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Homeowners desperate as Pa. mortgage aid struggles

Plus, synagogue shooter sentenced to death.

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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen

Thursday, August 3, 2023
Desperate delays, Trump indictment, death penalty, secret group, PSERS case, teacher flight, and Philadelphia's rural power plan.

Pennsylvania is struggling to overhaul its troubled mortgage relief program and desperate homeowners are stuck in the middle.

Long delays dogged the $350 million program from the start, leading the state to cut ties with the company it put in charge. 

But now, almost five months after the state took over, problems persist and the transition has in some cases created new ones. 

Read Spotlight PA's full report: ‘It shouldn’t be this difficult:’ Pa. homeowners desperate as mortgage aid struggles drag on.

THE CONTEXT: The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency is in charge of the pandemic-inspired utility bill and mortgage relief program now, but it has barely made a dent in the application backlog, meaning many homeowners are no closer to receiving aid than they were before.

Patty Pollock, 67, was thousands of dollars behind on her mortgage and facing foreclosure when she appeared in Columbia County court in a last-ditch effort to save her home. But she struggled to assure the judge that help was on the way. The status of her aid application was a mystery.

"100% no," Pollock answered when asked by her attorney whether she had any solid information about her case. Spotlight PA's reporting adds: 

Homeowners with federally backed mortgages, like Pollock, were supposed to be protected from foreclosure for up to 60 days while they waited for help.

But that protection only kicks in once the state's aid program — not the homeowner — tells a mortgage company someone has applied. As Pollock sat in court that day, her loan servicer had not heard from any officials.

Her case was stuck in a bureaucratic no man’s land.


“The system let her down, over and over and over again, yet they didn’t do anything about it. There was a lack of vigilance on the part of one of the entities we count on to protect our children. It’s tragic.”

Adams County District Attorney Brian Sinnett on Iris Mummert, an infant killed after Children and Youth Services put her back with her mom; three CYS workers have been charged with child endangerment
Support vital journalism for Pennsylvania: The future of local news is in your hands. Donate now to Spotlight PA.
» Petition urges Pa. lawmakers to recognize Lenape, via WESA

» U.S. Rep. Fitzpatrick wants PFAS-free fire gear, via Inky (paywall)

» Vetting Pa.'s urban search & rescue capabilities, via Capital-Star

» Pa.'s richest man puts $600K behind Tim Scott, via @teddyschleifer

» Poll: Casey outperforming Biden's approval rating, via @PoliticsPA

» How Local Gov't Works: Join us TONIGHT from 6-7:15 p.m. ET on Zoom for a free panel on oversight issues in local governments, how to hold officials accountable, and where you can turn to address issues with municipal services. Register here and submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org


A great blue heron taking off over Jordan Creek in the Trexler Nature Preserve in Lehigh County, via Don N. Have a photo you'd like to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

A large bird takes flight from the banks of a creek.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.TREE OF LIFE: Pittsburgh synagogue shooter Robert Bowers will be sentenced to death. Jurors in the federal hate crimes case spent 10 hours deliberating over two days and unanimously rejected defense claims that Bowers' mental health should preclude him from capital punishment. TribLIVE reports zero jurors said the defense proved its claims of schizophrenia or "mental or emotional disturbance."Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.TRUMP CASE: Former president and 2024 hopeful Donald Trump is set to be arraigned today in Washington, D.C. on federal charges tied to efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Pennsylvania and six other battleground states. WITF reports the indictment mentions a meeting arranged by Rudy Giuliani and presided over by state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R., Franklin).
  • RELATED: Pa. judge says Delco election worker can't sue Trump over false 2020 election statements, via The Hill
  • Tracking the Trump criminal cases, via Politico
Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.SECRET GROUP: A partially redacted Right-to-Know response has named some of the union, energy sector, and environmentalists in the room as Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro's working group on climate change debates a cornerstone of former Gov. Tom Wolf's climate change agenda, Inside Climate News reports. The documents show Shapiro has gone to great lengths to keep the inner-workings private.

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.PSERS LAWSUIT: Pennsylvania’s $72 billion pension fund for public school employees has sued the firm behind a costly math error that falsely inflated the fund's performance and touched off federal probes. PennLive (paywall) reports the 46-page lawsuit filed by the Public School Employees’ Retirement System against Aon Investments seeks millions and indemnification against related civil actions.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.EDUCATOR EXODUS: Pennsylvania's teachers are leaving the job in droves, exacerbating an ongoing shortage. The AP, citing a data analysis by Penn State education professor Ed Fuller, says Black teachers were more than twice as likely to leave the profession as white teachers after the 2021-22 school year, a trend that is undoing some recent success in the push to diversify the profession here.
  • RELATED: Wait times are down for teacher certifications in Pennsylvania, via WHTM
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CHEMICAL BAN: Activists are calling on the federal government to ban vinyl chloride after February's train derailment near the Pennsylvania-Ohio border released 1.1 million pounds of the cancer-causing chemical.

  • RELATED: Norfolk Southern changes policy on overheated bearings, months after Ohio derailment, via the AP
  • Norfolk Southern worker says he was simultaneously managing other trains during East Palestine derailment, via WFMJ

CITY SOLAR: A large solar array on farmland in Adams County, not far from Gettysburg, will power Philadelphia's city-owned buildings and is now 50% completed, the Inquirer (paywall) reports.

FLYOVER COUNTRY: Lancaster's airport wants to add commercial jet service and the neighbors aren't thrilled, LNP (paywall) reports. "Why would you want a huge airport in this vicinity?," one asked.

NIL STORES: WESA reports NIL (name, image, and likeness) stores have opened at Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh to make it easier for college athletes to make money off their merchandise.

PUBLIC PRAISE: Easton has the oldest continuous open-air market in the country and it's now the best public market in the nation, too, per USA Today readers. Markets in Lancaster and Philly also made the list.

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag. Answers submitted by 5:30 p.m. on issue date will be counted.
Yesterday's answer: Aficionados

Congrats to our daily winners: Ben S., Barbara F., Ted W., Susan N.-Z., Eric F., Elaine C., Don H., Jon W., Jodi R., Adrien M., Jane R., Dennis M., Carol S., Vicki U., Wendy A., Craig E., John P., William Z., Kim C., David W., Craig W., Tom M., Mark C., Richard A., Ada M., Kimberly D., Johnny C., and Leann T.
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