These days, a lot of those who reach retirement age will choose to continue to work. For various reasons, though, not all can or will do that. Thus, with the decrease in the number of pensions over the last few decades, many find themselves having to get along on Social Security and Medicare alone. As a result, a knowledge of who to turn to for possible financial or other assistance is crucial.
According to the Social Security Administration, of the approximately 56 million seniors in the US, 44.5 million are receiving social security benefits as of 2019, the average monthly payment totaling $1,471.00. Regardless of what the retiree receives, their funds may be too little to cover the costs of housing, food, transportation, and healthcare, not to mention care for a beloved pet. Fortunately, between governmental assistance (federal, state and local) and non-profits, assistance may be at hand.
Where to Go for Assistance
There are two organizations that neatly bring together an excellent overview of the services and general information any senior might want. One of them is the Areas Agency on Aging. The other is State Health Insurance Assistance Program, aka SHIP can offer facts, suggestions, and links, regardless of the assistance you’re looking for. Both operate on the state level and exist
While either organization can steer a senior or caregiver in the right direction regarding pretty much any issue that might arise, let’s look at the website for the State Health Insurance Assistance Program, aka SHIP. Each state has its own branch of this program, and though services offered can vary, here is a very brief overview of the comprehensive spectrum of services SHIP provides, and at no charge to their clients:
- One-on-one counseling with seniors and their caregivers. Personnel also offer classes explaining what Medicare is and how to apply with added tips about detecting and reporting Medicare waste, errors and fraud.
- Medicare/Medicaid: The SHIP website offers advice and aid in selecting and acquiring the best health coverage for a given senior. The overall goal is to make sure the client gets the most out of their benefits.
- Housing: No matter what the client’s situation, whether continuing to reside in their own home or needing information about and assistance in transitioning into some form of senior housing, the website will provide not only online information but the opportunity to make an appointment to talk with a caring and knowledgeable professional, whether over the phone or face-to-face.
- Home and Community Based Waiver Programs: For those clients who qualify for a nursing home but wish to remain in their homes, SHIP provides information and assistance in determining if there is a suitable waiver available. If yes, SHIP personnel assist the client in the process.
- Nutrition: Through SHIP, discover what local sources of prepared and delivered food are available including Meals on Wheels as well as other non-profit organizations.
- Personal Care Services (PCS): This refers to services like assistance with bathing, food preparation, dressing and other daily living activities for both those who require these services to be rendered to them as well as for those who retain a level of independence but need some assistance. The former is termed Agency-based Care (ABPCS) and the latter is Consumer-based Care (CBCPCS).
- Healthcare: Including both physical and mental. Need help finding a physician? Need financial assistance for prescription care? Have questions about what resources exist for a specific mental or physical condition? Either the website or SHIP personnel can direct the client to the best resources, following up with whatever assistance is desired.
- Adult Protective Services: Anyone – whether the senior, a caregiver or anyone else – who has observed senior abuse can do so, knowing that the senior in question will not be forced to do anything against their will. The sole goal is to prevent abuse from occurring.
- Tips on how to set up and maintain a budget. The philosophy here is that the better a person understands their financial situation, the more control they have of that situation. Refusing to become acquainted with the financial facts means one may not ask for help when it’s needed.
- Assistance in finding reliable tax advice, whether free or on a sliding scale.
- An excellent source of information on free or low-cost transportation specifically for seniors or those with disabilities.
Next, we will break down housing, financial and other resources that can benefit seniors. The first category, housing, is the one that generally takes the biggest bite out of a senior’s income. Geographical location, whether one has a housemate, whether one rents or owns, the condition of the structure – these are just four of the factors that impact this expense.
Housing Resources for Seniors
Federal Housing Resources
According to the US General Accountability Office, there are 23 federal housing programs geared, to varying degrees, to assist the elderly. This assistance could apply to rent reduction or to home repair or rehabilitation, making a home more senior-friendly. Among these 23, the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offers their Multifamily 202 program and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) its single-family Section 504 Rural Housing Repair and Rehabilitation Grants program, each specifically concerned with aiding seniors. There are three more HUD programs that target both seniors and the disabled.
Whether one lives alone or in a multifamily unit, these 23 programs offer a mix of aid in the forms of outright grants, subsidies, loans, and mortgage assistance. It is worth noting that the USGAO could have listed many other programs but chose to apply three specific standards in their selection process. To quote from their website, each listed program had to:
- subsidize mortgage interest rates, rent, or housing repair or rehabilitation;
- provide mortgage insurance, loan guarantees, or direct loans for single-family or multifamily housing; and
- support the construction, rehabilitation, or purchase of multifamily housing or assisted living facilities.
