SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – The South Plainfield Borough Council, at a virtual meeting July 13, approved upon first reading a resolution 'urging' Governor Phil Murphy to restore vital funding. Through Resolution #20-221, which was added to the meeting's agenda, the council is also 'urging' state legislators 'to not support the governor's defunding of these programs.' 

"The governor is seeking to push the resulting economic collapse from COVID-19 onto the backs of the taxpayers of New Jersey, including senior citizens, disabled, and low- and middle-income residents by virtue of freezing and defunding the Homestead Benefit program and Senior Freeze program," states the resolution, which was approved 6-0. 

According to Council President Christine Faustini, senior, disabled, and low- and middle income Garden State residents 'will necessarily pay more on their property tax bills in the coming months under Gov. Murphy's plan to cut these two aid programs to balance the crushing blow to state revenues caused by [[his] decisions to effectively stop commerce in New Jersey.'

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"Taking away these programs will increase the financial hardship of those who have already been severely impacted by this pandemic," said Faustini, who serves as council liaison to the senior center. "How can we make things even harder for those that are the most vulnerable right now?" 

The Homestead Benefit program, open to homeowners of all ages who meet certain income and residency requirements, pays municipalities which then credit residents' tax bills. According to state tax data, the average credit was $255 in 2007. The Senior Freeze program reimburses senior citizens and disabled residents who meet certain requirements in their property tax bills over a period of years and, according to state tax data, the average is $1,190. 

"These two programs combined to help about 680,000 residents annually shoulder their highest-in-the-nation tax bills where, last year, New Jersey's average tax bill was $8,953," according to the resolution, which goes on to state that Gov. Murphy and his financial advisors have proposed cutting $220 million payment for Senior Freeze and $138 million for the Homestead benefit program in addition to the state already freezing both of these programs $4.87 million and $142 million, respectively, in March.

"Because the governor previously froze the programs, many residents did not receive credit on their May tax bills and, due to the length of time it typically takes the state to process the credits before appearing on a tax bill, the failure to fund the program in the next three months will result in these vulnerable residents not receiving credit on their August and November tax bills," states the resolution. 

Borough officials state that, if approved by the state legislature, Governor Murphy's plan would mean that checks typically sent to participants of both of these programs will not be received this summer and that residents eligible for the Homestead tax credit will, in fact, see an increase on their upcoming tax bills. 

"These programs have helped many residents, especially our senior citizens, maintain their beloved homes near friends and family in New Jersey," Faustini told TAPinto South Plainfield. "Taking this financial assistance away will make that much harder."

Under the resolution, borough officials are urging the governor to 'fully restore funding' for both programs 'to assist those residents who are most in need of property tax relief' and are urging legislators, including State Senator Patrick Diegnan, State Assemblymembers Nancy Pinkin and Robert Karabinchak and all State Senators and members of the State Assembly to 'vote against governor Murphy's plan to cut funding for the Homestead Rebate program and the Senior Freeze program.'

"It has been such a pleasure and honor getting to know many of the seniors in South Plainfield during my time as the liaison to the senior center. I think that most of us in the community cherish them and couldn’t imagine South Plainfield without them," said Faustini, adding, "It is time for those who represent them to stand up and do whatever they can to protect them.  I hope this resolution communicates that message."  

A certified copy of Resolution 20-221 was sent last week to Governor Murphy, Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin as well as to Diegnan, Pinkin, and Karabinchak. 

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