The dust has settled on the FY 2010-11 State budget debate, but many seniors and the disabled are still uncertain about just what was decided. Specifically, they want to know what happened to the Senior Freeze and the Homestead Rebate.
The recently passed budget ensures that every current participant in the State's Property Tax Reimbursement Program (Senior Freeze) whose income for 2009 does not exceed last year's income limit of $70,000 will receive a reimbursement this year if they continue to meet the eligibility requirements. Reimbursement checks for eligible senior and disabled residents who filed their 2009 applications (PTR-2 form) by the original filing deadline of June 1 are scheduled to be mailed on or about July 15, 2010.
New applicants will not receive a payment in fiscal 2011, but should apply (PTR 1 form) anyway because doing so will establish a base year when benefits in future years. Further information about the PTR program and copies of applications can be obtained online or by calling 1-800-882-6597. The deadline for filing has been extended to August 2, 2010.
Homestead rebate applications are not being distributed this summer and fall because of the shift to a payment via direct credits on property tax bills which will being with the May, 2011 quarterly property tax bills.
Under the new Homestead Credit program, if you are 65 years of age and over at the end of the tax year or blind or disabled with a gross income of less than $100,000 in 2009, you are eligible for quarterly credits of one-quarter of 20% of the first $10,000 of property taxes paid or a maximum of $500 per quarter. For seniors and disabled with a gross income of $100,000 to $150,000 in 2009, the credit amount is one-quarter of 10% of the first $10,000 of property taxes paid or a maximum of $250 per quarter. These monies will be directly deducted from your property tax bill beginning in May, 2011. Applications for the new Homestead Credit will be distributed nearer to the May 2011 deadline.
Why the change? The Homestead Rebate has traditionally been mailed to recipients in the form of a check sometime in August or September. Since the State runs on a fiscal year of July 1 through June 30th, this put the rebate payment in the first quarter of the State's fiscal year. Last year, then Governor Corzine had to borrow money so that the rebate checks did not bounce. There simply was not yet enough revenue generated to the State in the first quarter of its fiscal year to cover the checks. This meant that the program cost the State the amount of the rebates, plus the interest on the debt of the borrowed monies, plus the cost of production and mailing of the checks. Beginning the program in May of 2011 and having the payment deducted over the four quarters of the State's fiscal year allows for revenues to come into the State's coffers to cover the cost of the credited monies and negates the need to borrow money. By having it as a credit on the tax bill itself, homeowners will see an immediate reduction in their property tax bill and will not have to wait a year for a rebated amount.
Because of the timing of the implementation — going from the first quarter of the State's fiscal year to the last quarter — there will be no homestead rebate or credit monies issued within calendar year 2010. Unfortunately, this delay will be a very real problem for those who depend upon these monies coming at the end of the summer/beginning of the fall. However, once the conversion from a rebate to a credit program is in place, the new credit program should be faster, easier and more timely.
Charlotte Vandervalk, R-Bergen, has represented District 39 in the General Assembly since 1991.