Jim Miller, an advocate for older Americans, writes “Savvy Senior,” a weekly information column syndicated in more than 400 newspapers nationwide. Based in Norman, Oklahoma, he also offers a free senior e-news service at SavvySenior.org.
Retirement is not “golden” for all seniors. More than 25 million Americans age 60 and older are economically insecure, living with limited assets and incomes below $30,000 per year. And even with higher income than that, it can be difficult to make ends meet.
There are numerous financial-assistance programs, both public and private, that can help struggling seniors, as well as give relief to family members who help provide financial support for their loved ones. And, because of a comprehensive resource called BenefitsCheckUp.org, a free service of the National Council on Aging, locating these benefits and applying for them has never been easier.
The website is a confidential tool designed for people age 55 and older and their families. It helps locate federal, state and private benefit programs that can assist with paying for food, medications, utilities, health care and other needs. The site includes information on more than 2,000 programs across the US. Many of these benefits are available to anyone in need who qualifies, while others are only available to older adults and can help them retain their independence.
To use the site, you enter basic information about the person in need—date of birth, ZIP code and check boxes for what the person needs assistance with—and the site generates a report instantly, listing links to the programs and services that the person may qualify for.
Some assistance programs can be applied for online…some have downloadable application forms to be printed and mailed, faxed or e-mailed in…and some require that you contact the program’s administrative office directly for application information.
It’s also possible to get help in person at a Benefits Enrollment Center. There currently are 36 centers in 24 states, with 12 more centers being added in 2016. Visit NCOA.org/centerforbenefits/becs to locate a nearby center. Some centers also offer assistance over the phone.
Depending on income and where the person in need lives, here are some benefits he/she may be eligible for…
Food assistance. Programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – previously known as “food stamps” – can help pay for groceries. The average monthly SNAP benefit is currently around $126 per person. Other programs that may be available include The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) and the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP).
Health care. Medicaid and Medicare savings programs can help or completely pay for out-of-pocket health-care costs. And there are special Medicaid waiver programs that provide in-home care and assistance.
Prescription drugs. There are hundreds of programs offered through drug companies, government agencies and charitable organizations that help reduce or eliminate prescription drug costs, including the federal low-income subsidy known as “Extra Help” that pays premiums, deductibles and prescription copayments for Medicare Part D prescription drug plan beneficiaries.
Utility assistance. There’s the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), as well as local utility companies and charitable organizations that provide assistance in lowering home heating and cooling costs.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Administered by the Social Security Administration, SSI provides monthly payments to very low-income seniors, age 65 and older, as well as to those who are blind and disabled. SSI pays up to $733 per month for a single person and up to $1,100 for couples.
In addition to these programs, there are numerous other benefits such as HUD housing (affordable housing for low-income families, the elderly and people with disabilities) home-weatherization assistance, tax relief, veterans’ benefits, senior transportation, respite care (short-term care that gives regular caregivers a break), free legal assistance, job training, and employment and debt counseling.