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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.

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