This means that Fanny Mae, Freddie Mac, Home Loan Banks, and HUD’s Home Equity Conversion Mortgage program were among those that did not meet these criteria.
The USDA also provides a voucher system through its Rural Development Section’s 515 Rural Rental Housing Program. As specified, the voucher can be applied towards a mortgage payment or to rent owed. If a rental property owner agrees, the voucher would be good for any non-subsidized property, whether rural or urban. (Subsidized properties include Section 8 or public housing.)
The remaining 18 programs cater to citizens regardless of age or physical capacity but also offer the possibility of assistance for seniors such as income adjustments to reduce rent.
When it comes to finding a house or an apartment, with or without roommates, HUD has a searchable Multifamily Inventory of Units for the Elderly and Persons with Disabilities.
Additionally, other non-profits, such as Providence Hospital system, sponsor a help and referral desk where any adult (not just Providence members) can inquire into what local aid is available for an assortment of needs not limited to: rent or utility fee assistance; housing; mental healthcare; or being matched up with a room- or housemate. There is no charge for any of these services.
State Housing Resources
HUD, USDA, and other housing programs further distribute funding to aid seniors (among other recipients) through the individual states. Each state offers its own version of housing assistance. The most significant of these options is the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program which is devoted to multifamily housing. An excellent source of information in any state is their Areas Agency on Aging (AAA). Though the specific title of the department varies by state, typing “local area agency on aging” into a search engine followed by the name of the state you’re interested in will bring up the results.
To find out what your state offers do an internet search using terms like “housing resources for seniors” followed by the name of your state. Most likely the Hud.gov website will pop up, where you will find a wealth of resources. The site reveals links to housing counseling agencies, Areas Agencies on Aging, the USDA Rural Development offices, that state’s bar association, and the state’s Department of Human Services. There are also links to other potentially useful sites including one devoted to predatory lending.
Veterans should investigate VA Home Loans which apply not only to veterans but also to qualifying service personnel and some unmarried surviving spouses. These loans, offered at a lower rate of interest, could be used to buy or build a home or for the improvement of an existing structure.
Energy Assistance Programs for Home Owners and Renters
According to the useful National Council on Aging site, there are four principal sources for seniors looking to cut their heating and cooling costs.
The largest organization is the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). This federally-funded program offers grants to anyone who qualifies throughout the US including the District of Columbia, territories, and tribal governments. Even apartments may qualify. Aid could be financial, assistance with an energy crisis, or funding for energy-related improvements to the structure. The application process and assistance granted varies by state.
Emergency Assistance – To find out if your state is one of the ones that offers assistance to avoid the shutting off utilities, go to the National Energy Assistance Referral (NEAR) page at LIHEAP. For more information, you can phone them toll-free at 1-866-674-6327 or TTY 1-866-367-6228.
The Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP), funded by the US Department of Energy, helps low-income families make their homes more energy-smart. Aid could be extended to a person who lives in and rents or owns a single-family home, a multifamily complex, or a mobile home.
Your own power company, as well as other local agencies and organizations, may offer financial support. E.g., as mentioned above, possible assistance with utility bills is just one of the resources offered by the Providence Hospital system’s help and referral desk.
Food Resources for Seniors
“Congregate” meals are available in every state. This refers to shared meals held at senior centers, religious facilities, area on aging offices, or whatever locations your locale offers. Any mobile senior can partake. To find out more, go to your search engine and type in “congregate meals” followed by the name of the nearest town. If that fails to provide useful results, use the name of your state.
As mentioned above, for those who are home-bound or unable to feed themselves, there are more than 5,000 Meals on Wheels programs around the US. Medicare or Medicare Advantage may cover part of the cost.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – The official name of the food stamp program. In fact, many who qualify are not taking advantage of this program for two principal reasons: 1. A matter of (arguably misplaced) pride, and 2. believing it wouldn’t be that much help. The average amount of monthly assistance totals $101; not a great deal but enough to help a person maintain their health.
There may be other local non-profits that can supply both food and/or assist in food preparation for those more independent seniors, while also providing some company. Again, check with your state’s Areas Agency for Aging.
