How my budget would help more seniors stay in their homes: Shapiro

Gov. Josh Shapiro
Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro's budget proposal includes more money for public health agencies, reducing maternal mortality.

Many of our neighbors are being crushed under a mountain of rising prices, most of which are out of their control. And let’s be frank — a lot of it is out of state and local leadership’s control as well, with global economic forces causing the price of everything from gas to food to go up. But there are some actions that we can take right now to help Pennsylvanians.

We can start by expanding the Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program for our seniors and Pennsylvanians with a disability. For people on a fixed income, the PTRR is a lifeline. It gives a rebate to low-income renters and homeowners every single year, putting money back in their pockets so they can stay in their homes.Homes where seniors raised their families, lived their lives, and made memories — homes where many want and deserve to live out their golden years.

The PTRR provides critical help for the most vulnerable people in our communities, but it’s been 17 years since Pennsylvania took a look at what seniors actually need to get by. Fewer and fewer Pennsylvanians are eligible for this program each year due to outdated caps on the amount of income you can make and still be eligible for help.

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Take Social Security as just one example. The Social Security payments so many older Pennsylvanians rely on are tied to the cost of living, meaning they go up every year. It may not be much, but that small increase every year helps cover the costs of food, rent, and other bills. But because Pennsylvania’s PTRR income caps aren’t tied to the cost of living, these very small increases in Social Security income from year to year can knock Pennsylvanians off the PTRR rolls, even if their circumstances haven’t changed at all. That takes away a crucial lifeline that many low-income Pennsylvanians rely on to make ends meet.

In a nutshell, the cost of living has increased from year to year, while the parameters to qualify for PTRR have stayed exactly the same — for nearly two decades. The effect: roughly 160,000 people — most of them senior — have been knocked out of qualifying for the PTRR since 2009.

My budget proposal does just that, by significantly expanding the Property Tax/Rent Rebate. I want to raise the maximum rebate for seniors from $650 to $1,000, and I want to increase the income cap for both renters and homeowners to $45,000 a year.

Finally, I want to tie that cap to increases in the cost of living — so that this commonwealth never has to tell another senior “Sorry, you’re out of luck” because their Social Security payment went up and we didn’t act.

Under my plan, nearly 175,000 more Pennsylvanians will qualify and many of the 400,000 people who already qualify will see their rebates nearly double.

I’ve heard from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who want to expand the Property Tax/Rent Rebate because it helps seniors in every county, including more than 17,000 in Westmoreland, more than 14,000 in York, and more than 11,000 in Lehigh counties alone.

Our plan is fully paid for in my budget, and it’s the responsible thing to do. Taken together, the General Fund Surplus and the savings in the Rainy Day Fund are the largest in the commonwealth’s history. Additionally, we’ve built our budget around a conservative revenue estimate — so conservative, in fact, that we’re using projections that are $3 billion lower over the next five years than the Independent Fiscal Office — a notoriously cautious group of economic forecasters.

We’re prepared to weather a storm should it come, and we can afford to make critical investments for the people of Pennsylvania right now. So let’s invest in keeping seniors in their homes.

I’m optimistic that we can pass a commonsense budget that creates real opportunity for the people of Pennsylvania, including expanding critical programs like the PTRR. House Bill 1100 was introduced to accomplish this budget priority, and I urge the legislature to support this bill and send it to my desk. These are our neighbors — let’s come together to get this done.