Carbon County residents in jeopardy of losing their homes because they have been laid off, had their hours of employment cut, or for health reasons are unable to work, could qualify for federal assistance that could save their homes.

During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, Commissioner William O'Gurek, chairman; and Emmett McCall, recorder of deeds, announced that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has delegated $105 million for Pennsylvania families who are at least three months behind in their mortgage. The program, called Emergency Homeowners Loan Program, is being administered by the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Authority (PHFA).

McCall explained that how the program works is families who meet the income guidelines; have had a major cutback in income due to a family member being laid-off, had their hours of employment cut, or are sick and cannot work; and are at least three months behind in their home mortgage, can contact a local agency designated by the PHFA and fill out an application for assistance. The deadline for applying is Sept. 30.

O'Gurek said the income guidelines are determined using 120 percent of the area median income, which is high in Carbon. For example, a one-person income can be up to $58,800; a two-person household can make $67,200; and a three-person household can be up to $75,000.

"This is an opportunity for people who are in foreclosure, who are behind in payments and getting calls from banks," O'Gurek said. "This program may be able to help."

He also noted that over the last few years, Carbon County has seen a rising amount of foreclosures filed in the county. In 2007, a total of 302 foreclosures were filed, but by 2010, the number of filings jumped to 421.

To date, a total of 166 foreclosures have been filed for 2011.

McCall explained that if the person qualifies, the program will pay the mortgage up to date, as well as pay any taxes, insurances and other fees that are included.

A stipulation to the loan is that for every year after the assistance, if the mortgage holder continues to keep his or her mortgage up-to-date, then 20 percent of the loan is reduced from the overall bill.

McCall said that this means that after five years, if the person stays in good standings on their mortgage, the loan they received turns into a grant and the balance does not need to be repaid.

If the person defaults, then they must repay the loan with 0 percent interest.

"If we get one or two people out of foreclosure, I think this would be a help," he said.

Commissioner Wayne Nothstein stressed that residents who think they qualify should not wait because $100 million spread across the state will go fast.

So far, over $32 million in EHLP loans have been distributed to Pennsylvania homeowners.

"It's very important that people file as soon as possible," Nothstein said.

O'Gurek added that the reason for the program is due to the recession gripping the nation over the last few years. This has caused hundreds of thousands of layoffs countrywide, and has cut back on spending.

"The best thing we can tell people is if they think they fit into this program – under employed, laid off, or sick or illness – they should call," O'Gurek said. "If we could help a few people and we can point them in the right direction, then it works."

EHLP is part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which created a $1 billion federal program through HUD, that is taking place nationally to help residents in states, as well as Puerto Rico, which do not have mortgage assistance programs in place.

According to the EHLP brochure on PHFA's website, the program is described as follows, "The program will offer a declining balance, deferred payment 'bridge loan' (nonrecourse, subordinate loan with zero interest) for up to $50,000 to assist eligible homeowners with payments of arrearages, including delinquent taxes and insurance, plus up to 24 months of monthly payments on their mortgage principal, interest, mortgage insurance premiums, taxes, and hazard insurance."

Funding for the program is broken down by the amount of mortgage help needed per state. Only two states –Texas ($135,418,959) and New York ($111,649,112) –received more funding for their residents than Pennsylvania.

If you are more than three months behind in mortgage payments or are in jeopardy of foreclosure and believe you qualify for the program, you can call either Schuylkill Community Action in Pottsville at (570) 622-1995 or American Credit Counseling Institute in Allentown at (888) 469-8847. Both agencies have been designated by the PHFA as HEMAP-approved counseling agencies in the TIMES NEWS area and can answer questions and help residents apply for EHLP.

For more information on the program, visit PHFA's website at www.PHFA.org or call 1 (800) 342-2397 for an extended list of counseling agencies.