In a year when "banker" has been substituted for "lawyer" in the punch-line of many a joke, Gov. Ed Rendell is calling on professionals from both maligned fields to pitch in and help Pennsylvanians in economic crisis -- and to do it free of charge.
The governor and his wife, Judge Marjorie Rendell, announced the "Get Help Now, Pennsylvania" service initiative on Tuesday, and offices staffed by lawyers, bankers, financial analysts and mortgage brokers will be open from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, July 7 through Sept. 11.
So far, 13 sites have been designated, including locations in Downtown Pittsburgh as well as Beaver, Washington and Westmoreland counties.
The idea is to help people with credit-card debt, foreclosure or bankruptcy problems or other financial issues due to the recession. Nearly 115,000 homeowners in the state were late with mortgage payments in the first quarter of 2009, and there were 42,949 foreclosures in 2008, more than double from the previous year. Credit-card debt and bankruptcies also increased.
In many cases, state resources are available but people don't always know how to get assistance. The governor's plan is meant to put consumers at the table with financial and legal experts, where they can discuss their situations face to face. They then may be referred to credit counselors or other services.
Pennsylvanians who need help should call the Pennsylvania Bar Association, toll-free, at 1-888-799-4557, to find the nearest location.
The initiative is a collaboration by the state bar, bankers, credit union, financial services, mortgage bankers and brokers associations plus the Office of the First Lady and the Banking Department. Professionals who want to help should contact the appropriate organization to volunteer. It's better than being the butt of a joke.