here I am. Sitting, talking to both of you today, as the state senator. 

So, I ran a people powered campaign. I took no special interest money whatsoever. So, I’m the only person in the state senate that does not take special, not, from any entity. So, I have donors in 50 states, small dollar donors, and we had an army of door knockers talking to voters of all party affiliations talking about the struggles they and their family were concerned about or were going through. And that level playing field and transparency were two themes that just came up over and over again at every door. And you know, i’m still on that mission as now a senator to try to level that playing field and increase transparency in all parts of government. 

So, I do believe democracy works if the right people are making the decisions. And I think you know, I’m proud to be elected by the people of the Senate District 44, the three counties, parts of three counties that I represent. And I’m happy to be here today and talk to you about our latest struggle with the coronavirus.

Joe Casabona: Awesome. That’s fantastic. Thank you for that. That’s a great, great background information. And I love the story of why you got into it and how you don’t take any special interest money. I think that’s something, you know, that kind of hits home personally for me because I feel like you’re out there fighting the good fight for the people now. You’re not, you know, in the pockets of anybody. So, thank you.

Katie Muth: No. I’m one of the people. I’m still paying off my student loan debt. Totally get it. 

Joe Casabona: Yeah. 

Liam Dempsey: Senator, you shared a lot with us and there’s a lot to unpack there. And this is a short show so I really want to focus on is you talked about your background in health and your concerns about the state of health care systems and not we don’t so much want to get into health care systems. But we’re talking about coronavirus, COVID-19 and how it’s affecting business. And really, what I wonder is, you know, your science minded, your background is in human anatomy and sports medicine, where do you turn for up to date health information about COVID-19? I suppose I’m going to ask it in two ways, generally, so, you know, to understand what the virus is. And then more specifically, where can business owners, where do you get data around the status of management, care, et cetera, of COVID-19 in Southeast PA?

Katie Muth: Sure. So I’ll start with the first part of your question about just the general information about the pandemic itself and the data. I always look at multiple sources. So, I think, Johns Hopkins does a really great job of tracking and tracing cases. So does one of the doctors, Dr. Rubin from CHOP. And so I look at those trends. And, I also then listened to the State Department of Health as Secretary Levine and her office gives updates. I think it’s important. 

Liam Dempsey: That’s the Pennsylvania State Department of Health. Yes? Thank you. 

Katie Muth: Yep. That’s the Pennsylvania. And so, I’m sorry. And so, I also obviously look at what the CDC is saying, because the CDC is supposed to be, you know, the overseeing body of such epidemics, pandemics, epidemics. And the guidance that comes out of that is important, right? So it’s referenced, often it’s changed sometimes. And that’s important to keep up to date especially relative to the second part of your questions with businesses and reopening processes. 

So, I am someone who probably most would say would be a little bit more cautious and more proactive on the maybe most legislators, but the reality of this virus and knowing how it spreads as someone who used to have to make sure student athletes didn’t get MRSA infections that are also deadly, not near as contagious, but you know, same things, I’ve, I’m a germaphobe by nature, but at the same time, understanding the science is really crucial in this. And so knowing that this virus, we don’t know who’s carrying it, how it’s transmitted really should impact policy and guidance. Right. And I don’t know that the messaging is always sound around that when we say this many people in this room, or this is why there’s, you know, maximum occupancy limits is because of it’s a respiratory transmitted virus. So, the more air that’s occupied by humans, the greater level of risk, right? And so, I think sometimes as we’re all frustrated, let’s just put that out there. We’re frustrated. We’re overwhelmed. This is a lot, right? Whether you’re a business, a family, or all the above, someone with a sick loved one, a health care provider. This is not easy. That’s a given. 

But what needs to happen is, I think because of the history of this nation and how we’ve prioritized profits over people, we’re now in this new crossroads of this sometimes i’m sure you’ve seen headlines and things on the news of the economy versus people’s health and well being. And it’s this either or framing and I get really really frustrated with that. And that, you know, if anybody’s ever lost a loved one, it’s horrible. And especially if it was preventable or in general, right? 

And so, we’re talking about the difference between life or death here. And the people that refute the facts, that’s where our divide is, right? If we can’t even agree on the basics of this virus, it will be a very long road to recovery because we’re our own worst enemies.

We are in a position now where we have to trust other people to do the right thing which is a really hard place to be in. And so, as we talk about reopening businesses, there are some great small business owners, the majority of them are they want to do the right thing. They want to protect their workers. They you know, they want to save their business. They also want to offer and reopen business in a manner that’s safe. And so there’s a couple issues happening now relative to, you know, people not adhering to the guidance. For example, if you show up at a place without a mask on and you claim to have a medical condition and that entity offers curbside assist, you know, service. But yet you still come in. I’m getting calls from business owners that there’s no enforcement of this. They’re coming in. They’re putting me and my workers at harm if it’s a food place that’s increased risk, right? And so when we say we’re all in this together, it sounds cheesy and corny. But it really does require all of us together to take this guidance seriously because we cannot reopen without everyone following the guidance.

