Score one for the wolves in Harrisburg.
In their hunt for the working poor’s money, payday lenders separated three weak Philadelphia legislators from the herd. State Reps. Bill Keller of South Philadelphia, John Sabatina of the lower Northeast, and John Taylor of Port Richmond voted to help payday lenders make a comeback in Pennsylvania.
The state has a 24 percent interest rate cap on short-term loans and bans Internet lending. But state Rep. Chris Ross (R., Chester) wants to blow the cap and expose borrowers to an annualized 369 percent interest rate. His bill invites Internet lenders back even after the Supreme Court upheld the ban in 2010.
Ross says he wants to protect consumers, but the only consumers he’s benefiting are the predators.
Typically, desperate borrowers take two-week loans, planning to pay back on payday. But after paying high interest and fees, they have less money for their bills so they take out another loan, which traps them in a debt spiral.
The loans are so dangerous to the fragile finances of the working poor that Congress and President George W. Bush capped them at 36 percent in 2006 for military personnel and their families. States, including Arkansas and Oregon, have reined them in as well.
The bill’s next stop in Pennsylvania is the Senate, where state Sen. Anthony Williams of West Philadelphia says he wants hearings to expose the legislation’s true intent. He has written amendments to make the bill less palatable to lenders, including one that prohibits securing the loans with borrowers’ bank accounts. But compromise isn’t the answer. Pennsylvania already has good payday loan protections that should be honored.
Keller, Sabatina and Taylor should have seen that, but instead they betrayed their constituents and shouldn’t be surprised if voters react in kind this fall.
There is a bright light, even if it wasn’t enough to scare the wolves away from the House. State Rep. Cherelle L. Parker of Mount Airy should be commended for seeing this bill for the canard it is and rallying the opposition.