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Troubled mortgage relief program leaves 1000s in limbo

Plus, meet Spotlight PA's new newsletter reporter and writer.

This is The Investigator, a free weekly newsletter with the top news from across Pennsylvania.
A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.

June 29, 2023 |
Paused applications, advertising ban, ARPA spending, program demand, small errors, safety concerns, meet Tanisha, crisis call, and email evidence.
Thousands of Pennsylvania homeowners who have waited months for help from a troubled state mortgage relief program are stuck in limbo — again.

Earlier this year, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency announced it would take over the program from the company originally hired to run it.

As a result of the change, homeowners who have already applied must sign up in the agency’s new system to get in line again. Until they do, their applications cannot move forward and they cannot receive assistance. About 55% of applications have not yet been registered in the new system.

Also this week, Pennsylvania lawmakers are considering a bill that would eliminate an unusual restriction that bans doctors from advertising their ability to approve patients for the state’s medical marijuana program. The advertising disparity was the subject of a Spotlight PA investigation last year.

And finally, Spotlight PA has a new review of how Pennsylvania has — and hasn't — spent $7.3 billion it received through the American Rescue Plan Act.

"It’s not going to be medical anymore. This bill looks like an adult-use bill."

—Lauren Vrabel, of the group Doctors for Cannabis Regulation, on a bill pending in the Pennsylvania legislature

» Demand is set to swamp Pa.'s Whole-Home Repairs Program as some rural counties are left out
» Trump target Al Schmidt gets crucial approval as he moves closer to becoming Pa.’s top election official
» Philadelphia’s communities of color disproportionately affected when mail ballots are rejected over small errors
» Safety, oversight concerns raised as Pa. lawmakers pursue billions for hydrogen hubs

Meet Spotlight PA's new newsletter reporter

Hi, I’m Tanisha Thomas, Spotlight PA’s newest reporter. I’ll be writing about people and places across the state and curating the stories featured in PA Post and PA Local.

I love the pace of journalism. The unpredictableness is my favorite part. You never know what to expect, and it makes for fun adventures and stories. Scrolling through social media, talking with friends, and taking a stroll through my neighborhood have all led me to stories. I get to learn about so many different personalities, cultures, and backgrounds. There’s nothing like it.

Before joining Spotlight PA, I worked on the digital team for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and covered Western Pennsylvania for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. I also held various internships at my hometown paper the Columbus Dispatch. These roles got me used to the fast-paced environment of newsrooms and taught me the importance of representation in coverage.

Representation is important to me because I often do not see myself reflected in news. I strive to fix that in my reporting by highlighting Black businesses, culture, and concerns. One such story that I’m especially proud of is a history of Juneteenth in Western Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania holds a special place in my heart. I grew up in a family full of Steelers fans, so the black and yellow felt familiar when I moved to Pittsburgh in late 2020. It is also where I got my first job after graduating from Kent State University. While I did not have moving to Pennsylvania on my radar during school, I am so glad I was led here. I am always learning new things about this eccentric state.

In my free time I love playing trivia, attending concerts, rock climbing, and analyzing pop culture. I live for new experiences. They keep life exciting, in my opinion.

I look forward to hearing from you. Know of any fun or interesting stories about Pennsylvania that should be featured in PA Local? Send them my way! You can reach me at

Support Spotlight PA's independent, nonpartisan journalism.
This week's top news story in PennsylvaniaSCOTUS RULING: The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday shot down a fringe legal theory that Republican lawmakers — unhappy with redistricting results — used to argue for unchecked legislative control over election policy in states like Pennsylvania and removing courts from the political mapmaking process. The high court, in a 6-3 vote, rejected the theory that advocates warned could sow election chaos.This week's second top news story in PennsylvaniaCRISIS CALL: PennLive (paywall) reports the family of Brandon Stine contacted State Police on Friday, June 16 citing "erratic behavior" that made them believe he needed to be involuntarily hospitalized for mental health care. Authorities looked for Stine but didn't find him. A day later, he ambushed troopers in Juniata County, killing one and critically wounding another before dying in a shootout himself.

This week's third top news story in PennsylvaniaEMAIL EVIDENCE: Newly released emails are shedding new light on a Harrisburg-based religious law firm's role in crafting policies restricting diversity-minded learning materials and transgender athletes in Pennsylvania school districts. Democratic Central Bucks school board members said they were unaware of the extent of the Independence Law Center's involvement until Reuters showed them.
    DENIED ENTRY: The ACLU of Pennsylvania is suing Berks County after Air Force veteran Damon Monyer was denied entry to a court-run treatment program for veterans because he's a medical cannabis patient, per WITF. The ACLU says the policy applying to the county's mental health and veterans treatment court violates state law. They're asking Commonwealth Court to strike it down.
    • RELATED: New records reveal the cost of Pa.'s failure to clarify rules around addiction treatment and marijuana, via Spotlight PA
    UNDERSTAFFED: Agencies tasked with inspecting U.S. nursing homes are chronically understaffed, and in Pennsylvania officials have taken to hiring retired inspectors on a limited capacity to fill in the gaps. After a year investigating the problem, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) tells The Inquirer (paywall) he has grave concerns

    » AP: Mail voting law is upheld again, as court rules against challenge

    » CITY & STATE: Pa. will get $1.2B in federal funding for broadband

    » EHN: Plastics plant hasn’t spurred economic growth: Report 

    » TRIBLIVE: Westmoreland closes juvenile center amid investigation 

    » WESA: 90K have lost Medicaid coverage since end of pandemic rule

    Send your answers to

    SOUND-OFF (Case No. 206)What's a five-letter word meaning vacant that sounds the same when you take away the first, third, and last letter?
     Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.
    Last week's answer: Seven is two syllables. (Find last week's clue here.) 
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