And so businesses are going to, if a bar gets packed because people don’t want to leave when they’re told, and this is the max, you know, this is what, and they can’t. The lack of enforcement, this personal accountability thing is starting to wear a little bit in Pennsylvania. And we’re now seeing business owners paying that price, right? If, are you going to get your liquor license suspended? Are you, but if there’s no mechanism of enforcement.

Now, we then have the flip side. We have the operators that I think are probably much less that don’t have the best interest of their workers in mind. So, a couple of things that really, I think should be, would be key right now, and we have far less of an economic downfall is number one, small business insurance should cover pandemic loss. It does not, 2017, it was a federal change and that’s a battle with the insurance federation. The other states have won and they’re now allowing it, New Jersey, Oregon. So that’s huge. So your loss is covered under that.

Liam Dempsey: Can I ask a clarifying question about that senator?

Katie Muth: Sure.

Liam Dempsey: Is that those other states are allowing it retroactively or moving forward? How does that work? For example, you mentioned if I had business…

Katie Muth: So it depends on the state. Yep. It depends on the state. And so New Jersey, for example, the insurance federation was very freaked out that this was going to pass. They have a different majority party in charge in New Jersey than Pennsylvania. So, they negotiated with the legislature so that they weren’t complete. It didn’t go completely to like the retro, but it is in a sense retroactive. I mean, think about it. These people are paying for this insurance policy for 15, whatever, how, you know, and now you’re, you need it. And it’s like, sorry, you’re not covered. And you’re like, what am I paying into this for? Like what? 

And so it’s really disheartening that at least in some states, it’s just revenue or loss of like, you know, there’s specifics. So there’s a cap. It’s you, it can’t be, you know, over your max revenue from last year. So, you know, so it’s not like a complet. but the Insurance Federation nationally, it has a billion dollar piggy bank. So like the jigs up, right? And so they have a tremendous amount of lobbying power in Pennsylvania and they certainly aren’t fans of Katy Mo. So, for many reasons, not just this. But, and so when we talk about PTSD being covered under like workman’s comp for first responders that finally just got signed into law. Why? Because it took battling the insurance industry to allow it. 

So those are the kind of things you sit here and you think we’re in a global pandemic. Like, are you kidding me? And here we are, you know. And so that would be helpful. Paid sickly, guaranteed. Paid sickly would be huge right? 

Now, employer based health insurance, I hope everyone that is paying attention realizes what a sham it is because if you got laid off or you lost your job during this, the chances are your health insurance didn’t get continued for very long after your job ended, right? So, we’re starting to see these systemic problems because of the lack of policies in place to protect humans, right?

And so, these are things that would be huge, you know, and we have yet to I don’t say we, the majority party in the history of Pennsylvania, I’ve only been there for a year and a half. These are all proposed pieces of legislation that have never made up for a vote. So, as we sit here and we can complain about the feds, which that’s a conversation we should have but at the same time It’s on us to fix PA, right? like we have to figure out what we can do as a state to minimize harm, both economically and from a livelihood standpoint. And these are things that could be put into place. 

Liam Dempsey: That’s a really great point. And that kind of leads me onto another question I’d like to ask of you. What is the state government doing to help ensure the safety of both employees and customers? We heard in a previous conversation with Victory Brewing, with their area managers, that they did a survey in the early days of the lockdown orders in Pennsylvania, that a number of their customers and their consumers were very concerned, not just what the Victory was doing, but also what other members of the public, other guests were doing. And you touched on that your office is starting to hear from business owners concerned about the behavior of some customers, not all, but some. And what, so that’s one issue that would be interesting to hear. What’s happening legislatively? And you touched on a number of other issues in your previous answer. Maybe you can share just kind of generally what the state is doing, either what’s in the process or what’s recently been passed. 

Katie Muth: Sure. So, I’ll start with the first piece of that. And legislatively, a lot of things have not, most things have happened through executive order,  through the various agencies, right?

