TURN PA BLUE – WHY WE FIGHT

You have probably been asked recently to contact your representative in Congress to oppose the new Farm Bill, which would change the work requirements for certain able-bodied adults without dependents, (ABAWD) who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, better known as Food Stamps. Under the new bill, ABAWD would be defined as 18-65 years of age rather then 18-49, and would be required to work 20 hours a week or participate in a program that could lead to employment.

But how many emails had you received to contact your State Representative to stop the passage of HB 1659, a bill that would eliminate the exemption for the work requirement under SNAP. Pennsylvania, along with a number of other states, have enjoyed these exemptions since the mid- 1990’s, when the new SNAP law first went into effect. A county or a township can qualify for a waiver if its unemployment rate runs at least 20% above the national average. Most counties in Pennsylvania qualify. Although the benefits under SNAP cost the State nothing, Pennsylvania splits the cost of administering the program with the Federal government. Given the fact that the costs of administering the program will likely increase if the State removes the exemption, the only way that the bill makes any sense is as a punitive measure for beneficiaries of the SNAP program. The Republican State House has recently passed this bill and has sent it on to the Senate

Once again, while our energies have been focused at the Federal level, our State’s General Assembly has recently done some very nasty things.

For example, you might have also read that while the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed the State Supreme Court to impose a new map for Pennsylvania’s Congressional districts, Republicans in the State House Government Committee, coaxed by committee chair Daryl Metcalfe, passed out an amended House Bill 722, a bill that originally required an independent citizen’s commission to draw new Congressional and legislative districts within the State. The original bill had 110 sponsors in a house with 203 members. The amended bill, however, would give the current legislature complete control of the process. It would replace the current system, which requires gubernatorial approval. In denying the original bill’s access to the House floor, Metcalfe responded, “I block all substantive Democratic legislation sent to my committee and advance good Republican legislation!

While HB 722 was making its way to the House floor, the House passed HB 2050, which would prohibit abortions when they are sought for a fetal diagnosis of Down Syndrome. Although Republicans called this bill “an attempt to help disabled kids and their families,” one could only conclude that certain households were being penalized since the House shot down an amendment by Peter Schweyer (D-Lehigh) to delay implementation of the legislation until the General Assembly passed a bill allowing paid sick leave for parents of children with Down Syndrome when they needed to stay home.

One must remember that all of this activity was taking place during the time when the State was grappling with the tragedy at the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Broward County, Florida. The State House Judiciary Committee held hearings April 9-12 on several bills related to firearms – one of which was HB 420, written by the NRA, and introduced by State Rep. Jason Ortitay (R-Allegheny). Currently, Pennsylvania uses both the Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS), and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), to conduct background checks on criminals, people with mental health issues, and domestic abusers. HB 420 would de-commission the PICS, since it duplicates, in theory, what is in the NICS. In reality, however, the PICS provides information that is not able to find its way in the NICS, and would therefore be an extra valuable layer of protection against unauthorized firearms purchases. As just one example, in 2016, PCIS was responsible for the arrest of 152 fugitives who had attempted to buy firearms in Pennsylvania, which would not have been possible if the State relied solely on the NCIS.

But probably the most disturbing piece of legislation for Philadelphia residents is HB 2241, which would nullify Philadelphia’s soda tax, while pre-empting communities throughout Pennsylvania from enacting such legislation. Rep. Mark Mustio, R-Allegheny County, was the primary sponsor of the bill, which was approved by the House Commerce Committee at the beginning of the month. As an explanation for the committee’s decision, Chair Brian Ellis, R-Butler County, explained that he was carrying out what the people of Philadelphia would have accomplished by referendum.

When these legislators have the arrogance to believe that they are representing the interests of constituencies who did not elect them, it is time for us to campaign in their districts to throw them out of office.

 

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