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Demand set to swamp Pa.'s $125M Whole-Homes program

Plus, report blames staff exodus for election debacle.

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A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.

June 22, 2023 |
Election debacle, with credit, outside counsel, budget briefing, school funding, voter checks, ad ban, doubting Shapiro, police shooting, and jail crisis.
A long-awaited report ties a ballot paper shortage that marred midterm voting in Luzerne County last fall to high staff turnover, in the process refuting related conspiracy theories that even gained an audience with Congress. 

Republican Luzerne County District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce, the author of the report, said there is "no question" turnover was the primary issue, echoing findings from a February report by Votebeat and Spotlight PA.

Also this week, Stephen Caruso reports that two bills passed by the state House last week could net Pennsylvania families across the income spectrum more than $2.5 billion in tax breaks by 2028.

The proposals passed the lower chamber with bipartisan support, but they might not survive the GOP-controlled state Senate, a possibility that showcases the political tensions at play as Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro and the split legislature attempt to negotiate a budget deal by June 30.

Join us tonight, by Zoom, for a free panel on the budget process.

"This would be about the stupidest way to try to criminally influence an election."

—Luzerne County DA Sam Sanguedolce on the findings of his probe into a midterm ballot paper shortage seized upon by conspiracy theorists

» PSU has an $11.4-million legal unit. Why does it hire outside firms?

» You’re invited! A free panel on Pa.’s 2023 budget process tonight!

Demand is set to swamp Pa.'s Whole-Home Repairs Program as some rural counties are left out

As a new $125 million Pennsylvania grant program for home repairs gets underway, demand is expected to be overwhelming and supporters are calling for the state legislature to make the one-time funding permanent. 

Homeowners in three rural counties, however, won’t be able to receive any of the money. Local officials in those areas did not apply to the state Department of Community and Economic Development to receive the funding and their share was reallocated among the 64 counties that did. 

The Whole-Home Repairs Program, funded with federal pandemic aid, offers grants and forgivable loans of up to $50,000 for homeowners and small landlords to fix problems like leaky roofs or exposed wiring. Other allowable uses for the money include making a property more energy-efficient, making it more accessible for residents with disabilities, or repair-related job training. 

Approved by lawmakers last summer, the program is one of Pennsylvania’s largest investments in housing in recent years. It also represents a rare bipartisan success story, having won support from Republicans despite being introduced by Democratic state Sen. Nikil Saval of Philadelphia, one of Harrisburg’s most progressive lawmakers. 

The fact that 64 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties applied for the funding shows a “near-universal level of participation” that underscores the overwhelming need, said Natasha Cahill, a spokesperson for Saval. 

So why did a few counties leave the money on the table? 

A mixture of not knowing the funding was available and concerns over being able to handle another grant program. 

Adams County Manager Steve Nevada said he wasn’t immediately sure why the county hadn’t applied. 

Brian Allen, chair of the Board of Perry County Commissioners, said county officials didn’t know about the program in time to apply. There was also confusion, he said, because the county has its own home repair program; when a resident recently called to ask about the new state initiative, he said, he assumed they were referring to the existing one. “If it opens back up, we’ll be first in line,” Allen said. 

In a statement, a DCED spokesperson said the agency took “extensive action” to ensure that all 67 counties knew about the Whole-Home Repairs Program, including organizing an information session that all three Perry County commissioners, as well as the chief clerk and solicitor, were invited to attend.

Sullivan County Commissioner Brian Hoffman told Spotlight PA the county decided not to apply for the funding because it already has difficulty spending the smaller amounts of money allocated to its existing home repair program. There is a need for the funding, he said, but finding contractors willing to bid on the work is challenging. The high cost of repairs also makes some projects unworkable. 

Additionally, he said, the county has been overwhelmed by the flood of COVID-related grants and doesn’t have the resources to take on a new program. Sullivan County stood to receive an estimated $200,000 from the Whole-Home Repairs Program and getting that funding out would have been a major administrative challenge, Hoffman said. 

“It’s almost like too much money at the same time.” 

Charlotte Keith, Spotlight PA

Support Spotlight PA's independent, nonpartisan journalism.
This week's top news story in PennsylvaniaRULING STANDS: Commonwealth Court Judge Renée Cohn Jubelirer has rejected an attempt by Republican lawmakers to overturn her February school funding ruling that found the state's system to be unconstitutional and ordered lawmakers and the governor to find a fix. The Inquirer (paywall) reports Republicans have 30 days to appeal. 

This week's second top news story in PennsylvaniaNEXT EXIT? Eight GOP-led states have cut ties with a multistate consortium that helps combat voter fraud and ensure accurate voter rolls amid a rash of related misinformation. Pennsylvania Sen. Cris Dush (R., Jefferson) wants the Commonwealth to follow suit, against expert advice, per WITF. A Dush-helmed committee could vote on it soon.

This week's third top news story in PennsylvaniaMMJ BILLS: Medical marijuana law updates cleared a state Senate panel Wednesday and would allow any doctor to prescribe the drug, eliminate the list of qualifying conditions, and get rid of an advertising ban for physicians that Spotlight PA found gives an edge to companies, some making questionable or even dangerous claims.

SHAPIRO SKEPTICS: Inside Climate News reports onetime supporters are questioning Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s commitment to environmental issues amid secrecy around his working group on climate change, the decision to lift a ban on fracking in polluted Dimock, and the embrace of a fossil fuel-powered hydrogen hub. 

FOUND FOOTAGE: Pennsylvania State Police still aren't equipped with body cameras six years after a state law enshrined their legal right to do so. And that has left Anthony Allegrini Jr.'s family piecing together video from civilians who were on the interstate when Anthony was fatally shot by a trooper in Philadelphia on June 4, WHYY reports.

» BRADFORD ERA: DA 'lucky to be alive' after shooting at law office

» CITY & STATE: Pa. lawmakers join Andrew Yang's centrist third party

» PENNLIVE: Sister says police ambusher was 'experiencing psychosis'

» THE INQUIRER: Philadelphia's juvenile jail 'is in crisis,' city says

» VICE: I-95 collapse didn't cause traffic disaster, data show

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