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Thousands of Pennsylvania homeowners are stuck waiting for help from a state mortgage relief program as officials blame a private contractor for botched management of the $350 million pandemic aid effort.
In a scathing March 1 letter, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency leveled a series of new criticisms at the company, Innovative Emergency Management, Inc., including that the vendor prematurely denied assistance to some homeowners in an effort to close applications quickly.
Homeowners looking to the federally bankrolled program for help with mortgage, utility, and other household debts are facing further delays as a result, putting them at risk of further financial harm.
Read Spotlight PA's full report: Thousands of homeowners still at risk as Pa. alleges improper denials, delays in mortgage relief.
THE CONTEXT: Spotlight PA reported in January that homeowners seeking help from the program had already been contending with waits as long as nine months and poor communication from caseworkers.
Some applicants with overdue utility bills had their service shut off while waiting. Others watched their credit scores plummet as they fell months behind on mortgage payments because of the delays.
A lawyer for Innovative Emergency Management says the claims of mismanagement are "factually and legally unfounded."
For now, both sides have agreed to a three-month truce while state officials investigate. But the newly uncovered problems have reportedly slowed the process of transitioning the program to the state's control.
|NOTABLE / QUOTABLE|
"You brought up the needs of the school districts as far as budgetary restraints. You also brought up the need for parents and students to have a school choice option. So you sound very fair like you want a compromise from your assessment, is that fair?"
—State Rep. Seth Grove (R., York) pressing Acting Education Secretary Khalid Mumin on the Shapiro administration's "school choice" stance
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|UNEQUAL ELECTIONS: Join us and a panel of election experts on Thursday, March 30 from 6-7 p.m. on Zoom for a free discussion on unequal voting policies in the state, how they impact voters, and possible solutions. Register for the event here and submit your questions to email@example.com.|
|"Spring coming out of the shadows," via Bill S. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.|
|SAFETY ACT: Under pressure, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw issued a statement on Tuesday offering support for some parts of the U.S. Senate's bipartisan Railway Safety Act, which would put tougher safety rules on railroads after last month’s toxic derailment in eastern Ohio. U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio (D., Pa.) introduced a bipartisan companion bill in the U.S. House on Tuesday.|
TURF TROUBLE: A Danish artificial turf recycler was promised $1.85 million in state loans and grants to open its first U.S. processing center in Pennsylvania. More than a year later, the Bucks County Courier Times says the Schuylkill County center hasn't opened, the astroturf is piling up in fields and parking lots, and the company is getting notices that it’s violating the commonwealth’s environmental laws.
RSVP NO: Three Luzerne County election officials have declined to testify before the U.S. House about a paper shortage that impacted in-person balloting there in last year's midterm election. The Standard-Speaker (paywall) reports acting county manager Brian Swetz urged them to submit written statements instead. The Times Leader says the county is likely to use paper ballots again this May.
BUDGET ASK: Budget hearings got underway in Harrisburg this week, with one drawing all four state-related universities — Pitt, Penn State, Lincoln, and Temple — to the Capitol on Tuesday, where they asked for a greater share of state funding while refusing to commit to tuition freezes if they get it, per ABC27. Spotlight PA reported on Penn State's deficit and the cuts and layoffs planned in response.
DEFENSE FUNDS: Today's Philadelphia Bar Association conference on the importance of funding for public defenders will feature Gov. Josh Shapiro, state Supreme Court Chief Justice Debra Todd, and Speaker of the Pennsylvania House Joanna McClinton (D., Philadelphia). Pennsylvania is the only state that doesn't directly fund public defenders, though Shapiro's budget plan would change that.
ON TRIAL: Attorneys for accused Tree of Life gunman Robert Bowers say he has schizophrenia and epilepsy and that they plan to introduce related evidence in the sentencing phase of his upcoming death penalty trial.
FONDA NODS: Oscar winner Jane Fonda has waded into the races for Philly mayor and Allegheny County executive, with her climate PAC endorsing Democrats Helen Gym and Sara Innamorato, respectively.
DEER DAY: State Rep. Brian Smith (R., Jefferson) and "Pennsylvania Hunters Against the Saturday Deer Opener" want the old schedule back, citing social and economic impacts, TribLIVE reports.
FIRST ONE: State Rep. Dan Frankel (D., Allegheny) and state Sen. Judy Schwank (D., Berks) have formed Pennsylvania’s first Jewish Legislative Caucus. Among its priorities: modernizing state hate crime laws.
TAX CREDIT: A group of federal lawmakers has reintroduced a bill that would give Americans up to $1,500 off a new e-bike. Bay Journal reports the bikes' speed is piquing management concerns in some public spaces.
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