Gov. Tom Wolf called on the General Assembly Monday to set aside $2 million for the Office of Refugee Resettlement to support Ukrainians fleeing Russian aggression.
Wolf said the funds would help community-based resettlement agencies get services to the people who need them faster.
“The $2 million would give us the flexibility that we might not have if we didn’t have federal funds to actually reach out and say, you know we’d like to do what we can here,” said Wolf, adding that he hasn’t spoken to specific agencies to bring refugees to the commonwealth.
Democratic Sen. Lindsey Williams introduced legislation to that effect Monday, writing the funds match a “recent federal infusion of funds to support Afghan arrivals.”
Republican lawmakers signaled openness to aid for refugees but were noncommittal on the dollar amount.
“We are open to supporting lawful refugees legitimately displaced by Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine,” said Jason Gottesman, a spokesperson for House Republicans. “Any expenditure must be aligned with actual costs and we will continue to examine the appropriateness of the $2 million ask as we work through what process might be put in place.”
Senate Republicans “stand ready and willing to help,” said their spokesperson, Erica Clayton Wright.
“However, in the interest of maintaining Pennsylvanians’ economic and humanitarian viability, we must evaluate the multiple measures already taken by the state, understand the Commonwealth’s significant investments in eastern Europe including the more than $1 billion in mineral fuel imports Pennsylvanian accepts from Russia, and measure that against inflation and our current economic conditions before advancing assistance,” Wright said.
Joined by the Honorary Consul of Ukraine in Philadelphia Iryna Mazur and Ukrainian businessman Viktor Kolesnyk, Wolf took Monday’s news conference as an opportunity to discuss steps the commonwealth has taken to sever economic ties with Russia.
Days after Russia invaded Ukraine, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board stopped buying Russian-sourced products, which amounted to two vodkas — Russian Standard and Ustianochka — and roughly half a dozen special-order items.
Already, the Pennsylvania treasury is in the process of divesting $2.9 million in Russian holdings. And the $73 billion Public School Employees’ Retirement System, the commonwealth’s biggest public pension system, voted to begin selling its $300 million worth of investments in Russia and its close ally Belarus.
Similarly, the board of the State Employees’ Retirement System voted to sell its $7 million in “Russia-related investments” — out of $40 million in assets — citing potential losses and expressing sympathy for Ukraine.
Wolf said he’d sign legislation that would require public funds divest from Russian assets, an idea first pitched by House Majority Leader Kerry Bennighoff.
Pennsylvania has the second-highest Ukrainian population of any U.S. state, said Wolf, with 122,000 Ukrainian Americans living in the commonwealth.
“The people of Pennsylvania have personal, cultural, and business ties to the people in Ukraine,” said Wolf. “Ties that further deepen our grief and our outrage at the tragedy they are now suffering.”