In addition to SNAP, there are many local food banks (or food pantries) and other meal programs scattered around the United States. Among them is Feeding America, an organization that distributes 4.3 billion meals a year. Using the site is simple, enter your zip code or state, and discover the nearest food bank in your area.
For those finding it hard to budget for their pet’s food, there are pet food banks across the US. Visit Being Stray to locate the pet food bank nearest you. An alternative is to call a branch of the Humane Society; their staff can direct you to the needed resources.
Defraying Healthcare Costs
Medicare understands that Social Security and Medicare may not be enough to cover your health costs. To discover what further aid is available, visit Medicare.gov.
Medical and Prescription Drugs Assistance
Programs that help with medical and prescription drugs are as follows: (Those who qualify for certain programs may find themselves eligible also for aid in paying the monthly costs of Medicare Parts A and B)
- Medicaid – Medicaid coverage varies from state to state. Those seniors who do qualify for it can receive benefits Medicare does not offer such as money towards personal care expenses and the cost of a nursing home care.
- Medicare Savings Programs – An MSP could, for qualifying seniors, cover the cost of Medicare Parts A and B deductibles, as well as coinsurance and copayments. There are four separate programs:
- Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QFM) Program (Qualifying for this means automatically receiving Extra help, shown below.)
- Specified Low-income Medicare Beneficiary (SLMB) Program (Qualifying for this means automatically receiving Extra help, shown below.)
- Qualifying Individual (QI) Program
- Qualified Disabled and Working Individuals (QDWI) Program
- PACE (Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly) – Part of Medicaid, this program is open to those 55+ who live in the service area of a PACE organization, who qualify for nursing home care and can live safely in the community. Once accepted, if the recipient chooses to make use of this program, it will replace Medicare and Medicaid for all their healthcare needs.
- Extra Help (Part D) – Reduces amount patient pays for generic drugs (maximum: $3.40) or brand-name (maximum: $8.50). NB: Anyone who qualifies for QFM or SLMB would automatically receive Extra Help. Maximum reduction in health costs per year: $4,000.
- Supplemental Security Income (SSI) – This supplement to Social Security is available to those whose income falls below a certain level. To understand what SSI is about, visit the SSI website. To find out if you qualify for this, take 5-10 minutes to answer their questionnaire.
Dental Care Assistance
Medicare only pays so much for dental work. Dentures, and other elaborate procedures, largely come out of the patient’s pocket. If one has the money, one can purchase an additional policy. However, those who can’t afford this may qualify for aid from one of the following organizations:
- First, contact your county’s public health department, the best local resource for healthcare needs.
- Dental Lifeline Network (DLN) has a national office in Denver, CO. National Office: (303)-534-5360. Founded in 1974, this non-profit has spread over the entire US. Comprised of volunteer dentists and labs in each state, these professionals provide comprehensive dental care to those who qualify, though no emergency dental treatment is available. Each state has its own central office and phone number. DLN is an amalgam of four non-profits. Their mission: To provide limited dental care to those who have a permanent disability, who are 65 or older, or who qualify as medically fragile. Veterans receive special consideration, even if services in their county may be closed because of a long waiting list. Also, those who have documentation from their physician stating that the patient cannot receive other needed medical care until their dental issue is taken care of should also apply, regardless of what their state’s website indicates.
- Veterans should contact their state branch of the US Department of Veterans Affairs. To call the central office in Washington, DC: toll-free 1-800-827-1000, TTY 1-800-829- 4833.
- Dentistry from the Heart, (727) 849-2002, provides free, limited services to anyone regardless of income, though the person must be at least 18 years old. Rather than having regular days or locations, the organization offers “events” scattered around the country. To find out if one will be in your area within the next three months or so, click on “Upcoming Events.” On the day, just show up – no appointment necessary. These scattered events take place in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and Puerto Rico. Services are limited to basic cleaning, one extraction, or one filling, but such care could make all the difference to one’s oral and overall health.
- Free Dental Care Clinics – Though not associated with any government agency, this organization can direct a visitor to appropriate government programs. The site also provides information on the growing number of free dental care providers in each state (with an interactive map) as well as clinics that take patients on a sliding scale.
The Bottom Line
While some may paint a depressing picture for folks living on a limited income, a more accurate portrayal is one of hope. The number of organizations and agencies determined to assure a comfortable, healthy and safe quality of life for seniors and others in the US is growing.
Being aware of these resources, using them and encouraging others to, and informing one’s Representatives and Senators of the good they do and the real needs they fill could help ensure their continuing existence.