Stop using poverty as an excuse — and take real action | Editorial
If we were really so concerned about policies that hurt the poor, there are real actions that could actually have an impact. They include:
It it heartwarming to see the outpouring of compassion toward those living in poverty that occurs every time a certain type of bill gets discussed.
For the past two years, the beverage tax has galvanized some people to voice concern over how the tax will hurt the poor. Most of those voices are opponents of the tax from the beverage and retail industry. Lately a proposed ban on plastic bags — that has already failed more than once in City Council — has industry opponents decrying how the ban will hurt the poor.
These sound like self-serving excuses rather than real concern for the poor. If we were really so concerned about policies that hurt the poor, there are real actions that could actually have an impact. They include:
Raise the minimum wage. At long last, a move to raise the $7.25 per hour minimum wage in Pennsylvania is gaining traction among Harrisburg Republicans, whose majority leader Jake Corman said this week that he would be open to discussing a hike, though he doesn’t support Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposal for $12 an hour. New Jersey just succeeded in raising its wage to $15 per hour. Since about half of minimum-wage workers are over the age of 25, families would benefit.
Halt the decline in consumer protections. Earlier this month, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau rolled back regulations intended to limit the damage done by payday loans, whose fees can push the cost of these loans to more than 300 percent. These loans end up trapping low-income people who don’t qualify for conventional loans in an endless cycle of debt. That disturbing development follows a pattern of declawing the agency established following the economic meltdown of 2008. It has gone from an aggressive watchdog of financial firms to becoming a friend of the banking industry.
Restore General Assistance. The Pennsylvania General Assistance program has helped low-income adults with temporary assistance of $205 per month. This has been an important lifeline for people temporarily unable to work, including disabled people, abuse victims, and those recovering from addiction. Gov. Tom Corbett cut the program, but a court ruling restored it, until earlier this year, when Gov. Wolf proposed moving general assistance money to housing.
At the same, time, the state should consider increasing amounts of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families grants, which haven’t changed for decades. In most counties, a family of three gets $403, with heavy requirements for work-related activities.
Raise the EITC … and rethink the uniformity clause. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is one of the most effective antipoverty programs, providing low-income working families up to $6,557 in tax credits. That could be expanded. At least 29 states have established state EITCs that supplement the federal program but not here, due to Pennsylvania’s Uniformity clause that prohibits taxing any class of income at different rates. According to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, that means our state’s taxes are the most regressive in the country.
It’s time to rethink the uniformity clause. It’s also time to rethink how committed we really are to reducing poverty.