Tag Archives: Pennsylvania

Just Harvest Releases Barriers to Benefits Report: PA Health Program Fails to Deliver!

Aly Mance, WLP Intern

Just Harvest recently released their report titled Barriers to Benefits, which shows that Pennsylvania’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is failing to provide Pennsylvanians with the aid that they need.  Their research shows that there are chronic problems in the food stamp application process—particularly with the inability to successfully reach caseworkers and transmit paperwork.  These problems inhibit consumers from obtaining and maintaining benefits, hurting Pennsylvania families.

The numbers are shocking.  Just Harvest’s research found that 85% of their test calls could not reach a human being, and 66% of surveyed Food Stamp consumers reported disconnects while trying to reach caseworkers. 30% of survey participants also reported that the paperwork they provided was not processed in time for their health benefits to continue without interruption.  40% of survey participants reported waiting more than an hour and a half at the office to talk to a caseworker in person.  The numbers are clear: The County Assistance Offices are unable to properly respond to their workload, and it is having a negative impact on Pennsylvanians.

Just Harvest concludes their report with a well-thought out list of recommendations that the state’s Department of Public Welfare should take to improve the ability of citizens to obtain aid through SNAP.  The list of recommendations includes improving the phone systems, creating a system for confirmation notices when paperwork is received and alerts if documents are missing, regularly reporting data on dropped calls or lost documents to the public, increasing staff, and enforcing the standard that caseworkers treat all consumers with dignity and respect.  The Department of Public Welfare should certainly consider and act upon these recommendations in order to improve the SNAP program and better serve PA consumers.

It is important for us to remember, as Just Harvest points out in their mission statement, that “hunger is a symptom of poverty and that poverty is a product of social and economic injustice.”  We need to improve programs like SNAP in order to better the socioeconomic situation of Pennsylvanian women and their families.

For more information on Just Harvest, visit their website at http://www.justharvest.org.

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Filed under Economic Justice, food stamps, Pennsylvania, Welfare, Working poor

ALERT: ATHLETIC EQUITY REPORTING LAW UNDER ATTACK IN HARRISBURG!

Just last week, the first annual athletic gender equity reports were due from public secondary schools under a new state law that passed on June 30, 2012.  The Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure Act (or Act 82 Article XVI-C) requires secondary schools to provide annual, publicly released reports containing information about school-sponsored athletic programs in order to improve schools’ compliance with Title IX and work towards achieving gender equality.

Sadly, efforts are currently underway in the state legislature to interfere with this law before the first reports are even publicly released.  On Tuesday, October 22, House Bill 1734 will be considered by the House Education Committee.  House Bill 1734 would repeal several crucial provisions of this important disclosure law.

  • HB 1734 would eliminate the requirement that schools report the      total value of booster club purchases for each team. (Significantly, this portion of the reporting law does not even take effect until next year.)  Some schools blame the inequality of their athletic programs on booster clubs, but in fact, schools are responsible for ensuring that boys and      girls have equal opportunities and experiences. HB 1734 would allow schools to remove from their annual reporting the privately raised money being poured into boys’ teams.
  • HB 1734 would repeal the requirement that, for the first year only, schools include the dates when each team was established. This      easily available information shows whether schools have a history and continuing practice of expanding the girls’ athletic program.
  • HB 1734 would sunset all reporting after just three years.

Passing HB 1734 virtually guarantees that parents and students will have to turn to other, more burdensome ways of learning about their schools’ compliance with state and federal gender equity laws.

The participation gap between boys and girls in interscholastic athletics is widening.  See Decade of Decline: Gender Equity in High School Sports, Sharp Center & Women’s Sports Foundation, Oct. 2012.  Now is the wrong time to retreat from the mandate of equal opportunity and fair treatment for our girls.

What you can do:

  • Contact your state rep and urge him or her to vote NO on HB 1734 and stand up for gender equality.
  • Visit your local public high school’s website and see what its Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure report has to say.
  • Can’t find a report from your school? Contact your school’s Title IX officer and ask where you can get a copy of the report.
  • Can’t find your school’s Title IX officer? Call your school’s superintendent and ask who the Title IX officer is and how you can get a copy of the Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure report.
  • Not getting the information you are entitled to? Call the Women’s Law Project: 412-281-2892 or 215-928-9801.

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Filed under Athletic Equity, Gender Discrimination, Girls, PA Law, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Sex Discrimination, Sports, Title IX, Women's Law Project

Pennsylvania is Failing Women

By Kate Michelman and Sue Frietsche

So much for Pennsylvania as the birthplace of freedom and democracy. A report last month from the Center for American Progress offered some alarming statistics about the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the way   it treats the six million or so women who live here, assigning us a “C-” grade, and ranking our state 28th of the 50 states on women’s rights.

