New Castle News

June 11, 2013

Bill aimed at seniors tax rebate program

John Finnerty

CNHI — Lawmakers are trying to make it so seniors do not get booted from a property tax rebate program just because Social Security cost-of-living increases boosted their income by a few hundred dollars a year.

The state House has unanimously approved the legislation that will help thousands of seniors and disabled residents across the commonwealth, said Rep. Michele Brooks, R-Crawford County, author of the legislation.

Ray Landis, advocacy director for the AARP in Pennsylvania, said the bill could help 50,000 to 60,000 people.

“The AARP strongly endorses this legislation,” Landis said.

Brooks said the legislation is intended to ensure that people who are on the cusp of income eligibility would not actually lose money because the Social Security increase is less than what they would receive from the property tax rebate.

The Social Security Administration estimates the cost-of-living increase will mean an additional $408 a year for the average retired couple.

The average retired couple subsisting on the income from Social Security alone would qualify for a $500 rent property tax rebate.

For the average widow or widower, the Social Security cost-of-living increase amounts to $240 a year. A single retired person subsisting just on Social Security qualifies for the maximum rent rebate of $650.

A fiscal analysis notes that because the bill only protects those already receiving benefits, the legislation would not cost the state any more than what it already pays out property tax rebates.

In fiscal year 2011-12, 604,379 claimants received a property tax rebate. The total amount of rebates issued was $284.4 million. Earlier, Brooks had sponsored similar legislation to protect seniors from getting bounced out of a prescription drug program, she said.

A study of the impact of that legislation found it had helped 30,000 to40,000 senior citizens, Landis said.

There are twice as many people who receive property tax rebates as there are people who receive prescription drug assistance through the PACE program, Landis said. The fiscal analysis of Brooks’ bill makes no effort to explain how many people would benefit from it.

But Landis said that based on the comparison to the bill targeting the prescription drug coverage, because so many more people participate in the property tax rebate, it is safe to assume that many more people would benefit from this bill.

Brooks’ bill exempts Social Security cost-of-living increases from property tax rebate income guidelines through 2016.

Legislation to extend the exemption for the prescription drug program also is working its way through the House.