By Holly Otterbein, Newsworks
August 11, 2014
Tens of thousands of Philadelphians living in poverty are not signing up for tax breaks for which they qualify.
The city’s plan to change that is garnering national attention. Philly is one of six finalists in the “City Accelerator” competition, an initiative of the organization Living Cities, which rewards local governments that develop innovative ideas to better the lives of the poor.
An estimated 30,000 low-income senior citizen households in Philadelphia that are eligible for a property-tax freeze are not participating, according to city data. A NewsWorks analysis also found that the city’s poorest areas tend to have the lowest sign-up rates for another property-tax break known as the “homestead exemption.”
Eva Gladstein, executive director of Philadelphia’s anti-poverty Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity, said the city has proposed using behavioral economics to push more poor people to register for local tax cuts and other programs.
For instance, she said the city may be able to automatically enroll senior residents who are eligible for the property-tax freeze.
“This is really pie-in-the-sky,” said Gladstein, “but if we could make it automatic that somebody gets the senior tax freeze if we already know they meet all the criteria, and they would have to opt out of the senior tax freeze, that would be an example.”
Other proposals include creating a single application form for all of Philadelphia’s low-income programs, pre-filling those forms, and streamlining their deadlines.
The three winning cities will be announced in September, and they will receive both financial and technical support.