In fact, a quote from the report reads, “Pennsylvania stands out as one of the states that is among the worst in the nation for women. Across 36 factors of economic security, leadership, and health, Pennsylvania ranks 28th in the nation for how women are faring. This illustrates the long path ahead before women in Pennsylvania can get a fair shot at achieving economic security, reaching success, and living a healthy life.”

It goes from bad to worse in the report, whether it’s the fact that we scored a “D+” on economic factors for women (e.g., the 76 cents we still make to every dollar a man makes or the fact that 15% of us live in poverty), a “D” in leadership (our entire Congressional delegation contains one lone woman, and we hold less than 37% of the managerial positions in the state despite being 52% of the population), or a “C” in health (there is only one OB/GYN for approximately every 20,000 women in the state, we have the 12th highest infant mortality rate in the country, and our lawmakers are making it as difficult as possible for women to get reproductive health care).

It is beyond dispute that when the women of Pennsylvania do well, their families do well, their children thrive and communities prosper. That is reason enough for Pennsylvania to start climbing up from the bottom rungs of the 50 states.

But there is an even better reason, and simply put, it’s that Pennsylvania women deserve an equal shot at a good life. They deserve a state where they are treated equally at home, at work, and at school. They deserve a seat in the boardroom and at the table of government. They deserve a chance to live and work safely, with dignity – even when they’re pregnant or raising a family. They deserve the basic economic security essential to getting and staying healthy. They deserve the freedom to decide whether or not to have children in accordance with their beliefs, not under the boot of other people’s politics or religion.

So what can you do? Read the report, get motivated and do something about it. Get involved by getting smart about who you’re electing (or not electing) into office. Become an educated, vocal participant in exercising your civic duty, whether it’s visiting your legislators, writing letters to the editor, helping out at the polls – whatever inspires your civic passion. Above all, make your voice heard by voting, because Pennsylvania badly needs you in order to get back on the right track for our state’s women.

We’ve made great strides in the last 50 years, but a report like this shows we have miles to go. The women and men of Pennsylvania need to unite to effect real change for women, whether it is access to healthcare, economic security, or freedom from violence. And we need to pick up the pace while we’re at it. It’s simply taking too long to reach a place of true equality.

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Kate Michelman is co-chair of WomenVote PA, an organization that educates, engages, and mobilizes Pennsylvanians to make equality a reality for women. She is also president emerita of NARAL Pro-Choice America and author of “With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose.”

Sue Frietsche is a senior staff attorney in the Western Pennsylvania office of the Women’s Law Project.

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Filed under Domestic violence, Economic Justice, economic security, Family Violence, Health Care, Pennsylvania, Pregnancy, Reproductive Rights, Violence Against Women, Voter turnout, women voting, Women's health, Women's Law Project, women's rights, WomenVote PA, working mothers, working women

Title IX Advocates Await Release of New Athletic Gender Equity Reports

Attorneys from the Women’s Law Project announced that the first annual athletic gender equity reports from public high schools, junior highs and middle schools are due today under a new state law that passed on June 30, 2012. The Equity in Interscholastic Athletics Disclosure Act, formally known as Act 82 Article XVI-C, requires secondary schools to publicly report basic information about school-sponsored athletics programs on an annual basis in order to improve schools’ compliance with Title IX and achieve gender equity.

“For more than 40 years, Title IX has required schools to treat girls equally,” said Terry Fromson, managing attorney of the Women’s Law Project. “Sadly, there is evidence that girls are still being excluded and shortchanged and have actually lost ground in recent years.”

Fromson explained that starting today and each year thereafter, Pennsylvania secondary schools (grades 7 through 12) will have to submit a form to the state Department of Education containing the following information, which must be publicly posted by November 1:

  • Number of students in each school by gender;
  • Listing by gender of each varsity, junior varsity and freshman athletic team, together with year when each team was established;
  • Number of team participants by gender;
  • The seasons during which each team competed;
  • Total value of contributions and purchases made on behalf of each team by booster clubs;
  • Expenditures for each team, including travel, uniforms, equipment and supplies, coach compensation, facilities, and athletic trainers;
  • Number of coaches and trainers per team;
  • Number of competitions per team;
  • Name of school’s Title IX officer.

