Opinion: Pa. senior tax rebate needs an update
I have some good news and some bad news for those on Social Security who also get the Pennsylvania real estate tax rebate:
The good news is that the Social Security increase for 2023 is likely to be one of the highest ever, in the neighborhood of 8% to 9%. The exact amount will not be announced until next month. This is on top of the 5% increase that went into effect for this year, the highest boost in years.
The bad news is that this hefty increase will probably make a number of seniors ineligible for the annual real estate tax rebate that could be up to $650.
A lot of seniors have either family members or others help them with the real estate tax rebate, which must be applied for each year. The funds come partly from the Pennsylvania Lottery, and its intent is to take some of the pressure off seniors who are living close to the vest and who are especially impacted by ever increasing real estate taxes.
Many legislators have paid lip service to doing something about the real estate tax burden. There have been “blue ribbon panels” formed, legislative committees have talked the subject to death, legislators have pontificated endlessly about the need to do something, but, here we are years later, and precious little has been done.
Just recently, those on this real estate tax rebate program received a one-shot extra payment amounting to 30% on top of what they typically get in a year. A friend of mine in Lehighton gets $500, so he and his wife enjoyed a $350 bonus, but, as noted, this was once and done. He said it was really appreciated, especially now to help with food and gas price increases because of spiraling inflation.
The troubling part about this program is that the number of those who get help is dwindling because the income limit requirements have not kept pace with inflation, and legislators have been negligent in coming up with the required fix to keep this program relevant.
The ugly truth is that while there is a cost of living adjustment (COLA) with Social Security, there is no companion increase in the real estate tax rebate program. If you can believe it, our legislators have not updated income levels for homeowners in more than 15 years and for renters, who also participate in the program, it’s 35 years. As their incomes have increased over the years, more and more seniors are being eliminated from the program because their incomes now exceed the limits.
The property tax/rent rebate program applies to homeowners and renters who are 65 or over, or disabled, and gives them a partial refund on property taxes or rental for the previous year, providing that they meet income requirements.
For homeowners, the income cutoff is $35,000; for renters, just $15,000. Half of an applicant’s Social Security benefits is counted as income. Years ago, $35,000 meant something; today, not so much.
Rep. Stan Saylor, R-York, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, who was defeated in the May Republican primary, told Spotlight PA “You’ve got to keep up with the rate of inflation, or it’s not a worthwhile program.”
According to state records, the program serves more as a little help for property-owners and renters not as a lifeline or a matter of life or death. In 2021, about half of the qualifying households fell into the highest eligible income bracket, bringing a $650 rebate, but many received the minimum amount of $250, and it is this latter group that is in danger of being kicked out of the program because they will be earning too much.
Some legislators are urging action now, and a spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf said he is willing to help move such legislation forward. A half-dozen bills have been introduced in the House of Representatives to update income limits. All have been sent to the House Finance Committee, chaired by Rep. Michael Peifer, R-Pike, who has not said what he plans to do with the bills.
There is precious little time left in the current legislative session, which ends on Nov. 30. “We have to make this change before the end of the year,” Rep. Steve Samuelson, D-Northampton, minority chair of the House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee, told Spotlight PA. “After 15 years, it’s long overdue.”
By Bruce Frassinelli | firstname.lastname@example.org
The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.