Millions of PA CARES Mortgage Relief Goes Unclaimed as Republicans End Program Fix

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Republican leaders in Harrisburg refused to vote on a fix for the CARES Act program.

Google Street View; Courtesy of Mike Zwick

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If you own a home in Pennsylvania and are struggling to pay your mortgage due to the pandemic, Wednesday is the deadline to apply for relief under the state’s CARES Act program, which still has millions available. to distribute.

Money was difficult to access and some banks refused to accept loans.

“I was told that I had been approved… and that there was one step left: my lender had not yet approved.” Philly resident Jenny Courtney said. The 72-year-old woman from East Mount Airy said she had not returned to work working with school children because her age carries a high risk of complications from COVID.

The Pennsylvania Mortgage Assistance Program (PMAP) was created this summer with a $ 25 million pot, aimed at homeowners affected by the coronavirus. As of the original September 30 deadline, less than a third of the funding for low-interest loans had been requested.

Governor Wolf signed an emergency ordinance extending the nomination period until Nov. 4, but did not address what critics say are systemic issues with the program.

A bipartisan bill introduced in Harrisburg this summer sought to address some of the problems. This would remove the requirement that applicants must already be 30 days late on payments and increase the maximum payment from $ 1,000 to $ 1,500 per month for 6 months. The legislation, sponsored in the Pennsylvania House and Senate respectively by State Representative Sue Helm (R-Dauphin) and State Senator Art Haywood (D-Philadelphia), would also have made the program more appealing to banks by waiving pardon requirements and covering expenses.

Wells Fargo, one of the Commonwealth’s largest lenders, had flip-flopped on PMAP participation, withdrawing first and then reversing its stance. Some owners awaiting approval are still in limbo, they told Billy Penn.

“I applied a month ago, but I’m not sure if I’m accepted or not,” said theater artist Michelle Pauls. A recent widow, the resident of Grays Ferry, has no one else to help cover her mortgage payment, she said.

On October 17, the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency (PHFA) released a statement saying it was “reinterpreting” the original law that created the program and would implement a change to make it more lender-friendly.

Was the change effective? Potentially. Until September, only 23 banks had dispersed the PMAP funds. Since the review, nearly 60 different lenders have participated, including Wells Fargo, according to a spokesperson for the agency.

“Since the change took effect … no lender has said they are not participating,” the PHFA spokesperson said. “However, we know of at least a few who are still in discussions about what they will do.”

Even though more banks are now ready to lend, there remains the problem of getting people to apply.

By the end of October, just over half of the $ 25 million in available PMAP funds had been requested, and only $ 7.4 million had been approved.

The bill with fixes to make the program more attractive to homeowners passed the Pa. House unanimously, despite a COVID outbreak among members delaying its passage. In the Pennsylvania Senate, however, Republican leaders refused to put their version to a vote before the recess.

When asked to clarify why, the office of Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman cited the changes made to the program by the PHFA and Governor Wolf, saying they were “enough” and calling the project of law of “not applicable”.

The legislature will not meet until November 10, after the current PMAP application deadline.

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