To find and download the forms online, go to:

http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/school%20services%20office/9153/disclosure%20of%20interscholastic%20athletic%20opportunities/1419362

The state legislation is modeled after the federal Equity in Athletics Disclosure Act, which requires federally funded colleges and universities to publicly disclose similar information annually on an easily searchable website.

“The Women’s Law Project intends to look carefully at the new gender equity reports to ensure that parents and students know how their schools are treating them,” said Susan Frietsche, staff attorney in the Law Project’s Western Pennsylvania office.

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Filed under Athletic Equity, Girls, PA Law, Sports, Title IX

Shouldn’t Voting Be Easier?

By Nora Kenty, WLP Intern

Tomorrow, on October 1, Pennsylvanians will be flocking to the State Capitol in Harrisburg to encourage the House of Representatives to pass SB 37, also known as the Online Voter Registration Bill.  This bill, aimed at modernizing the state’s problematic election system, would not only facilitate voter registration for those who are eligible, but it would also improve accuracy of voter rolls, provide additional security, and save tax-payer dollars.  In a world where many people can pay their bills online, communicate with family members over the internet, and even grocery shop on the web, it makes sense to bring voter registration into the 21st century.  Eleven states already offer paperless options for voting registration.  The bill also proposes early voting options without an excuse, and alterations in the processes for reviewing absentee ballots.  In the face of efforts to disenfranchise voters around the country, Bill 37 is pushing for increased ease of voting and more widespread access for all sectors of the population.

After the Supreme Court ruled to dismantle the Voting Rights Act, many states jumped at the opportunity to bolster their Voter ID laws, making it especially difficult for their poor and elderly citizens to vote.  Despite the obvious disenfranchisement occurring, proponents of Voter ID laws argue that the policies prevent (nonexistent) voter fraud, and anyone can get an adequate ID and vote.  This is simply not the case.

Dorothy Card is an 84-year-old woman living in Texas.  In remembering the first presidential election in which she exercised her right to vote, she says, “Truman, I guess I voted for him.” Now after sixty years of participating in United States elections, and playing a part in politics that the women before her fought for long and hard, Dorothy’s political participation may come to an end.  The culprit is the new Voter ID law in Texas!

Dorothy hasn’t driven in 15 years, so she no longer has a driver’s license.  She dutifully went to her local Department of Public Safety to obtain a voting ID, but because she lacked a photo ID she left empty-handed.  So she went home and called the county courthouse to get a copy of her marriage license, a document that would have enabled her to get the ID.  Officials there could not locate it for her, so she asked if the county administrator would write a letter explaining this.  They did, and she brought it to the DPS Office .  Still they refused to give her the ID.  So Dorothy’s daughter, a legal assistant, stepped in and asked what documentation was needed, and helped her mother obtain it.  Dorothy went back to the DPS a third time, and was denied again.  This is exemplary of what Rachel Maddow called a “dangerous, million-step process, newly instituted for you to exercise a right that used to be really easy.”

Only once local media outlet KTRK was alerted to the story did public officials step in and tell Dorothy they would be granting her the voting ID.

This story is fraught with what-ifs:

What if Dorothy hadn’t had the resources to drive to and from the Department of Public Safety three times?  In Pennsylvania, nine counties do not have a single PennDOT center that provides an ID that can be used for voting.

What if Dorothy, like so many women, had to take care of her children on her own in addition to working several jobs, leaving her with no time to make the fruitless trips?  In Pennsylvania, 75.4% of single mothers with children ages 0-17 were also in the labor force.

What if a local news outlet didn’t pick up the story, prompting the DPS into action?  According to the ACLU of PA, “regardless of who analyzes it or how it is analyzed, the number of registered voters without the ID required to vote is in the hundreds of thousands.”  Dorothy’s story will hopefully shed light on the problem as a whole, but it is the system that needs to be changed rather than tackling voting ID’s on a case-by-case basis.

Voting in a U.S. election is a privilege, but it is also our right as citizens.  There should be no what-ifs in the process.  If elected officials can work to take the right to vote away from American citizens, what’s next?  In 2010, only 39% of the 53 million unmarried women in the U.S. were registered to vote at all.

Pennsylvania SB 37, the Online Voting Registration bill, is currently in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.  Passing this bill could help change the voting statistics by making it easier for citizens to exercise their right.

Action: contact your representative in the Pennsylvania House and ask them to support SB 37 to make voting more accessible.

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Filed under Democracy, Elections, Government, PA Legislature, Voter turnout, Voting rights, women voting, WomenVote PA

IRS Ruling a Victory for Married Same-Sex Couples Across the Country!