So the enforcement piece is very confusing. I was at a meeting recently for a township and the elected officials, except one, wouldn’t wear masks and had people in a government facility that requires and mandates masks. No one enforced it. Police were there too. They were wearing masks. And at no point was anyone told to put on a mask. Some people were sitting there, holding them, smirking and laughing. And that was my first indicator of even if it’s the minority of people doing that, 20%  of non compliance in Pennsylvania is like over 2 million people. 2 million, that is a tremendous amount of harm to be spread. And so when we talk about there might be some, the harm that one, Can do in a day is tremendous. And then you hear them. We are now hearing people aren’t cooperating with contact tracing when they’re called which is hugely problematic. So, i’m starting to…Yes, if there’s a bad operator, that’s a business, They need to be held accountable. That is of course putting their workers and the public at risk. That is a piece of it i’m starting to veer towards the personal accountability approach of. And I don’t want to fine everybody or put everyone in jail. But there are needs to be. That’s not what I’m saying. But there needs to be some, we can’t legislate morality.

I can’t legislate for people to have a moral compass to care about other humans. If I could, i’d wave a wand and I would have done it already. I don’t possess that power. And i’m sure there’s many more before me that would have tried as well. And so I think we have to be realistic about that. But what we can legislate is deterrence to behavior .and so and that’s anything whether it’s racism, whether whatever it be. We have to say to people these are the consequences. And there’s some other senators who we i’ve discussed this with and they’re on the public shame train. And I understand that. That can go a long way that can be helpful, but what protections are we giving operators and businesses that are trying to do the right thing from having that bad apple cause a lot of harm? And we’re not giving, that’s not there yet. And so, we really need instead of just reopen, reopen, reopen, it’s what is safe and how do we enforce it? Because the reality is, if we don’t, this keeps spreading, and we will never reopen, you know, as we need to, you know, rebound economically.

The second piece to your question, one of the things early on that I’ve learned is that we don’t manufacture PPE in the United States of America. I’m sure you all heard about PPE shortages nationwide back in March. You’re now starting to hear about it again. And I can say with 100%, 110% certainty that there are entities in my district that have never had adequate PPE supplies, including or supply management, because I can’t always find out what the problem is. If it’s on hand and not distributed, or just not available. 

Hospitals,  state run veteran facilities that I’ve been battling. These workers have called, cried out for help  having N95s in brown paper bags, like just horrid work conditions. And so, we have a PPE shortage. I’m a little frustrated because I think now that it’s July, almost August, we knew this in March, like, what have we done to incentivize manufacturing of these products in our state? 

So yesterday, I saw that Governor Wolf tweeted out, contact us about, are you a manufacturer? And I sent it to my husband, and I was like, is our house bugged? Because, and I’ve said this to him on calls like seven times, I’m like, holy moly, like, here we go, like this, and so that’s a good sign. I just hope we can work urgently because people think this magic vaccine that is supposed to appear in December is, I’m always like prepare for the absolute worst and be surprised and elated when it doesn’t happen. But We can’t just assume something’s going to save the day and rely on that assumption and not have a safety net.

So we have to manufacture our own things .So that seems to be going in a better direction not as fast as I like great. Contact tracing test, mass testing expansion, the struggle’s real. We are working on it. Hopefully in october I believe there’s an entity in Pennsylvania that will start manufacturing the test. That’s huge. New jersey did this with Rutgers, like, we can do this, the contact tracing, I just read an article, I was not made aware of it prior to reading the paper that the Department of Health got a contract to approve their expansion of contact tracing. So they hired an outside agency that was used by New York to bring on more. It’s estimated Pennsylvania could need almost 4,000 contact tracers to adequately stop the spread of this virus. We have about 600 some right now. And again, if people aren’t answering the phones and being compliant and with giving that information, we hit a dead end. And that means we can’t find where it’s spreading. 

So all these things are coming together. we’re seeing one third of our counties have an increased positivity rate. That is terrifying. That’s worse than just, you know, more case, like this is means the more people that are tested, even if it’s 300 in center County. 

Liam Dempsey: Can I just clarify that? I’m sorry to interrupt you. Did you say one third of all counties in Pennsylvania or one third of Chester County? 

Katie Muth: One third of Pennsylvania of the 67 count 

Liam Dempsey:  Of all the counties. Okay, thank you for clarifying. 

Katie Muth: And Chester County is one of those count is in that one third. Chester County is starting to see a spike, and shockingly, Montgomery county is not in that third because that’s been the Mecca of COVID along with Philadelphia. Philadelphia is still in it, but the numbers for them, it makes the math a little bit harder to compare apples to oranges, but just in population base. but,  yeah, we’re seeing counties, center county, counties that did not have an initial surge spread, allegheny, county is a hotspot. My mothership’s hometown of Greensburg, or I grew up in Delmont, Westmoreland counties, you know, spiking.

