Social Security cost of living increases the past several years combined with income limits set in 2006 may have thwarted many Pennsylvania senior citizens, disabled residents, widows and widowers from qualifying for the state’s Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program.
House Bill 1100, signed into law on Friday by Gov. Josh Shapiro, will make up for that, starting with applications submitted next year for taxes paid in 2023. Further, the bill increases the maximum rebate for seniors from $650 to $1,000, raises the income cap for renters and homeowners from $35,000 to $45,000 a year, and ties the rebate cap to increases in the cost of living for years to come, according to a news release from the governor’s press office.
State Rep. Steve Samuelson, D-Bethlehem, the primary sponsor of the bill, stressed that the program will increase the income limits for the first time in 17 years as well as increasing those payments.
“This bill helps seniors, this bill helps people under the age of 65 with disabilities, this bill helps renters, this bill helps homeowners, and you can see we are helping seniors stay in their homes,” Samuelson said in the news release. He and other legislators joined Shapiro on Friday at a bill signing ceremony in Scranton.
The bill passed the House on July 5, and the Senate approved it on Aug. 3 when it returned to vote on the state budget. Fifteen Western Pennsylvania state House members signed on as the bill’s co-sponsors, and it passed both chambers with near-unanimous bipartisan support, according to the news release.
Shapiro said he had heard from seniors everywhere as he campaigned last year that they needed more help to keep up with rising expenses. He said in the news release that the bill “will finally ensure more of our seniors get the relief they need. This bill, which passed with bipartisan support, proves we can come together for our seniors and give them the relief they need to improve their quality of life.”
His news release estimates that the bill will expand the program to nearly 175,000 more Pennsylvanians and double rebates for many of the 400,000 who already qualify.
Pennsylvania has had the rebate program since 1971, according to Jeffrey Johnson, communications director for the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue, which administers the program. Since its beginning, more than $8 billion has been distributed to eligible applicants. The Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program is one of five programs supported by the Pennsylvania Lottery, and it also receives funding from slots gaming, according to the department’s website.
At a high mark in 2009 the Revenue Department processed 605,000 applications for rebates, and Johnson said the department has watched numbers decline with the income limits remaining the same for so long. In the 2021 claim year, 429,137 applications were approved to be paid. Standard rebates to qualified claimants for taxes or rent paid during claim year 2021 totaled more than $206.2 million, according to the department’s 2021 Property Tax Rent Rebate statistical report. The total represents a decrease of 14,982 claims from the prior year. Additionally, $144.3 million in one-time bonus rebates, authorized under Act 54 of 2022, were paid for claim year 2021.
Going forward next year, the department will use the Consumer Price Index to link rebate increases in the future, barring any other changes in the law. Those calculations will occur in July and be released to the public in January, Johnson said.
The Revenue Department is currently distributing rebates to eligible applicants, and it’s not too late for residents to submit their applications, either online or on a paper form, with required information on property taxes and rent paid in 2022. The deadline is Dec. 31, and complete instructions are available on the department website, including a how-to-apply video.
Johnson said the staff has seen online applications increase in the three years that option has been available. It also does its best to let seniors and other eligible residents know about the rebate program so they apply.
“We do our best every year that we get the message out to people that this program is available to them,” he said. “I know that lawmakers in the House and Senate help us with this work. We’re always trying to get the message out and encourage everyone who is eligible to apply.”
For claimants approved for the rebate, the Department of Revenue mails them an instruction booklet and application the following year. “This is usually a good approach to remind eligible applicants that they have to apply every year,” Johnson said.
Property Tax/Rent Rebate application assistance is available at no cost from Department of Revenue district offices, local Area Agencies on Aging, senior centers and state legislators’ offices. Two of those Revenue Department offices are located in Pittsburgh.