Good morning. Gov. Tom Wolf made a fresh pitch yesterday for a new natural-gas tax that would cover about $3 billion in spending on workforce and economic development. While details remain sparse, the plan has a new name, Back to Work PA. Nonetheless, it faces familiar obstacles. State lawmakers from both parties have come out in opposition to the proposed tax, which has repeatedly failed to gain traction in the legislature.
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SBA to limit PPP applications 

In an effort to help the country’s smallest businesses, the federal government is narrowing access to the Paycheck Protection Program for the next two weeks.
  • The restricted access starts on Wednesday and limits loan applications to businesses with less than 20 employees.
  • The U.S. Small Business Administration, which oversees the lending program, also said yesterday it is setting aside $1 billion for sole proprietors, independent contractors and the self-employed in low-to-moderate-income communities, among other tweaks.
  • The moves do not affect loans submitted for larger employers before Wednesday.

Why is this happeningSince the PPP began last spring, critics have argued that it has bypassed many of the smallest, most vulnerable firms, particularly those owned by minorities and women.
  • “While reported data illustrates we have made real strides in ensuring these funds are reaching underserved communities, we believe we can still do better,” SBA senior adviser Michael Roth said in a statement. “The important policy changes we are announcing further ensure inclusivity and integrity by increasing access and much-needed aid to Main Street businesses that anchor our neighborhoods and help families build wealth.”  

What are the other changes: In addition to creating an exclusive two-week application window, the agency is tweaking the funding formula for sole proprietorships and eliminating a rule that barred loan applicants if they had a prior non-felony conviction.
  • The agency also said it will start accepting applications  for PPP loans from people who default or are delinquent on student loans.
  • Loans also will be made available to noncitizens who are lawful U.S. residents as long as they have a taxpayer identification number.
  • The exclusive window opens tomorrow at 9 a.m. The other changes will take effect in March.

Is there any money left: Borrowers have claimed nearly half the $284 billion that was made available starting on Jan. 11.
  • As of Sunday, the SBA had approved more than 1.9 million loans totaling more than $140 billion, according to the agency's most recent weekly report.
  • Less than a third of the loans, nearly 592,000, are for first-time borrowers. The rest are to employers that borrowed money under the program last summer.
  • The dollar amounts are more lopsided, reflecting the smaller businesses that are taking out PPP loans for the first time. They have borrowed $12.8 billion since January, compared to $127.8 billion for second-timers.
  • Pennsylvania employers have taken out 60,485 Paycheck Protections loans since January totaling nearly $5.6 billion.

Quick takes

WHO'S TAKING THE MOUND: Ten startups enrolled in an annual pitch competition sponsored by Lancaster-based Assets and the Lancaster County Community Foundation. The 10 startups in the Great Social Enterprise Pitch will embark on five weeks of intensive training before the field is narrowed to five for a final pitch on April 16. Winners receive a mix of cash and services. This year's 10 contestants are:  

WHO'S MAKING NEW CONNECTIONS: UGI Utilities. The UGI Corp. subsidiary based in Lancaster County has struck a deal to use natural gas forming in a landfill in Dunmore, near Scranton. It marks the first time UGI will be taking delivery of so-called renewable natural gas into its system. The supplier is a renewable energy company called Archaea Energy based in Canonsburg.
  • The landfill gas is a byproduct of decomposing materials and will be processed and conditioned to meet UGI requirements.
  • The project is expected to come online in September.
  • Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

WHO'S BUYING: Herculite Products, a  fabrics manufacturer in Emigsville. The company has purchased the laminated fabrics division of a North Carolina firm, Burlan Manufacturing. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
  • The work from Burlan is being transferred to Emigsville, according to Herculite spokesperson Matt Brommer, who added that the move could lead to hiring. He declined to disclose the current number of workers at Herculite.
  • Herculite makes fabrics for health care, military and other uses, as well as for tents and awnings.

ALSO BUYING: M&T Bank. The Buffalo-based institution, which holds nearly 12% of bank deposits in Central Pennsylvania, is paying $7.6 billion in stock to purchase Connecticut-based People's United Financial. The combined bank will have assets of roughly $200 million and more than 1,100 branches in 12 states stretching from Maine to Virginia. 
  • People's brings roughly 400 branches and $63 billion in assets to the mix.
  • The deal, which is subject to regulatory approval, is expected close in the fourth quarter of 2021.

WHO'S RETIRING: Clint Matthews, president and CEO of Reading-based Tower Health. The financially struggling health system said Matthews is stepping down after a decade in the top job. He is being replaced by banking veteran and board member P. Sue Perrotty.
  • Perrotty's last job in banking was as executive vice president and head of global operations for First Union, which merged with Wachovia before being swallowed by Wells Fargo.
  • After leaving banking, she worked as chief of staff to Pennsylvania first lady Judge Marjorie Rendell.
  • Credit agencies have described Tower's financial situation as weak due to the Covid-19 pandemic and challenges stemming from its 2017 takeover of five hospitals from the former Community Health Systems.


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Compiled and written by Joel Berg

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