AARP urges state lawmakers to improve senior property tax exemption

Older Washingtonians are feeling tax burdened and are looking for relief form an improved senior property-tax exemption program. (brewbooks/Flickr)

The  Washington State Legislature is looking at a batch of bills that affect the senior property tax exemption program.

Cathy MacCaul, advocacy director for AARP Washington, says her organization is happy that lawmakers are diving into the issue, but adds that aging in place needs to be the program’s ultimate goal.

She says AARP members have told her they’re feeling tax-burdened. She says seniors have built up equity in their homes, especially those who have lived there for 30 years or more.

“Yet they’re finding their property taxes continue to go up,” she points out. “And in the economic boom in some parts of the state, they’re even feeling that property tax increase more significantly and finding it difficult to pay those taxes on a fixed income.”

MacCaul says the age wave is hitting Washington state, and she hopes low and middle income seniors don’t get swept away.

Lawmakers in Olympia are looking at proposals to create a task force on the program and make changes to the income eligibility and residency requirements.

However, one of the biggest issues might be applying for the tax exemption in the first place.

AARP has found only 30 percent of eligible seniors are participating in the program.

Counties say not enough people know about it. You can learn more about the Snohomish County program here.

But MacCaul says the process for applying is too complex, especially for seniors who don’t have a computer.

“One of the biggest issues is the amount of documents that need to be printed, submitted for income evaluation and income eligibility,” she points out.

AARP would like to see the application process streamlined. It also wants the state to increase the income eligibility — in a way that works for every county in the state — and end exploitation of the program by people who put seniors on a home’s title but they never occupy it.

MacCaul says there are big consequences for older Washingtonians if the state doesn’t improve the program.

“By not changing the senior property tax exemption, we are really forcing seniors out of their homes and into communities where they might not have that loving, caring network of family and friends, and resources like hospitals,” she states.

— Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service (WA)

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