The Lead

‘Pa. stands with Ukraine.’ Gov. Tom Wolf calls on Legislature to support refugees, divest from Russia

By: - March 7, 2022 3:41 pm

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks at a press conference on Monday, March 7, 2022. (Screenshot)

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has called on the Republican-controlled Legislature to support Ukrainian refugees and take additional action to divest Russian-related assets.

“Pennsylvania stands with Ukraine,” Wolf — wearing a blue and gold ribbon and standing in front of the Ukrainian flag — told reporters during a Monday press conference in Harrisburg. “I will do everything in my power to ensure Pennsylvania’s support of Ukraine and also sever ties with Russia.”

More than 1 million people have fled Ukraine since Russian forces, under the leadership of President Vladimir Putin, invaded in February, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi wrote in a tweet last week.

Wolf, supporting proposals from some Democratic lawmakers, asked the General Assembly to set aside $2 million in state funds to assist refugees with housing, food, clothing, and long-term support.

Sen. Lindsey Williams, D-Allegheny, introduced plans for legislation that would allocate the money to help Ukrainian refugees — regardless of their legal status and for as long as necessary. The proposal, she said in a Monday memo seeking support from lawmakers, matches recent federal funds used to support Afghan refugees.

“That funding would allow us to support community-based resettlement agencies across the commonwealth as they provide services to Ukrainian refugees, providing faster and more flexible ways to give services to the people who need them,” Wolf said. “Ukrainian people need our help. They need it now. And it’s incumbent on all of us to step up and work together to provide the support they need.”

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board announced last week that it would remove Russian-made products from state-owned liquor stores as a “show of solidarity and support for the people of Ukraine.”

The Public School Employees’ Retirement System unanimously voted to sell its nearly $300 million in investments in Russia and Belarus. The State Employees’ Retirement System also voted to divest its Russia-related assets last week. Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity, a Republican, announced that the treasury is selling off $2.9 million in Russian holdings. 

The Pennsylvania Capitol is illuminated blue and yellow in solidarity with Ukraine on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2022.
(Capital-Star file photo by Marley Parish).

The divestment saw bipartisan support from lawmakers, as well as state officials. Wolf also expressed support for allocating some of the state’s personal protective equipment, which expires soon, to Ukraine.

Wolf said he supports adding Russia to the list of countries Pennsylvania divests from under the law, saying he would sign “clean legislation” to mandate divestment of all public funds from Russian assets. House Majority Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, announced plans to draft such a proposal last month.

“The commonwealth’s public funds represent a substantial amount of investment power,” Benninghoff said in a statement. “We have a moral obligation to ensure that our public fund investments are not inadvertently supporting those who are engaging in an unprovoked invasion of their democratically elected neighbors.”

House Republican leaders expect to hold a press conference on Tuesday to outline legislative plans to divest from Russia.

It is abundantly clear that the people of Ukraine are strong and united as a nation, but it is heartbreaking that they have been forced into this war — and forced to endure the loss, destruction, and death that war brings — by Russia,” Wolf said.

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