The program provides eligible seniors and disabled residents with reimbursement checks for any property tax increases they pay above the year they enrolled in the program.
TRENTON — Time is running out for New Jersey seniors to apply for available property tax relief from the state’s expanded Senior Freeze program, as the Oct. 31 application deadline is fast approaching.
The program, also known as the Property Tax Reimbursement Program, provides eligible seniors and disabled residents with reimbursement checks for any property tax increases they pay above the year they enrolled in the program. Seniors age 65 and older and disabled residents who have lived in New Jersey for at least 10 years and have owned the same home for at least three years are eligible, provided their family income is below a cap of $89,013.
In a state long labeled as having among the highest property taxes in the country, the program is considered a lifesaver for many longtime homeowners now living on fixed incomes. But for over a decade many seniors have remained shut out due to the income cap, which had remained fixed at $70,000 a year throughout Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s tenure and during the first year of Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration last year even though language in the enabling legislation called for the cap to rise with inflation.
The income cap was finally raised this year (which is technically the 2018 application year) after state lawmakers added $18 million to the program in the 2020 fiscal year state budget Murphy signed this summer.
The higher income limit is expected to allow significantly more seniors to enroll in the program and become eligible for the property tax relief.
As of June, more than 190,042 New Jersey households had received reimbursement checks for their 2017 property taxes, with amounts averaging around $1,234, according to the state Department of Treasury.
With the income eligibility finally increased, local state lawmakers have spent the last three months encouraging seniors to apply for the tax relief and to remind them of the approaching Oct. 31 deadline.
Legislative aides for State Sen. Troy Singleton and Assembly members Herb Conaway and Carol Murphy also held a workshop in Moorestown last month with representatives from the state Division of Taxation to assist residents with their applications and answer questions about the program and eligibility. More than a dozen residents from across the county received assistance, officials said.
Information and answers to many frequently asked questions is also available on the department’s website.
Singleton and Murphy said their goal was to ensure every eligible senior applies for and receives the critical property tax relief.
“We don’t want people to miss out,” Singleton said last month after the event. “It takes a coordinated effort between the executive branch and the legislative branch to know about this property tax relief, especially our seniors who can take advantage of it.”
“It is important to increase awareness of the program, as our New Jersey seniors are not immune to high property taxes,” Carol Murphy said. “We want to simple make sure our seniors are able to stay in their homes.”
Raising the income limit was considered a major improvement, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have called for additional changes, such as paying out the tax relief as credits on eligible homeowners’ actual property tax bills rather than requiring them to pay their property tax and then wait for reimbursement for the amount above the base year they enrolled.
Several bills seeking to make the change have been introduced but none have so far reached the governor’s desk for consideration.
Murphy, who agreed to raise the income eligibility limit after lawmakers added the additional funding to the state budget, said he’s open to the idea after it was brought up by a caller this week during his appearance on his News 12 call-in show “Ask Gov. Murphy.”
“We will look at it. The Senior Freeze is a really important program,” Murphy said, adding that the state continues to wrestle with a “property tax crisis.”
“Nowhere does that hit more than with seniors,” he added.
During budget negotiations this summer, Murphy proposed spending an additional $250 million to give one-time $125 income tax credits to all homeowners and renters who earn up to $250,000, but he made the proposed tax relief contingent on an income tax on earnings over $1 million being approved. State lawmakers rejected the property tax relief plan and the millionaires tax.