Legislators Consider Increasing Tax/Rent Rebates for Seniors

Eileen DohertyDenver, CO – Colorado legislators, lead be Senator John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, are considering legislation to make significant changes to the Property Tax, Rent and Heat Credit program to increase eligibility, as well as the amount of the tax rebate. At the recommendation of the Legislative Audit Committee, Senator Kefalas is seeking major reforms in the program that was originally passed in 1977.

The rebate program provides low income seniors and disabled individuals a maximum of $792 in a combination of housing and heat rebates. The proposed legislation would increase the maximum rebate to $892 per year for eligible individuals.

The Audit Committee recommended that the Department of Revenue and the Department of Human Services should collaborate on marketing and outreach to make more people aware of the rebate program. This recommendation is based on a finding that there has been more than a 25% decrease in utilization of the program in the past five years.

Numerous reasons were cited for this decrease with lack of awareness of the program being significant. Under current law, Individuals often become ineligible for the program when the Social Security cost of living adjustment is received because the maximum income eligibility guidelines do not increase at the same rate.

The proposed legislation seeks to make more people eligible for the program by increasing the maximum amount of income that individuals can earn each year from $12,639 to $14,937. Couples can currently earn $16,731; under the proposed legislation couples would be able to earn $20,163 per year. Individuals whose income is between 100% to 135% of poverty would receive a flat rate rebate of $300 per year. Individuals whose income is less than 100% of the federal poverty level would receive a larger rebate based on eligible housing and heating expenses.

The audit report also noted that more than 40% of the applicants who applied for the program in previous years did not receive the full amount of the rebate to which they were entitled. The proposed legislation seeks to correct these underpayments.

Proceeds from the rebates are often used to pay utility bills, buy medicine, or buy groceries. For many low income individuals, the rebate represents about half of one month’s income. The rebate is an important source of income for low income seniors so they can continue to live independently in their own home or apartment.

Individuals who care about increasing the rebate for low income seniors are encouraged to call their legislator and indicate their support for the proposed changes to SB 14-014.

Individuals can claim the 2012 rebate until December 31, 2014 and the 2013 rebate until December 31, 2015. For a copy of the application form or more information, seniors can call 303-333-3482. Many individuals are eligible for other benefits as well, such as help with paying the Medicare Part B premium and food stamps.

Eileen Doherty, M.S. is the Executive Director of Senior Answers and Services and the Colorado Gerontological Society. She has more than 35 years of experience in gerontology in administration, research, training and education, and clinical practice. She can be reached at 303-333-3482 or at doherty001@att.net.

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