AARP won a major victory in this past October when a judge delayed implementation of Pennsylvania's controversial voter identification law, ordering the state not to enforce it for the presidential election. The injunction represented the culmination of months work by AARP Pennsylvania,and AARP Foundation Litigation. When it was signed into law back in March, PA’s Voter ID statute was considered among the nation’s toughest. Soon after its approval, voting rights activists filed a lawsuit challenging the law, and AARP submitted “friend-of-the-court” briefs in the case. The legal case worked its way through the PA court system over the summer, and AARP’s position earned significant media attention. AARP also partnered with dozens of community groups statewide to protest the law, culminating in a rally at Philadelphia’s historic Independence Mall, to help voters understand exactly what they would need to vote.
This past year, AARP helped to defeat efforts to legalize payday lending in Pennsylvania. In the final days of the legislative session, the state Senate failed to even consider a bill that would allow short-term/high interest loans in PA. AARP members played a significant role in helping block this legislation by attending and testifying at Senate hearings and placing hundreds of calls to Senators through a special AARP hotline. Many even wrote letters to the editor of their local newspaper to express their opposition. While the lack of a Senate vote was a setback for payday lending supporters, the issue is expected to be raised again when the General Assembly reconvenes for its new session in 2013.
After more than 190,000 phone calls and emails from volunteers and community partners, PA Governor Tom Corbett agreed to relax tough new eligibility guidelines for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), formerly known as food stamps, that would have created tremendous hardship for vulnerable low-income older adults. Early in 2012, press reports showed the PA Department of Public Welfare planned to re-establish an asset test for SNAP benefits. Despite 35 states abolishing asset tests because of long-term unemployment concerns, PA officials proposed reverting to 1980 standards and limiting eligibility to those with no more than $2,000 in savings. For people over 60, the proposed limit was only $3,250.
Immediatley AARP Pennsylvnia took action and began to meet with the Secretary of Public Welfare to express concerns with the proposal. The state office kept up the pressure by setting up a toll free phone line and sharing the number with volunteers and community partners statewide. Shortly thereafter, state welfare officials announced that they would be significantly raising SNAP benefit eligibility limits to $5,500 for households with people age 59 and under and $9,000 for households with older Pennsylvanians age 60 and above with exceptions for items
like burial expenses and educational savings. While AARP would clearly prefer PA follow the lead of states which have suspended SNAP asset tests, fast action by AARP led officials to reconsider their original position. The new proposed limits represent a significant step in the right direction.