Fortunately, during my retirement years I’ve always been able to fill the hours with volunteer activities and of course, writing for this newspaper.

If you are 50 or older, and love learning something new, you may be interested in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Southern Maine. This sounds fascinating to me and if I didn’t already have every hour of every day committed, I’d be looking into this.

More than 1,500 Portland area residents are members of OLLI, as it is called. When you become a member, you may choose from an extensive selection of courses in the liberal arts and sciences. The courses are peer taught and there are no entrance requirements, no college background is needed, there are no grades or tests. What counts is your experience – and love of learning. Annual membership is $25. There is a $50 fee for each course, as well as fees for other learning and social opportunities. Scholarships of $50 per person per term are available through a simple, friendly and confidential process. For a listing of classes, call 780-4406 or visit OLLI participates in the Maine Senior College Network, an organization of the state’s 17 senior colleges. For more information or to find a senior

college near you, visit or call 780-4128.

‘Circuit breaker’ replacement

Many of our legislators have heard from seniors (and other residents) about their dissatisfaction and confusion over the state’s discontinuance of the “circuit breaker” program, which has for years helped folks pay for fuel, taxes and other essentials. This popular program has been replaced. The following is information we retrieved from the website of Pine Tree Legal Association, where you can find more information on this and other services available free of charge to qualifying senior citizens at

The old Property Tax and Rent Refund (or “Circuit Breaker”) program is gone. Under that program, you could apply for help between Aug. 1 and May 30 each year. There will be no Circuit Breaker program after Aug. 1, 2013. Here are some of the main features of the new credit:

Most people will claim and get the credit when filing their state income tax return between Jan. 1 and April 15, 2014. There is no longer a separate application. The 2013 Maine Income Tax Form 1040ME will include a Property Tax Fairness Worksheet to help you figure out if you can get help.

If you do not normally file an income tax return, you can apply for the credit through either Maine Revenue Services or the Maine Department of Health and Human Services.

The refund (now “credit”) will still help both homeowners who pay property tax and renters.

The maximum amount of the credit is much lower than under the Circuit Breaker program. For tax year 2013, the maximum credit is $300 ($400 for people 70 years of age or older). Due to stricter eligibility limits, many fewer people will get help with their property taxes or rent. The credit is “refundable.” This means that you can get the help, even if you owe nothing in taxes (or owe less than the amount of the credit).

For homeowners, the benefit is based on any property tax amount that is more than 10 percent of your adjusted gross income. Your credit is 40 percent of that amount. The most you can get is $300 ($400 if 70 years of age or older).

For example, if your adjusted gross income is $30,000, your property taxes would need to be higher than $3,000 to get any help. If your property taxes were $3,500, with income of $30,000, you would get a $200 credit.

The formula is the same for renters, except that your “property tax amount” is deemed to be 25 percent of the rent you paid during the tax year.

Talk with your legislators if this change is affecting you. At least one state senator we know promises to look into getting this changed – he said he has received many calls from his constituents.

Kay Soldier welcomes reader ideas for column topics of interest to seniors. She can be reached by email at [email protected], or write to 114 Tandberg Trail, Windham, ME 04062.

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