$2 Billion Tax Rebate Hits Barriers: How, When NJ Residents Can Get Help
NEW JERSEY — State residents who tried, tried, and tried to get unemployment benefits at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic may have deja vu. Busy phone lines and staggered mailings are making it difficult for some taxpayers to start the process of filing New Jersey’s new property tax refund, but the state Department of the Treasury has promised improvements.
The depot was recently opened for New Jersey residents to claim their reimbursement under the Affordable New Jersey Communities for Homeowners and Renters (ANCHOR) program. Taxpayers can file their return online, by mail or by phone before December 30.
But the filing process got off to a rocky start. Callers have struggled to get through to the ANCHOR phone line, while many New Jersey residents continue to wait for senders with drop off information.
The ANCHOR hotline received more than 14,000 calls Monday during its nine hours of operation, according to Treasury officials. The number received 18,000 calls throughout August – 98.5% of them answered and attended to, a Treasury spokesman said.
In response to the high volume of calls, the Treasury doubled the number of staff assisting callers. The department had 42 employees assisting callers, with more being added as they became available, Treasury spokeswoman Danielle Currie told Patch on Wednesday.
“In response to the high call volume, we are increasing the queue allocation so that more callers are put on hold,” Currie told Patch via email. “Call flow is monitored so that anyone in the queue does not wait longer than 30 minutes. If placed in the queue, callers must be prepared to stay on the line until 30 minutes.”
Shippers will reach ratepayers by the first week of October, according to a notice posted on the state’s ANCHOR webpage. The Treasury staggered the shipments in an effort to mitigate the flooding of its call center, Currie says.
If a resident does not receive their 2019 ANCHOR filing information within 10 business days of the mailing date from their county, they can call the ANCHOR hotline at 1-888-238-1233. Here is the state broadcast schedule for each county:
- Burlington, Hunterdon and Mercer: shipping is expected to begin September 19, email delivery is expected to begin September 13.
- Atlantic and Essex: shipping is expected to begin September 20, email delivery is expected to begin September 13.
- Bergen and Warren: shipping is expected to begin September 21, email delivery is expected to begin September 16.
- Ocean, Salem and Sussex: shipping is expected to begin September 22, email delivery is expected to begin September 20.
- Cumberland, Gloucester and Hudson: mailing is expected to begin September 23rd, email delivery is expected to begin September 20th.
- Monmouth and Somerset: mailing is expected to begin September 23rd, email delivery is expected to begin September 23rd.
- Passaic and Union: shipping is expected to begin September 26, email delivery is expected to begin September 27.
- Cape May and Middlesex: shipping is expected to begin September 28, email delivery is expected to begin September 27.
- Camden and Morris: shipping is expected to begin September 30, email delivery is expected to begin September 29.
Two factors have created problems, according to Treasury officials. About 1.9 million people are eligible for ANCHOR reimbursement, compared to 470,000 who were eligible for its predecessor: the Homestead reimbursement program.
Additionally, “due to all the early publicity surrounding the program, we experience tremendous awareness right off the bat,” Currie said.
Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration introduced the ANCHOR program on March 3 and touted the refund over the past semester. When Murphy introduced his state budget proposal in March, he made “affordability” the buzzword and put the new rebate front and center. Read more: Governor Murphy’s $49 billion budget focuses on property taxes and relief
Murphy has wavered for the ANCHOR program around the state on several occasions since March, including an announcement in June that the state would expand available tax breaks. Meanwhile, the governor touted the program as “historic.”
“The ANCHOR program will provide real and tangible property tax relief to homeowners and renters, a historic step toward transforming New Jersey into a more affordable state,” Murphy said Sept. 12 in a statement.
Opinions vary on the extent to which the program will ease the economic burden on residents. The average state property tax bill was $9,284 in 2021 — among the highest in the nation — while the ANCHOR program will provide an average benefit of $971. But the hype for the refund kept the Treasury busy for the first days of the filing.
New Jersey residents’ issues of connecting with the state for financial benefits came to the fore early in the pandemic. The state surpassed one million unemployment claims on May 2, 2020, leaving many people without pay since the lockdown more than a month before. The line has improved with $18 million in investments since then, but it hasn’t been enough to fully modernize the service, according to state labor commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo. Read more: $18 Million Later, New Jersey’s Unemployment System Still Below Normal, Some Say
Much like Murphy at the start of the pandemic, the Treasury asked residents to be patient with the ANCHOR process. But there are key differences. The unemployment backlog has exacerbated a financial crisis for residents laid off due to COVID. And at least part of the unemployment application process usually requires talking on the phone.
In contrast, Treasury officials anticipated that some New Jersey residents would not receive their ANCHOR reimbursement until May. Residents also have more than three months to apply and there is no need to talk on the phone to receive the allowance. Officials will not distribute payments in the order in which they receive applications.
“It should be noted that there were no reported issues preventing people from filing statements over the phone or on the web,” Currie said. “It is the information hotline that is inundated with people asking questions. Most of these questions can be answered online and we are working to answer frequently asked questions that the hotline receives online so that more people can avoid having to make a call.”
Landlords who applied for child benefit last year can obtain their identification number and PIN code online. Renters do not need an ID number or PIN for the deposit.