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This article is shared with LebTown by content partner Spotlight PA.

By Cynthia Fernandez of Spotlight PA

Spotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and PennLive/Patriot-News. Sign up for our free weekly newsletter.

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania homeowners and renters who are elderly or have disabilities may get a state rebate check earlier than expected, officials announced Tuesday.

Gov. Tom Wolf and Treasurer Joe Torsella said the state will begin sending payments Wednesday, six weeks before Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program checks usually go out.

“This commonsense solution gives thousands of our older and vulnerable residents their rebates early when they need it,” Wolf said at a news conference Tuesday.

The program is aimed at seniors and adults with disabilities who meet certain income requirements — up to $35,000 annually for homeowners, and up to $15,000 for renters. Homeowners can qualify for a payment that totals $975, while renters can receive up to $650.

Usually, the state sends rebate payments on July 1. Under a bill approved by the General Assembly and signed by Wolf, the Department of Treasury and the Department of Revenue will process applications on a “first-in-first-out” basis, allowing for rebates to be issued earlier.

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The state will issue about 500,000 rebate payments, with 111,000 going out this week and 60,000 delivered weekly thereafter.

Torsella said the early payments send a message to “some of our most vulnerable Pennsylvanians: We hear you.”

The program is funded by the Pennsylvania Lottery and slot gaming revenue. Wolf closed the state’s casinos in March as he shuttered all businesses that aren’t “life-sustaining” in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

While experts agree the measures were necessary to keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, the state’s finances have taken a major hit. Tax revenues plummeted by $2 billion in April alone, 50% below official estimates.

In Pennsylvania, total gambling revenues fell from $304 million in February to just $153 million last month, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Whether the state order closing casinos will affect the future of the rebate program remains to be seen, though Torsella said this year’s payments will not be impacted. The program reached more than half a million households and cost roughly $250 million during the last fiscal year.

“The governor and legislature will be looking at the outlook for all of next year across all the revenue sources that have been challenged,” Torsella said.

Applicants have until December 31 to apply for a rebate, and the forms can be found on the Department of Revenue’s website.

100% ESSENTIAL: Spotlight PA relies on funding from foundations and readers like you who are committed to accountability journalism that gets results. If you value this reporting, please give a gift today at spotlightpa.org/donate.

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