Tara R. Pfeifer, WLP Staff Attorney

The Internal Revenue Service and the Treasury Department announced yesterday that the federal government will recognize the marriages of legally married same-sex couples for all federal tax purposes, regardless of where those couples reside.

This landmark ruling comes on the heels of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Windsor in which the Court overturned a key provision (Section 3) of the Defense of Marriage Act.  Section 3 defined the terms “marriage” and “spouse” for purposes of federal law as pertaining only to legal unions between one man and one woman.  Yesterday’s announcement clarifies that when it comes to evaluating the federal tax status of same-sex married couples, it is the “place of celebration” – where the wedding took place – that controls, not the state where the couple resides.  Thus, same-sex couples that marry in one of the states where same-sex marriage is legal, such as New York or Massachusetts, but reside in Pennsylvania will be recognized as married by the IRS and Treasury Department for federal tax purposes.

Pursuant to this new policy, all federal tax provisions where marriage is a factor, including filing status, IRA contributions, child tax credits, gift and estate taxes, etc. will apply to all legally married same-sex couples.  The Treasury Department further announced that, under the policy, refunds can be filed for the prior three years’ returns (2010, 2011, and 2012). According to Jacob Lew, Treasury Secretary, this interpretation “provides certainty and clear, coherent tax filing guidance for all legally married same-sex couples nationwide.  It provides access to benefits, responsibilities and protections under federal tax law that all Americans deserve.”

While there is still significant progress to be made to achieve marriage equality rights in Pennsylvania and most other states, yesterday’s ruling is a tremendous victory and step forward for married same-sex couples.

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Filed under Federal Court, Government, Internal Revenue Service, LGBTQ, Marriage Equality

Problematic “Stand Your Ground” Law: Does It Protect All Florida Citizens Equally?

By Nora Kenty, WLP Summer Intern

In the aftermath of the Trayvon Martin verdict, celebrities, pundits, and bloggers have all been commenting on Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which takes self-defense beyond the usual confines of one’s home. The Florida statute states: “A person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if: He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself [...].” The statute, similar or identical versions of which are shared by 30 other states, is not only controversial due to its extended definition; it seems to be applied in a highly discriminatory way, as evidenced by a 2011 case in which an African-American woman in Florida was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot in the presence of her abusive husband. 

In July of 2010, Marissa Alexander felt she was in great danger when her ex-husband, Rico Gray, became enraged, tried to strangle her and threatened to kill her. She fled to the garage, retrieved a gun, and fired a single warning shot into a wall inside their home. She later said, “I believe when he threatened to kill me, that’s what he was absolutely going to do. Had I not discharged my weapon at that point, I would not be here.” The judge, however, believed that re-entering the house was not consistent with someone in fear of their life, and the jury took only 12 minutes to decide on the 20-year prison sentence for the mother of three.

In both Alexander’s case and the more recent Trayvon Martin case, there have been complaints that the “institutional racism” inherent in Florida and its laws is to blame for the controversial decisions, which both display a significant bias against African Americans. Considering some of the details of Alexander’s case—she had no prior criminal record, did not kill or injure anyone with her warning shot, and was fleeing a lethally abusive man who had previously gone to jail for his violence toward her—a 20-year prison sentence certainly seems unjustified.

The Florida statute has not been found to be unconstitutional in its definition of self-defense. What is problematic is how the law is being applied, and the fact that those needing protection are unable to use the law to get it. This is not the first time a law’s interpretation has had a disproportionately negative effect on a specific minority group or class of women. Unfortunately it has happened before, and in our own state of Pennsylvania. Municipal ordinances governing rental properties punished victims of abuse who called the police on their batterers more than three times in one month. A woman in Norristown named Lakisha Briggs was brutally attacked by her ex-boyfriend, who hit her with a brick and stabbed her in the neck with broken glass. But Briggs had already called the police on her boyfriend twice in the past month, and they said one more incident of what the ordinance classified as “disorderly behavior” would be grounds for her eviction. So she bled on the floor rather than get kicked out of her home, and was eventually hospitalized. The ACLU successfully challenged the ordinance, but many municipalities across the country still enforce similar laws that disproportionately impact victims of domestic abuse.

The stories of Briggs, Alexander, and Trayvon Martin serve as a reminder that in many cases, our legal system punishes the victims of crimes, rather than placing the blame on the shoulders of the perpetrators. Unfortunately, Florida’s “stand your ground” law is only one example of the many unjust laws and ordinances that exist. With such laws coming under increased exposure and scrutiny, perhaps reform efforts soon will yield more fairly enforced legislation.

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Filed under Domestic violence, Family Violence, profiling, racism, Violence Against Women