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New Toll-Free Helpline for Senior and Disabled Assistance Program

State Controller and Franchise Tax Board (FTB) Chair Steve Westly today announced a new toll-free helpline for the state's Homeowner and Renter Assistance Program, which provides a payment of up to $473 to disabled or elderly homeowners and renters. The helpline, (800) 868-4171, features an automated service where claimants can order HRA forms, hear answers to frequently asked questions, and check on the status of their current year claim.

"For many seniors, the biggest bill every month - and the biggest worry - is paying the rent or the mortgage," Westly said. “We want California's seniors to know help is now just a phone call away.”

The Homeowner and Renter Assistance Program provides a once-a-year payment from the state to qualified homeowners and renters based on property taxes directly paid by homeowners and indirectly paid by renters. For the 2004 claim year, eligible homeowners can receive a payment of up to $472.60, while renters can receive up to $347.50. The FTB mailed claim booklets to prior year recipients in June.

The FTB runs the program from July 1 through October 15, although claims can be filed as late as June 2005. Due to budget constraints, the FTB strongly advises claimants to file by the October 15 deadline to avoid lengthy delays in payment processing.

To qualify, homeowners must have owned and lived in their home at the end of 2003, have a household income of $38,505 or less, or gross income of $70,009 or less (see instructions for details), and be a U.S. citizen, designated alien, or qualified alien when the claim is filed. Renters must pay $50 or more in rent per month and meet the above income limits and residency rules. Claimants must have been blind, disabled, or at least 62 years old on December 31, 2003.

Eligible households can get the claim form from the FTB's Website at www.ftb.ca.gov. The FTB also changed the name of the homeowner's claim form from the FTB 9000 to the FTB 9000H-to better distinguish it from the renter's form, the FTB 9000R. The FTB now accepts a valid California driver's license or motor vehicle identification card as proof of age and a Veterans Affairs letter that documents 100 percent total and permanent disability for VA purposes as proof of disability.

For free help with completing the claim forms, the FTB lists the locations and hours for the statewide volunteer assistance program that runs from July 1 through October 15. To locate the nearest volunteer site, visit the FTB's Website, or call your local Senior Citizens Information and Referral Service or your state legislator's office.