PA Auditor General’s investigation into COVID-19 business waiver applications

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SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, non-life sustaining businesses took a hit as they were forced to close.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale unveiled part of his investigation into waiver applications from tens of thousands of businesses in the commonwealth.

Waiver applications gave businesses an opportunity to appeal Governor Wolf’s closures. DePasquale found inconsistences in the approval process. A salon in downtown Scranton, Lavish, was one of them.

“I think every business, as soon as they heard about the waiver, went online and looked at the requirements, hoping that they could find any kind of aspect of it that applied to them,” says Lauren Woodard, co-owner of Lavish.

Woodard says the requirements were very specific.

“As far as salons went, it was very clear cut that we were not going to qualify for the waiver process,” Woodard said.

42,000 business owners applied from March to early April through the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development. Some owners complained the process lacked transparency and inconsistent answers. which launched an investigation by the auditor general.

“We have verified that waiver decisions were being made by multiple individuals based on constantly changing guidelines and relying on justification statements provided by businesses,” says DePasquale.

Eugene DePasquale says lobbyists and legislators helped in the process. His investigation found some notaries, hair salons, garden centers, pet groomers and massage therapist were approved to open, while most were not.

“Our review thus far determines that at least 523 businesses in these five industries received responses that changed. 171 waiver applications were changed from no to yes and what’s particularly puzzling is why some of the no to yes applications were ever denied in the first place,” says DePasquale.

Lauren Woodard says the state should be looking at if a business environment is safe or unsafe, instead of life sustaining or not. The auditor general’s investigation is still ongoing.

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