Seniors

In the Bid to Privatize PA's Lottery, One Is the Loneliest Number

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

Three Dog Night: One

One is the loneliest number that you'll ever do …

Although I’m dating myself, some of you may recognize the Harry Nilsson song made famous by Three Dog Night. We recommend that Governor Tom Corbett download it to his iPod as he contemplates whether to accept a solitary bid from Camelot Global Services to take over the operation of the Pennsylvania Lottery. Whether privatizing state services or getting a new roof for your house, having a single lonely bidder is a red flag for a fleecing — for overpaying the contractor.

In its bid, Camelot promises 20 to 30 years of lottery profits that barely increase at the rate of inflation — even with the addition of new lottery games such as Keno and online gaming. The deal could produce big-time profits for Camelot with performance no better than the public system could produce. If the company maxes out its incentive-based compensation over the initial 20-year contract, it could receive $1.15 billion in today’s dollars; more when you count annual management fees.

A good deal for Camelot, but not for the Pennsylvania seniors who benefit from lottery proceeds, as the Keystone Research Center finds in a new report. The impact on seniors is critical since the lottery generates $1 billion a year for services that benefit area senior centers, low-cost prescription drugs, transportation for seniors, and property tax and rent rebates.

Changing the Subject Doesn’t Make Payday Lending in PA a Better Idea

By Mark Price, Third and State

In legislative hearings last month, proponents of a bill to legalize high-interest payday loans tried to change the subject and questioned the motives of some of their constituents. But these attempts don’t alter the fact that allowing payday lending is a bad idea. 

As we’ve explained before — and as the U.S. military, U.S. Congress, and former President George W. Bush have all agreed — payday loans are a debt trap that further impoverishes low-income families, driving more of them into bankruptcy. Pennsylvania should leave in place the strong regulations that make use of payday loans much less common here than nationally.

Here is a bit more detail on what happened at the September 19 Senate Banking and Insurance Committee hearing on House Bill 2191. Chairman Don White raised the issue of credit cards and alleged that the AARP’s opposition to payday lending was motivated by the organization’s desire to protect a credit card product it offers. At another point, Representative Chris Ross, the sponsor of the bill, warned that payday lenders currently selling a limited number of online payday loans illegally may be stealing the identities of consumers. 

Even if this were true, why does it mean we should legalize storefront payday lenders to locate in local communities throughout Pennsylvania and charge 369% annual interest rates on short-term loans? It doesn’t. 

While the strategy of House Bill 2191’s supporters was to talk as little as possible about the dangers payday lending poses for consumers, more telling was who attended the hearings. The hearing room was full of people who had driven in from around the state — Pittsburgh, Allentown, Philadelphia. Pastors, credit counselors and affordable housing groups showed up in opposition to the bill, even though they weren't testifying.  

Their presence didn’t stop some committee members from questioning the motives of an AARP volunteer and rushing the testimony of a pastor of a social service ministry and a military veteran. The only supporters of the bill were the out-of-state companies that stand to benefit financially from these 369% APR loans.

The will of the people — and the editorial boards — on payday lending is clear. Don’t legalize it. Let’s hope that the will of the people outweighs the dollars of the payday lenders in this year’s end game on this issue.

New Year, Same Old Economic Austerity

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

From November 2009 to November 2010, Pennsylvania added 63,300 jobs. From November 2010 to November 2011, the state added just 51,000.

Wait, isn't that backwards? Nope. A weak economy, the end of federal Recovery Act funds and state budget cuts slowed the pace of Pennsylvania job growth in the most recent year.

The big question mark going forward is whether the pace of job growth in the Commonwealth will continue to lag the rest of the country. Key will be whether school districts continue to face large budget deficits.

The news out of Stroudsburg this morning suggests this is going to be another challenging year for the Pennsylvania job market.

Larger class sizes, staff reductions, eliminating elective courses for students or a wage concession are possible remedies to close a projected $9.8 million deficit in the Stroudsburg Area School District budget, said Business Manager Don Jennings.

As school districts continue to add people to the unemployment lines, the Corbett administration is looking to make the situation that much worse by adding costly new regulations to address a problem that doesn't exist. 

Bridges Need Repair and Little Old Ladies Are Homeless but Have We Done Enough for the Top 1%?

A blog post by Mark Price, originally published at Third and State.

With unemployment in the construction industry at record highs, interest rates low and a deep backlog of thousands of structurally deficient bridges in need of repair, now is a great time to spend money to fix stuff do nothing!

Actually, it is not really that bad; it's worse. The Pennsylvania Legislature is spending time debating changes to the state's prevailing wage statute, even though a large body of empirical research demonstrates that changes to prevailing wage laws do not lower construction costs.  Anyway, if you find yourself in Pittsburgh, make sure your car seat also doubles as a floatation device.

A report to be issued today says the Pittsburgh metropolitan area has the highest percentage of structurally deficient bridges in the U.S. ...

[James Corless, the director of the Washington, D.C.-based Transportation for America, said:] 'These metropolitan-area bridges are most costly and difficult to fix, but they also are the most urgent, because they carry such a large share of the nation's people and goods.'

More Americans Drawing Income from Unemployment, Social Security

A blog post from Emma Lowenberg, originally published on Third and State.

The fact that the economy is still struggling is not news to anyone. The national unemployment rate has increased steadily since February. Now, at 9.2%, it is not too far from its peak of 9.9% in December 2009.

Nationally, the personal income of 20% of Americans comes from the government through programs like Social Security and unemployment benefits, according to a report in The New York Times. The percentage is even higher in the economically worst-off states – like Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Arizona.

Those who depend on this assistance are running out of luck, though, and so is the economy at large. Extended jobless benefits are set to expire at the end of the year, leaving nearly 7.5 million unemployed Americans without an important lifeline and risking greater damage to an all too fragile recovery. The still tentative agreement in Washington, D.C. to raise the debt limit appears to rule out any additional extensions of unemployment insurance for workers in 2012.

The ratio of job growth to job seekers remains dismally low. In Arizona, for example, there are 10 job seekers for every job opening. According to economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics, the amount of transfer dollars being paid out has increased by 35% since 2007.

A Big Month to Fight for Healthcare in Pennsylvania

Over here at my new job at SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, health care workers across the state are locked in tight battles for healthcare for themselves and for every family in the Commonwealth. Last week, a major bill crossed the Governor's desk – banning mandatory overtime for nurses, certified nursing assistants, and the other bedrock health care professionals that keep us alive and thriving in hospitals or nursing homes. After a unanimous Senate vote and an overwhelming majority support vote in the House, the Governor signed it – forcing our health care institutions to hire enough workers to care for patients adequately, and keeping exhausted workers from making mistakes on the job.

And, while we're waiting until next term to continue the battle for the Governor's Prescription for Pennsylvania plan – bringing health care coverage to 800,000 Pennsylvanians, and fighting to prevent the hundreds of preventable deaths that happen to uninsured families every year in the state -- we can take action Thursday to hold Congress accountable to pass national health care reform! Hannah Miller has written eloquently on this Thursday's rally! See you there.

I'm working hard to support these campaigns, but my heart is especially invested in the struggle for home care workers, people with disabilities, and seniors across the state. I'm helping with a lot of efforts with the http://www.choosehomecare.org coalition – to establish a Consumer Workforce Council in Pennsylvania.

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