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- When a state lawmaker from Pennsylvania’s Erie County learned that the coronavirus might prevent veterans groups from placing flags on fallen service members’ graves, he posted about it on Facebook.
- Pennsylvania not only excluded a large flag manufacturer from its original list of life-sustaining businesses permitted to operate during the pandemic, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration also rejected the company’s application for a waiver.
- On Monday, the company, called FlagZone, got some good news. The state cleared the way for the company to ship some flag orders even as it held firm that flag manufacturing is not essential during the pandemic.
Veterans groups in Pennsylvania typically prepare for Memorial Day by placing small American flags beside the headstones where fallen service members have been laid to rest.
When a state lawmaker from Erie County learned that the coronavirus might scuttle that sacred tradition, he posted about it on Facebook.
"Gov. Wolf is not allowing companies that distribute U.S. flags to ship out orders to be placed at veteran’s graves for Memorial Day," Pa. House Rep. Brad Roae posted on Facebook on May 11.
We wondered whether Wolf had really blocked Pennsylvania-based American flag distributors from operating during the pandemic.
Roae, a Republican, did not return a call seeking comment on his Facebook post, which has now been shared more than 7,000 times. But it looks like he was right.
Not only did Wolf exclude FlagZone, a manufacturer located in Gilbertsville, from his original list of life-sustaining businesses permitted to operate during the pandemic, his administration doubled down and rejected the company’s application for a waiver.
FlagZone is one of the only American flag manufacturer in Pennsylvania and one of only a half dozen across the country. The company typically distributes more than six million small stick flags annually.
Casey Smith, a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development, told The Reading Eagle that the Wolf administration’s top priority is protecting the health and well-being of Pennsylvanians, and that flag-making, while patriotic, simply wasn’t "life-sustaining."
"Memorial Day celebrations and ceremonies are a staple in our nation, and many Pennsylvanians will need to adjust their routine this year to accommodate our new normal," Smith said. "We encourage all Pennsylvanians to honor our nation’s fallen in their own special way."
Turns out the flags had already been manufactured and were sitting in a warehouse.
FlagZone President Daniel Ziegler said it would only take a few workers to ship 400,000 flags that had been ordered by 24 different Pennsylvania counties in anticipation of Monday’s federal holiday. Bucks, Chester and Delaware counties were among those waiting to receive their orders.
When State Sen. Scott Hutchinson learned about FlagZone’s woes, he also called on Wolf to ease restrictions imposed on the company.
"I see no reason why the time-honored and solemn tradition of placing flags at veterans’ graves could not be continued this year," Hutchinson, a Republican who represents Butler and other Western Pennsylvania counties, said in a statement sent to reporters via email. "Certainly placing the flags in cemeteries could be done while practicing the social distancing Gov. Wolf recommends."
On Monday, FlagZone got some good news.
The state cleared the way for the company to ship some flag orders even as it held firm that flag manufacturing is not essential during the pandemic.
"We’re just excited to get these flags out after months of being shut down," Ziegler told The Reading Eagle. "Hopefully, when a family goes to the gravesite of a loved one who was a veteran they will now see that they were not forgotten."
Smith, of the community and economic development department, said in an interview that special approval from the state is not required for limited shipping activities and communicated that to FlagZone.
Roae posted on Facebook that Gov. Wolf had blocked companies that distribute American flags from shipping orders ahead of Memorial Day. Wolf initially blocked FlagZone from operating during the pandemic and then rejected the company’s request for a waiver. A state official later said the company did not need special permission to ship limited numbers of flags. However, the company didn’t understand this until the state said so, especially since the clarification came days after the Wolf administration rejected FlagZone’s application to resume operations. We rate Roae’s statement Mostly True.
State of Pennsylvania, "All non-life-sustaining businesses in Pennsylvania to close physical locations as of 8 pm today to slow spread of COVID-19," March 19, 2020
The Reading Eagle, "Gilbertsville flag maker gets turned down to sell product for Memorial Day," May 12, 2020
The Reading Eagle, "In reversal, Gilbertsville company granted waiver from Pennsylvania to distribute flags for Memorial Day," May 18, 2020
Email interview with Casey Smith, spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development, May 18, 2020
Phone interview with FlagZone president Daniel Ziegler, May 19, 2020
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