2012-04-12 / Front Page

AAA Warns Seniors On Rebate Letters

By Chanin Rotz-Mountz
STAFF WRITER

Months after multitudes of telephone calls began rolling into the Area Agency on Aging offices in neighboring Huntingdon and Bedford counties, local residents are now stepping forward with their own questions regarding the state’s property tax and rent rebate program.

Letters from a nongovernment agency based in Harrisburg have been received by senior citizens in the county, offering assistance with filing for the rebate program. In a letter sent to a Hustontown resident, the entity claims the program has been “dramatically expanded to give more rebates to older and disabled Pennsylvanians, at the same time increasing the amounts of the rebates.” In exchange for lending filing assistance, the company requests a processing fee of $41.

Using the familiar adage “if it’s too good to be true, it likely is,” Area Agency on Aging Executive Director Alan Smith asked residents to be on the alert and beware in these instances. Smith emphasized that he was not referring to the letter as a scam or fraud, but noted that some companies in existence not only target seniors but also leave readers with the impression they need the services.

Smith’s concern is that companies who are true advocates of senior rights and services would offer the assistance without a filing or processing fee. In addition, their notifications should reference how to obtain the services locally, whether it be through the Area Agency on Aging or with assistance from state officials.

Smith stated the tri-county Area Agency on Aging is capable of offering its assistance free of charge to any area seniors from one of its three offices located in McConnellsburg, Bedford or Huntingdon. The assistance can be as simple as answering questions pertinent to completing property tax and rent rebate questions or even sitting down and helping seniors fill out the forms. Smith said the agency completes hundreds of these forms on an annual basis.

In the event a resident wishes to complete the application process on their own, Smith suggested only working with an agency or company they are familiar with and to remain wary of possible misrepresentations.

In fact, several “misleading” statements appear in the letter provided to the “News.” Among those is the offer of a maximum annual rebate of $975 to seniors. According to Smith, local seniors in southcentral Pennsylvania are not eligible for this special rebate. Only seniors in two commonwealth municipalities located in the suburbs of Philadelphia can apply for this maximum amount.

Homeowners applying for Pennsylvania Property Tax and Rent Rebate Program funded by the Pennsylvania Lottery can receive a maximum standard rebate of $650 if their yearly income is up to $8,000. In comparison, a homeowner with an income of $18,001 to $35,000 can receive a rebate of $250.

Meanwhile, renters making up to $8,000 in one year can receive $650, and renters with income between $8,001 and $15,000 are eligible for a maximum rebate of $500.

The program benefits eligible Pennsylvanians age 65 and older; widows and widowers age 50 and older; and people with disabilities age 18 and older. Applicants are able to excuse one-half of all Social Security income.

Smith stated some individuals reported that they inadvertently applied for the rebate twice. Once on their own or with help from the Agency on Aging and a second time after receiving one of these letters in the mail. In these situations, if a senior is unsure if they have already submitted the necessary documentation, the agency’s McConnellsburg office can be contacted for assistance.

He remains fearful for those seniors who may have made two submissions for the rebate and for additional seniors who are not eligible as it would require asking for a refund of the $41 filing fee.

Another red flag for Smith is the confidential information that is transmitted during the application process, such as credit card and Social Security numbers, and banking information.

The deadline to apply for a rebate of property taxes or rent paid in 2011 is June 30, 2012. Individuals needing guidance in applying for this rebate should stop by the McConnellsburg office of the Area Agency on Aging office located along West Market Street or call 717-485-5151. Assistance can also be obtained through the offices of Rep. Dick Hess, 314 Lincoln Way East, Suite A, McConnellsburg, or 717-485-4430; and Sen. John Eichelberger Jr., 201 Lincoln Way West, Suite 102, McConnellsburg, or 717-485-3616.

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