Morning Must Reads: Got ID?, Colleges Gaming Students & What The Pay Day Lending Industry Wants

Remember to get out there and vote, people!

Every election offers a lesson in democracy, but registered voters who go to the polls today also will participate in a practice test — of Pennsylvania's new voter identification law.

Poll workers will ask all registered voters to provide appropriate ID, but the procedures are only a trial run for the general election on Nov. 6. That means voters will be able to cast their ballots as usual today, regardless of whether they have appropriate identification. The only exceptions are for people voting in Pennsylvania for the first time or casting ballots at a different polling place since they last voted.

In the fall, things will be different. Voters who don't have proper ID will have to cast provisional ballots and provide the appropriate ID within six days, or their votes won't count. That's why it is important for people who vote today to read handouts provided and ask questions about what to expect in November.

Poll workers will likely have time to discuss the rules: Election officials are forecasting a light turnout, with only 25 percent of Allegheny County's eligible voters expected. That's a sad reality, and it could be exacerbated by the new law, which will add new hurdles in time for important presidential and congressional races as well as statewide and legislative contests.

Bloomberg this morning has an unflattering story on colleges, including Drexel University, using language that can leave students with an impression they received student aid when in fact they are being offered debt.

The U.S. Education Department and consumer groups are pushing for rules that would standardize student aid offers to make it easier for students to compare the offers they are receiving. This is a common-sense reform that would not hurt colleges, and yet the association representing student financial aid administrators is opposed to standardization. Try not to laugh too loudly when you read the quote below.   

The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators in Washington went to Capitol Hill in March to lobby against standard documents. While the group isn’t opposed to requiring schools to use the same terms, its members prefer the flexibility to design their own letters, Megan McClean, NASFAA’s director of policy and federal relations, said in an interview.

Lobbyists for the Wall Street-financed payday lending industry are upset with Pennsylvania because it has relatively strong consumer protection against predatory short-term loans. They are pushing a bill through the Pennsylvania House that would allow interest rates on short-term loans as high as 419%. Making a mockery out of the word compromise, we understand an amendment is planned that will bring the interest rate cap down to just over 300%! Gee, the payday lending industry is full of big-hearted people! 

Last month, Rep. Chris Ross, a Chester County Republican, introduced House Bill 2191, which would legalize lending that saddles unwary, low-income consumers with annualized debt of up to 419 percent.

Two years ago, the state Supreme Court ruled that out-of-state lenders had to follow Pennsylvania's banking regulations if they wanted to do business here. This effectively eliminated the possibility of obscene profits via the Internet and drove the lenders out of the market voluntarily. The lenders weren't outlawed, but stymied by rules set by the state banking department that limited to 24 percent the interest they could charge on small loans.

But out-of-state payday lenders sought politicians willing to carry water for their cause. Mr. Ross and 50 House co-sponsors began to push for the return of high-interest lending that the banking department consistently declared illegal.

The grim carnival of budget cuts, layoffs and privatization at the Philadelphia School District gets uglier by the day.

An effort to illustrate how modest food aid is in the commonwealth will likely lead to weight loss for several Pennsylvania elected officials, who will live on a $35 grocery budget for the next week. The protest has been prompted by the state's decision to cut off food stamps for people under 60 with more than $5,500 in cash or certain other assets; for those 60 and older, the threshold would be $9,000. All this to save just $35 per week.

A congressman, the Philadelphia mayor and at least three state lawmakers are pledging to live on $35 worth of food for the next week.

That’s how much the average food stamp benefit totals in Philadelphia — $5 per day.

The challenge organized by two regional advocacy groups comes as a planned asset test for food stamps goes into effect May 1 in Pennsylvania.

State officials say the new limits will save public money. Critics say the test will disqualify thousands of low-income families from getting the food they need.

On Monday, Mayor Michael Nutter, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady and three Democratic state legislators shopped for a week’s worth of groceries at a Philadelphia supermarket.

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