Rhode Island State House

The Senate today approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne to allow seniors to put their time and skills to good use helping their cities and towns, while reducing their property taxes.

The legislation (2021-S 0103), which will now go to the House of Representatives, would authorize cities and towns to establish programs to offer tax credits to property owners age 60 and over in exchange for volunteer hours. While each city and town adopting the program could set its own parameters, the legislation would allow them to let seniors earn up to $1,500 off their property taxes.

“Many older property owners, particularly retirees, struggle under the burden of their property taxes. Allowing them to reduce their tax liability by volunteering for their city or town lets them use some of resources they have — time and skills — to lighten the load,” said Senator Coyne (D-Dist. 32, Barrington, Bristol, East Providence) in a statement. “This is an idea that would benefit seniors and municipalities alike. Seniors are very dependable volunteers who have a lifetime of skills and experience to offer. In these days of tight municipal budgets, it could bring in some very valuable volunteers for cash-strapped towns.”

Under the bill, municipalities that adopt the program by a resolution or ordinance of their city or town council would be authorized to allow property owners age 60 and over to volunteer in exchange for a reduction in their tax liability equal to the minimum wage per hour volunteered (currently $11.50). The legislation caps the reduction at $1,500 annually. The credits would not be considered income for tax purposes. The bill also allows towns, if they choose, to allow representatives to earn credits on behalf of seniors who are physically unable to volunteer. Newport already has a program that allows seniors to earn up to $500 off their taxes by volunteering for the city, and similar programs exist in Massachusetts, Maine and Pennsylvania.

The program’s financial benefits could better enable some seniors to afford to remain longer in the homes they love, said Senator Coyne. The regular volunteer work would also have social and physical benefits to seniors, by keeping them connected to their communities and people in them, keeping them mentally and physically active and providing the fulfilling sense of purpose that comes with volunteer work. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, a study of Americans over age 60 found that those who volunteer reported lower disability and higher levels of well-being than those who don’t volunteer. The effects of volunteering were found to be greater than other factors including income, education level or marriage.

The legislation  is supported by AARP RI and is cosponsored by Sen. Bridget G. Valverde (D-Dist. 35, North Kingstown, East Greenwich, Narragansett, South Kingstown), Sen. James A. Seveney (D-Dist. 11, Portsmouth, Bristol, Tiverton), Sen. Alana DiMario (D-Dist. 36, North Kingstown, Narragansett), Sen. Louis P. DiPalma (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Little Compton, Newport, Tiverton) and Sen. Dawn Euer (D-Dist. 13, Newport, Jamestown).