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Charlotte Keith of Spotlight PA
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s rent and property tax rebate program — which helps older and disabled residents offset the rising cost of housing — got a major, one-time boost this year as part of the state budget.
But as Spotlight PA reported in a new investigation, fewer and fewer people receive rent and property tax rebates each year, largely because state lawmakers haven’t increased the income limits to qualify in more than 15 years.
Still, many people who could benefit are missing out because they don’t know about the program. State officials estimate that about one-third of eligible Pennsylvanians don’t apply each year.
Spotlight PA pulled together some common questions about how the rent and property tax rebate program works, who is eligible, and how this year’s bonuses will work.
How do I know if I qualify?
If you’re 65 or older, or receive disability benefits, and paid rent or property taxes last year, you qualify if you meet the income requirements.
The income limit is $35,000 per household for homeowners and $15,000 per household for renters. If you receive Social Security benefits, the state only counts half of that towards the income cap. (Some veterans’ benefits aren’t counted at all.)
You could also be eligible if you’re a widow or widower and over the age of 50. More detailed information is available from the state Department of Revenue, which administers the program.
One thing to bear in mind: the income limit doesn’t change based on how many people are in your household. If you are married and live together, you and your spouse’s combined income still needs to be at or under the threshold in order to qualify.
If you think you might be eligible, contact your state lawmaker’s office, a regional office of the state Department of Revenue, the Area Agency on Aging in your county, or a local senior center. None should charge you a fee for letting you know whether you qualify or helping you apply.
How much can I get?
The exact amount depends on your income, whether you’re a renter or a homeowner, and where in the state you live. You can find a breakdown here. Normally, the maximum rebate you can receive is $650, although homeowners in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Scranton can get additional rebates because of the way those cities structure their local taxes. Some older homeowners can also receive extra if they pay a lot of their income in property taxes.
Is there extra money available this year?
Yes! In July, state lawmakers approved a one-time increase to this year’s rebates, so recipients will get their usual amount plus 70%. So, if you normally get $650, this year you’ll get that plus $455, or a total of $1,105.
How do I get the bonus?
If you’ve already filed your application for this year, you don’t have to do anything else. The one-time bonuses will be paid out automatically, according to the Department of Revenue.
If you haven’t filed yet for 2021 — it’s not too late. You have until the end of the year. The department encourages you to apply online.
What if I’m behind on my property taxes?
Because the rebates technically refund some of the payments you’ve already made, you have to be up to date on your property tax payments to qualify.
Why can’t we just eliminate property taxes altogether?
It’s a long story. More than once, state lawmakers have tried to pass sweeping changes to Pennsylvania’s property tax system, but they’ve struggled to reach a consensus. That’s partly because finding ways to replace the revenue from property taxes would require difficult tradeoffs, like raising income taxes, or making things like clothes and other household items subject to sales taxes.
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