So, this is summer travel. This is people just saying, you know what? I tried it for three months. I bunkered down and I’m over it. Like, let’s just take it as it comes, which is terrifying. So here we are. So all of these things are really important because if everyone still isn’t following the guidance, we cannot reopen safely. And you can’t, we can’t have everything right now. That’s a hard pill to swallow for some people. We’re an all or nothing society. We want our, want it all. But I’m becoming increasingly frustrated with the  mentality of some that say that their freedom entitles them to do whatever they please. I’m going to push back and say your freedom does not entitle you to put other people in harm’s way. And unfortunately, this is the nature of this virus, right? That that’s where we’re at. So there’s some personal responsibility that everyone has in our state. 

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. And to that end, I think we can wrap up here with a question about schools. That’s been a hot topic, right? Liam and I are both in the Downingtown area school district. And we learned that public schools won’t resume in person classes until at least November 5th. Has the state considered how to best support working parents and school age children as we roll into the new school year?

Katie Muth: So, I think, that’s a work in progress. So we are now, I just had a call last week with daycare centers, over 170 daycare centers across our state have permanently closed since COVID. That’s troubling. So some of them did get some federal aid, some CARES dollars. What they made in revenue is far greater. There’s issues with, you know, concerned parents with sending kids back safely, rightfully. So now, the new concern of theirs is as people go virtual, these schools, which, and I do support just for the record, but now, if parents have to work, go back to work or in person work or whatever is how do you support, I mean, even working at home with kids, this is not ideal. Like it’s to say that you’re lucky enough to work at home, yes, that’s great. But, trying to educate kids while doing your job, sharing an internet server, like the things I’ve heard from families, I’m like, you know, it’s not, it is not easy. And so, and you’re not a bad parent if you can’t teach your kids Algebra. Like, I just want to state that. My dad, God bless him. 

Liam Dempsey: I support your opinion on that. 

Katie Muth: It’s true because, you know, you could be, you can help your child. But being a teacher is a very, you know, it’s a skill. And to help with homework is far different than trying to teach them, you know, some curriculum level thing. And so, I think it’s putting a tremendous amount of stress on all these entities, right? Parents, kids, employer, all these things. And so we need to find a solution from the childcare perspective. But again, anything we do where people are now going to be around other people, We’re increasing risk. So it would be great.

I just talked to a teacher this morning. If you knew that everyone you sent your kid to like daycare will follow the guidance. Wore a mask in the grocery store. Did the things that helped mitigate this, right? You’d feel a heck of a lot, you trust them. And that’s what kids do is just what kids do. What are their parents doing? So we have that component of it and to support families. It’s not just, you know. getting laptops and internet secure which is a part of the struggle for parts of the state that the rural broadband thing is like, My god! Just finish it like, you know, get it done like this, you know, like just now’s the time. But so there’s gonna be these struggles, right? And so, we have to be able to identify them district by district see what the needs are. People are gonna have to work together and again, that’s harder when entities don’t agree on facts. 

So I appreciated Downingtown being the leap of faith of courage and setting the example because that was an important mood they made. And I’m sure they, you know, face some pushback, but where we’re at right now, we can’t safely, we’d go back for what, three weeks. And there being, and you can’t putpeople in harm’s way like that, whether it’s teachers and bus drivers and students. It’s just, it’s not safe. And it’s, again, this is an ideal, but we have to figure out. Now, what are we going to put in place from a support system standpoint for the families that are going to be doing this virtual. And, you know, this isn’t impossible. This is challenging, but it’s, there’s a solution and collectively all of our input and cooperation makes the solution happen versus everybody debating, hating meeting the solution, which takes up a lot of time.

Joe Casabona: Yeah, absolutely. And thank you for your insight on that. I know that my wife and I have struggled with, I, we’re not going to send our daughter back to daycare until there’s a vaccine. And I’m lucky enough to work from home. She’s a nurse. And, I can just take the day off and work a little extra on the weekend if I need to, because I’m self employed and I work from home.

So, there are a lot of struggles that I think we appreciate. And I definitely appreciate Downingtown,  making that leap of faith, like you said. But Senator Muth, we are at  time here. I really appreciate you joining us. If people want to learn more about you and the work you’re doing, where can they find you?

Katie Muth: @senatormuth.com is our website. You can also sign up for our newsletter there, which we send out weekly which will have all sorts of updates, grant information, resource information, both covid and non covid related. And @senatormuth on social media. You can follow me for updates there as well. But we we try to be pretty comprehensive in the resources and through my website to contact us. My office is full steam ahead. I have an amazing team taking a lot of calls, you know, with resources and questions. And if we don’t know the answer, we will certainly work hard to find it for you and help in any way possible. So we encourage, you know, people to reach out. We’re here to help. 

Liam Dempsey: Thank you, Senator. Thanks for your time today. 

Katie Muth: Absolutely. Thank you both. Stay safe. 

Joe Casabona:  Thanks. You too. Yeah. And everybody listening out there, stay safe.

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