STAFFORD and LBI — Many homeowners in both Stafford and Long Beach Island rely on the Senior Freeze Program to make ends meet. In the past, the Homestead Rebate Program has also provided tax relief to local property taxpayers. Could both programs be in jeopardy thanks to the pandemic’s negative economic impact on the state?

Both Barnegat and Ocean Township are part of the 9th District and represented by Senator Christopher Connors, Assemblyman Brian Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne Gove.  All three fear that the programs risk elimination and want to raise public awareness.

Letting taxpayers know they could face further economic challenges due to the coronavirus crisis represents only one goal. Connors, Rumpf and Gore have also set up an online petition to allow taxpayers to express their opposition. The petition can be signed here and currently has nearly 2800 signatures.

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“Eliminating or cutting the Senior Freeze or the Homestead Benefit programs would have a devastating financial impact on taxpayers, especially seniors, who rely on those programs to stay in their homes and pay their bills,” said the 9th District representatives in a recent press release. “As such, vital property tax relief programs must be prioritized and fully funded in the State Budget. The question shouldn’t be if these programs are funded, but how.”

Governor Phil Murphy has not announced any plans to reduce the senior tax relief program. However, property taxpayers were not permitted to apply the Homestead Benefit credit to tax bills due in May. The elimination could continue for bills due in August and far into 2021.

With COVID-19 hitting the senior population the hardest, cuts to the Senior Freeze Program represent even more of a concern. The 9th District legislative team says it recognizes the potential consequences.

“Unquestionably, the 9th Legislative District stands to be disparately impacted based on our large local senior population,” Connor, Rumpf and Gove shared.  “It is utterly unconscionable for the state to even consider cutting these property tax relief programs that would have the effect of unnecessarily creating more hardships for taxpayers, especially seniors, during these unprecedented and uncertain times.”

The Senior Freeze Program provides tax relief to eligible New Jersey residents who are either seniors or disabled persons. Seniors are considered those over the age of 65. In order to qualify as disabled, individuals must be Social Security disability benefits recipients. In 2019, residents were only eligible for relief if their total benefits were under $91,505.

Homestead Benefits are distributed to municipalities in the form of a credit to eligible property taxpayers. They are based on two different formulas. One applies to those over age 65 and/or disabled. The other is calculated for those under age 65 and not disabled.

Both programs offer tax relief for principal places of residence only.