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Low-income, disabled veterans frustrated by stalled tax relief bill

Target 12

WOONSOCKET, R.I. (WPRI) — A bill that would expand property tax relief for more low-income, disabled veterans failed to make it out of the House Finance Committee for the fourth time in the past five sessions.

Woonsocket resident David Silvia, who’s advocated for the bill for about five years, said the $350 annual tax break would have a huge impact on the wallets of veterans whose income is below the $30,000-a-year threshold to qualify.

Some, including himself, try to live on much less than that, according to Silvia.

“I know veterans making about $1,000 a month [from the VA] and their rent is maybe $750,” Silvia said. “That leaves $250 for everything else.”

Silvia, a Coast Guard veteran who’s been wheelchair-bound for about 20 years, receives the benefit which is currently paid by the state to renters and homeowners receiving “a Social Security disability benefit,” such as Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

The bill that was passed by the Senate in 2015, 2016, 2018, and again this year would expand the tax relief to include veterans who receive a similar, federally paid disability benefit from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Silvia claims the current law discriminates against veterans.

“I’m going to fight the good fight until I’m not breathing,” he said.
“It’s a shame what this state is doing to people and the taxpayers and the people who live here. That’s what I’m angry about.”

State Rep. Jason Knight, D-Barrington, who sponsored the bill the past two sessions, said the holdup is figuring out how many Rhode Island veterans would qualify for the tax break.

The VA has indicated there are 15,000 to 16,000 disabled veterans in the state, according to Knight, but he said only a “thin slice” of that group would qualify for tax relief if the bill ever makes it on the books.

“It involves extracting data out of multiple, complex benefit schemes and some of that data, I suspect, has not been traditionally collected,” Knight explained. “I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to find those right numbers and come up with a price tag.”

Knight credited Silvia for being the “force of nature” behind the bill, pointing out he’s worked with a chain of three state representatives to keep it alive.

While there is no estimate yet on how much expanding the program would cost, Paul Dion of the R.I. Division of Taxation said the cost of the property tax credit was $3,931,175 in tax year 2018 and $4,144,482 the year before.

Silvia was especially irked this session after the Target 12 Investigators revealed House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and other House Democratic leaders initially earmarked $1 million to fund chiropractor Victor Pedro’s Cortical Integrative Therapy (CIT), an unsanctioned procedure rejected by both state and federal health officials.

Pedro’s Cranston practice had received nearly $2 million from the state over the past 15 years to fund CIT.

The funding was pulled the day after the Target 12 report aired and was published, with Mattiello saying it had become too “politically controversial.”

Silvia said state leaders need to have the will to fund the tax break.

“A million dollars that just got snuck [into the budget] and yet I’m over here fighting for credit for disabled veterans?” Silvia asked. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Mattiello has yet to respond to a request for comment on Silvia’s remarks, or on the stalled tax break measure.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter@wbuteau.

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