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New tax rule benefits seniors and disabled

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Many seniors and people with disabilities have been isolated during the coronavirus pandemic. Following a unanimous vote by the Nassau County Legislature on Dec. 23, they can forgo their annual renewal application for tax exemptions in 2021 and 2022, provided they are still eligible for an exemption, which is granted to people with limited incomes.

When County Executive Laura Curran signed the measure, she guaranteed that seniors and people with disabilities will continue to receive a discount on their school taxes without appearing at tax offices for in-person visits ahead of the Jan. 4 filing deadline.

The measure came after Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order that gave counties the ability to waive tax-exemption renewal requirements. The Legislature’s Democratic caucus co-introduced the legislation on Dec. 21.

Legislator Delia DeRiggi-Whitton, a Democrat from Glen Cove, said she voted for the measure because the pandemic is an ongoing emergency, and keeping older adults safe must be the priority.

“We felt that this would be not only a convenient step, but a step in the right direction, for safety measures that we’re trying to keep,” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “It’s almost a no-brainer.”

Her hope, she said, is that the automatic renewal will continue past 2022. “It just makes everything easier,” she said. “It’s just one less thing for them to have to think about.”

Legislators realized how difficult the renewal could be, DeRiggi-Whitton said, when an incorrect robocall went out to those in the program stating their tax exemption renewals had not been received.

“It sent people into a panic, and they went down [to the Nassau County Department of Assessment], and there were long lines,” DeRiggi-Whitton said. “That kind of sparked our awareness of how difficult it can be sometimes.”

Legislator Josh Lafazan, a Democrat from Woodbury whose jurisdiction includes Oyster Bay, said he would also look at any proposal that would improve quality of life for older adults. “As a young legislator, it’s my generation, and therefore my responsibility, to take care of those who came before us,” he said.

But for now, he said he was happy to make the lives of seniors more comfortable as they face other challenges during this pandemic. “Senior citizens are among those who are most vulnerable to Covid-19,” Lafazan said. “So many seniors are struggling to retire in place and stay in Nassau County. If we can take action to help these seniors during a crisis, then that is public service done well.”

He said he was proud to work with his colleagues to pass this measure for county residents.

Glen Cove Senior Center Executive Director Christine Rice called the measure a step in the right direction. “If we can alleviate any additional stress, any extra steps that they would have to complete in order to do their taxes, would be an extremely positive step for them,” she said.

DeRiggi-Whitton said she has spent a good amount of time during the pandemic addressing seniors’ concerns. “Their lifelines were these senior centers,” she said. “They’ve been closed or functioning at a minimum capacity. They’re real connection to the world has really been minimal. It’s a tough, tough situation for so many people.”

For many seniors, Lafazan said, the tax exemptions are also a lifeline because they allow them to stay in their homes. “Seniors need more relief, and we need to do more as a government to allow our seniors to . . . live with dignity.”