Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed expanding a renters’ rebate program to serve an additional 12,700 low-income elderly residents next fiscal year, a caseload increase of about 30 percent.
This initiative, part of the budget for the 2014-15 fiscal year that Malloy will deliver to legislators Wednesday, would end a controversial freeze on the rebate program established last April. The freeze originated in a proposal from the Malloy administration last year.
The roughly $160 million surplus projected for the next budget would be more than enough to cover the annual cost of the expansion, about $6.5 million, in 2014-15. That cost would carry forward, though, to the first new budget after the election, which already has a built-in deficit of close to $1 billion, according to nonpartisan analysts.
“Connecticut’s senior population is already one of the largest in the country and continues to grow — something we need to take into account when we make strategic decisions about the future of our state,” said Malloy, who announced the rebate expansion Monday at the Wethersfield Community Center.
“We are taking the necessary steps now to ensure we can support the growing needs of our elderly residents, which includes giving seniors the right amount of support and access to a living situation that is safe, decent and affordable.”
The program provides annual rebates to state residents who are either disabled or older than 65 and who meet income guidelines.
Individuals, who must earn $34,100 or less to qualify, can receive a rebate ranging from $50 to $700, depending upon their income.
Married couples, whose joint incomes must not exceed $41,600, may receive between $50 and $900, depending upon income.
During the previous fiscal year, the program served 48,140 people.
The General Assembly and Malloy approved a measure last spring that closed the rebate program to any new applicants beyond those who had been receiving grants in 2011. The change was initially proposed in a bill that would have implemented Malloy’s proposed budget last year.
“You have no idea how many seniors have contacted my office and said, ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do’ ” without access to the annual rebate, said Edith G. Prague, commissioner of the state’s Department on Aging.
“We know that older adults who are financially vulnerable have to make hard decisions every day about basic needs, and this will help ease some of those difficult decisions,” said Julia Evans Starr, executive director of Connecticut’s Legislative Commission on Aging.
“It’s a program that’s steeped in history, that people have come to expect and rely on, and so I think from that vantage, it’s very positive that they’re going to put support back into the program and perhaps expand it,” she said.
Malloy said Monday that it’s appropriate to provide residents with some relief given the projected budget surpluses.
Based upon improving forecasts for tax revenues, this year’s state budget is on pace to finish about $500 million in the black, while analysts project a surplus of about $160 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Both of those surpluses are controversial, though, given that the governor and his fellow Democrats in the legislature used borrowing and other gimmicks to push several hundred million dollars’ worth of current expenses off until the first new budget after the November election.