Pennsylvania slashes wait times, backlogs for state permits, licenses, other filings

HARRISBURG — Within the first few weeks of Gov. Josh Shapiro’s administration, the new Democratic governor promised to make Pennsylvania more friendly for businesses and workers.

Since then, Shapiro’s administration has made significant progress, after completing the first-ever catalog of all 2,400 state permits, certificates, licenses, and other necessary filings to begin working or start a business in the state.

The administration is boasting of a number of successes in cutting wait lists, backlogs, and wait times by the thousands for different government approvals and services.

“Governor Shapiro promised to make state government work efficiently and effectively, and only seven months into his administration, he’s already making good on that promise,” said Will Simons, a spokesperson for Shapiro, in a statement.

Here’s a look at four ways the administration has cut through red tape.

Teaching certificates are faster

As Pennsylvania and states nationally struggle with a teacher shortage, the Department of Education was able to significantly speed up its certification process. Nearly 10,000 teachers have left their jobs since the start of the 2021-22 school year, and Pennsylvania issued its lowest-ever number of teaching certificates last year.

To help ease one of the challenges to begin teaching, the Department of Education was able to cut application wait times down from 10 weeks to one to three weeks, the department announced in July. The department hired four new full-time employees, streamlined the teacher certification website, and now allows teacher applicants to track their application as it progresses, according to the department.

“In Pennsylvania, it’s a pretty rigorous process to obtain your teacher certification,” said Chris Lillienthal, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania School Education Association. “Certainly, processing those applications on a more timely basis … is a great step forward.”

More Medicaid providers

The Department of Human Services announced in June that it completely addressed a backlog of more than 35,000 Medicaid provider applications.

Providers are required to get state approval to provide services to the state’s 3.7 million Medicaid enrollees. Ending the backlog allows more providers to give necessary care to Pennsylvania residents.

“Pennsylvania is fortunate to have so many caring, high-quality health care providers and professionals who want to be part of the Medicaid program and care for some of our most vulnerable friends, neighbors, and loved ones,” said Department of Human Services Secretary Dr. Val Arkoosh in a news release.

Easier to file for a birth certificate changes or form a charity

In the Department of Health, a backlog of 6,200 birth certificate amendment requests was entirely addressed by July.

The Department of State, which is responsible for a lot of the state’s licensing as the overseer of each industry’s state board, said it had cut the wait times for businesses and charities after filing from eight weeks down to only two days.

More challenges than just red tape

Some industries, like public education, say they still need a lot more help than just cutting down on bureaucratic red tape.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association has a list of proposals it believes will help address the state’s teacher shortage, including a $10 million student-teacher stipend program that’s currently held up in final state budget negotiations. The state certification and many college teaching degrees require aspiring teachers to complete a 12-week student-teacher program, which is traditionally unpaid.

Approximately $1.1 billion in programs approved in the state budget are on hold until additional legislative language is approved by the state House and Senate. The Senate Republican version cut out the teachers’ stipend, one of Democrats’ priorities, while negotiations stalled.

What’s next

The Shapiro administration said there’s still more work to be done to make the state government more accessible.

One area where they’re hoping to improve this: moving more environmental applications online. Only about 3% of permit and license applications are submitted online, according to the Commonwealth Office of Digital Experience, which Shapiro created earlier this year to make more government processes available online.

“The Shapiro Administration will continue to improve state government permitting, licensing, and certification processes so Pennsylvanians can get the answers they deserve in a timely and consistent manner,” added Shapiro spokesperson Simons.

Shapiro will visit Philadelphia on Tuesday to sign an executive order to ensure small businesses and small diverse businesses can access the state procurement process for state contracts.

The administration also plans to implement its “money-back guarantee” for any applicant who doesn’t get their permit, license, or application approved by a state deadline. That will begin in November, a spokesperson said.

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