LEBANON, Pa. —
Lebanon County officials have filed a lawsuit against Gov. Tom Wolf, demanding the release of federal pandemic relief funds currently being withheld from the county.
Gov. Wolf decided to withhold $12.8 million from Lebanon County after county commissioners voted to defy the governor’s shutdown order by moving into yellow phase early. Pennsylvania has already distributed the rest of the CARES Act funds to all other counties.
Lebanon County officials said they attempted to contact the governor’s office after the funds were distributed to other counties last week, but now have no choice but to sue for the money.
“We were not making any progress or getting any response that seemed to indicate that there was going to any room for discussion or dialogue with the governor’s office,” said Lebanon County Solicitor David Warner.
Act 24 of 2020, a state law passed in May, allocated $625 million to Pennsylvania’s 67 counties to help offset COVID-related costs for small businesses and nonprofits.
According to section 130-C of the law, “a county that has received a disbursement directly from the Federal Government through the CARES Act is not eligible to receive funds under this subarticle.” In other words, the only reason the state could withhold funds from a county was if the federal government had already paid the county directly.
Lebanon County did not receive any CARES Act funds directly from the federal government.
Lebanon County officials argued Gov. Wolf agreed to that restriction when he signed the act into law.
“He could have vetoed that law, but he signed it into law and now subsequently is attempting to add on some additional conditions on top of it,” Warner said.
The governor now has a duty to distribute the funds, Warner said. He believed the county had a very strong position to win the lawsuit.
The governor’s office said via email they couldn’t comment on the litigation.
However, they released a statement last week that the governor’s disaster mitigation orders have the “force and effect of law,” writing,
“Lebanon County’s decision to violate the law deemed the county ineligible for CARES funding.”
Lebanon County officials have asked the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, which is handling the case, for an expedited process.
Warner expected to find out within a day or two if and when the court will agree to hear the case.