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Federal COVID relief means $57.5M for Allentown, $33.8M for Bethlehem... and $2.7M for Easton

Closed stores, covered faces, empty streets: Images of Valley during pandemic

Northampton Street in Easton is less lively than usual April 6, 2020, as the governor's stay-home order continues during the coronavirus outbreak.Saed Hindash | For lehighvalleyl

President Joe Biden had yet to put pen to paper to sign the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan when Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr. asked residents to call up federal lawmakers to request more direct aid to the city.

“Put the pressure on them, we need this changed,” Panto said during Wednesday night’s meeting of Easton City Council. “This isn’t fair.”

Under the COVID-19 relief package signed into law Thursday night by Biden, Easton is projected to receive $2.69 million in direct aid -- about half of the city’s 2020 budget shortfall attributed to the coronavirus pandemic. It’s estimated Bethlehem will see $33.8 million, with $57.5 million set to come to Allentown. Philadelphia is will receive over $1 billion.

Panto attributed the wide discrepancy in the amounts to Easton’s decision to opt out as a direct entitlement community for federal aid. Instead, the city entered into an agreement with Northampton County for 42% of the county’s annual allotment of federal Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnership funds. Bethlehem and Allentown, on the other hand, receive these grant funds directly from the federal government.

So Easton stands to receive additional aid through Northampton County’s COVID-19 relief allocation of $60.7 million.

“What Easton’s going to get is their fair share under the provisions of the agreement we have in place with them, consistent with the American Rescue Plan,” county Executive Lamont McClure said Friday.

It’s not anticipated that Easton will get 42% of the full $60.7 million. McClure said he has meetings scheduled next week to decide on recommendations to county council on how to allocate the aid.

Panto on Wednesday urged residents to call the city’s Democratic federal lawmakers, U.S. Rep. Susan Wild and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey. Easton fits the definition of a “metro city” that Bethlehem and Easton fall under, Panto argued. In a breakdown of the direct local aid provided by Wild’s office, Easton was classified under “Other Non-Counties.”

“We need to make our voices known,” Panto said. “We need to remind the federal government that we are Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton and Easton is a metro city. We have all the problems of a metro city. We have all the gang violence, all the drug-dealing of a metro city. We’re 50 miles north of Philadelphia and 70 miles west of New York City. We need that funding to help us help reignite the economy.”

Easton’s administration will work on recommendations to city council on allocating the money, Panto said.

Republicans like U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., call the American Rescue Plan excessive and wasteful. They warn the sweeping package will run up the national debt to precarious new heights after $4 trillion in aid has already been provided, The Associated Press reports. The measure passed the Democrat-controlled House and Senate along party lines.

The final amounts in the direct aid to counties and municipalities will be set by the U.S. Treasury, based on U.S. Housing and Urban Development data. Casey and Wild’s offices both said they will continue working on the dollars coming to the Lehigh Valley and Pennsylvania.

“Our office is in touch with local leaders to assist with questions and concerns regarding forthcoming funding allocations from the American Rescue Plan,” said Casey spokeswoman Natalie Adams. “The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania will also receive a significant amount of non-entitlement funding, which can be distributed to non-entitlement jurisdictions.

“We look forward to working with the Department of Treasury, which will administer this funding, to ensure accurate allocations to all Pennsylvania jurisdictions.”

Stated a representative for Wild: “Easton will be getting much more than $3 million as the county received $60 million and will be sharing that with Easton as the county executive said. But the $3 million is just an estimate and Rep. Wild is strongly advocating to the Treasury Department, which makes the final call on the amount, for more direct aid to Easton. She is fighting for every dollar in ensuring a full recovery from the pandemic and already has a meeting for her office set with the Treasury Department to advocate for Easton to receive as much as possible.”

The total projected aid coming to Lehigh and Northampton counties and to each of the counties’ municipalities is $270.7 million, according to the breakdown provided by Wild’s office.

Other benefits in the American Rescue Plan include, according to Wild:

  • Rescue checks of up to $1,400 for individuals.
  • Nearly $5 billion for Pennsylvania schools, plus additional funding for childcare providers, Head Start and higher education.
  • Extended unemployment insurance until Sept. 6 and makes over $10,000 of UI tax exempt.
  • Measures to cut child poverty in half by making the child tax credit fully refundable for 2021 and increasing the annual amount from the current $2,000 per child to $3,000 per child.
  • $27.5 billion for Emergency Rental Assistance, to help ensure struggling families continue to have a safe place to live during this pandemic.
  • $28.6 billion to revitalize restaurants, food, and beverage establishments, and additional resources to help small and disadvantaged businesses navigate and access COVID relief programs.

“The American Rescue Plan will deliver historic relief to Pennsylvania families and workers,” Casey stated Monday. “Based on the best estimates at this time, we can expect the Commonwealth to receive approximately $5,153,857 for schools to address learning loss and re-open in-person learning, $13 billion for state and local governments to protect jobs, more than $670 million in rental assistance, $60 million to support vaccination education and outreach to seniors and for existing programs, like home-delivered meals, more than $14 billion in direct payments to Pennsylvanians and additional funding for vaccine distribution.”

Following is a breakdown of direct aid to Lehigh and Northampton counties plus Warren County in New Jersey, as well as additional amounts to each municipality. Click here to view it since it may not display on all platforms, or to view it larger. Earlier in this article was a breakdown of aid to each of Pennsylvania’s First-, Second- and Third-Class Cities. Click here to view that if if did not display.

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Kurt Bresswein may be reached at