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Some MI vet families got a nasty surprise at tax time. Two bills seek to fix the issue.

The problem stems from a state tax exemption meant for disabled vets and a recent appeals court ruling.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Some worried they would lose their homes amid confusion over a state property tax exemption meant for disabled vets and their spouses.

Since the 13 HELP Team originally profiled an Upper Peninsula appeals court ruling earlier this year, several viewers have reported their exemption applications—granted in previous years—had been denied.

As we then reported, the ruling suggested "in cases where a disabled veteran did not own the property, his or her surviving spouse is also not eligible for the exemption."

Several pieces of legislation designed to clarify the law and protect military families have since been proposed by state lawmakers, including Sen. Sylvia Santana.

“Veteran widows should not be penalized if their spouse dies,” the second district Democrat said. “That property tax exemption should be carried forward for them.”

That’s the aim behind SB 176, of which Santana is a sponsor, one of two potential legislative fixes floated in the wake of last year’s court ruling.  

“Right now, we have a unique group of widows who want to downsize and move into smaller properties, but can't do so within the current law,” Santana said.

You may remember our story on Sue Johnston, who called the HELP Team after she was told the exemption—for which she and her late husband previously qualified based upon his 100% disabled status—would no longer be available to her.

We’ve kept in touch via email since our sit-down interview with Johnston several months earlier, when she detailed the ordeal, just one episode in what she described as a decades-long struggle for benefits.

“Our veterans and service people have to continually fight to get what they deserve,” she explained. “As a surviving spouse, I still have to fight.”

The court ruling appeared to disregard opposing guidance from the State Tax Commission, threatening to reverse benefits some military families received years earlier and came to depend upon.  

“I'm a wife of a veteran… their service to our country is so important and more importantly, that spouse’s support during the duration of their life,” Sen. Santana said.

SB 176 would clarify that portion of the exemption law, MCL 211.7b, in an effort to restore benefits.

The bill, Santana suggested, would also streamline the law, with applications required every three years instead of one, in addition to changing how escrow payments are processed.

The legislation, she said, was still a work in progress and would likely undergo further refinement prior to exiting the senate committee considering the measure at the time of publication.

“Whatever we can do to make it better, I would love to address those concerns,” the senator noted.

A second bill, SB 163, sponsored across the aisle by Senator Jim Runestad, had also yet to be taken up as of this week.

Jay and Charlie may be the faces of the HELP Team, but there are more members behind the scenes working to get the job done. HELP Team stories can be seen on weekdays at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. and at www.13HelpTeam.com. People are encouraged to contact the HELP Team by calling 616-559-1313 and leaving a message or emailing help@13onyourside.com.

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