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|Rescue plan, armed guards, 'charm offensive,' special prep, SCOPA pick, 'serious discrepancies,' and it's Groundhog Day in Pennsylvania.|
The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency is taking over the state's struggling mortgage relief program from a third-party vendor and pausing new applications amid complaints and a significant backlog.
The announcement came several days after Spotlight PA reported on the long waits and consequences for some program applicants.
Read Spotlight PA's full update: Pa. takes over troubled mortgage relief program from contractor after complaints, backlogs.
THE CONTEXT: The application pause — announced with only a few days' notice — will give the program time to address a backlog of pending applications and handle the transition from the contractor's software systems, according to the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA).
Spotlight PA found that the program has been struggling to get the information it needs from mortgage and utility companies, leaving homeowners grasping for answers and waiting months to get help. As a result, some applicants had their utilities shut off and saw their credit scores plummet.
It is unclear how long the program will be closed to new applications. Homeowners with pending applications will not have to resubmit them, but they will need to register with the new system. The PHFA did not respond to questions from Spotlight PA about why it made the change.
|NOTABLE / QUOTABLE|
"It supports the argument that deer can sustain lineages or [COVID-19] variants that are no longer circulating in humans."
—Veterinary microbiologist Suresh Kuchipudi of Penn State on a new study suggesting coronavirus variants can continue to circulate and evolve in deer, even after they've stopped spreading widely among people
|» HOW SPECIAL ELECTIONS WORK: Join us Thursday, Feb. 9 from 6-7 p.m. on Zoom for a free panel on the results of the Feb. 7 special elections, how they work, and why they matter. This event is the first in our “How Harrisburg Works” series. Register here and submit your questions to email@example.com. |
|Philly's Ben Franklin Bridge, via Christine K. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.|
|HEAVILY ARMED: Two school districts in Pennsylvania — Altoona and Pittston — now allow their police to store and use semi-automatic rifles such as AR-15s on school premises, arguing the weapons will help keep students safe from potential shooters, Spotlight PA reports. Adam Garber of the anti-gun violence group CeaseFirePA said the motive is understandable but the approach is misguided.|
MR. BIG TENT: WaPo (paywall) reports Democrat Josh Shapiro is on a "GOP charm offensive," giving his first interview as governor to Fox News, touting bipartisan cabinet picks, and drawing cautious praise from even hard-line conservatives. How it translates remains to be seen, because while Shapiro touts a big-tent approach, the legislature is split and he's clear: some issues are nonnegotiable.
SPECIAL DATE: Three consequential special elections in Allegheny County will take place next Tuesday, Feb. 7. WESA has guides to the candidates in state House Districts 32, 34, and 35 — each is Dem-leaning. You can confirm your district here. And all registered voters in those districts can vote as this isn't a primary. Mail ballots must be received by the county's election office no later than 8 p.m. on Feb. 7.
SCOPA SEAT: Pennsylvania's Democratic Party has endorsed Daniel McCaffery for Pennsylvania's open state Supreme Court seat. McCaffery, a state Superior Court judge from Philadelphia, won the endorsement over fellow Democratic Superior Court Judge Deborah Kunselman. The AP reports Republicans will hold their state committee meeting this weekend and could vote to endorse then.
MISSING MONEY: Newville Borough in Cumberland County has fired its longtime borough manager after discovering "serious" discrepancies between financial reports he provided and actual bank statements. The former manager, Fred Potzer, hasn't been accused of a crime, and borough officials say they don't know much money is unaccounted for. The local DA's office is investigating, per PennLive.
GROUNDHOG DAY: It's Groundhog Day, and with Punxsutawney's 6,000-person population as much as quadrupled by tourists, the "seer of seers" is set to make his call around 7:25 a.m. Watch live here.
OFFICIAL VISIT: TribLIVE reports that Gov. Josh Shapiro was set to be among the tourists at Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney this morning — and that he was somehow only the third sitting governor to do so.
BLACK HISTORY: Harry Bass was sworn in as Pennsylvania's first Black legislator in 1911. A Capital-Star profile said he laid the groundwork for progress but saw little in his lifetime. Bass died in 1917.
BRIDGE LIMIT: Just over a year after the collapse of Pittsburgh's Fern Hollow Bridge, city officials have suddenly closed another — the Charles Anderson Memorial Bridge — to traffic to prevent a similar catastrophe.
RIBBON CUT: Six years and $52 million later, York's historic Yorktowne Hotel is once again open for business, The Dispatch reports. The restoration benefitted from millions of public dollars and drew some scrutiny.
Unscramble and send your answer to firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag. Answers submitted by 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted
I T I L S O M X O G
Yesterday's answer: Cryogenic
Congrats to our daily winners: Barbara F., Myles M., Mike B., Susan N.-Z., Jon W., Don H., John F., Wendy A., Vicki U., Craig W., Susan D ., Elaine C., Elizabeth W., Dianne K., David W., Patricia R., James B., Steven B., Bill S., Dennis M., Kathee M., and Stanley J.