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Millions of older US adults are having trouble making ends meet not knowing they are eligible for benefits

Omaha, Nebraska – There are millions of elderly people in the United States who are struggling to make ends meet, particularly in light of the recent inflation. However, the majority of people are unaware that assistance is available, and a significant number of the programs that are available to provide financial support are not being utilized.

Here are several examples: According to recent estimates, there are close to 14 million persons over the age of 60 who are eligible for assistance from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly known as food stamps), but they have not signed up for the program.

In addition, there are more than three million persons aged 65 or older who are qualified for Medicare Savings Programs but are not enrolled in them. These programs pay for Medicare premiums and cost sharing. And it’s possible that between 30 and 45 percent of elderly people aren’t getting the assistance they deserve from the Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy program, which helps pay for plan premiums and cost sharing and reduces the price of prescription drugs.

According to Josh Hodges, chief customer officer at the National Council on Aging, an advocacy group for older Americans that runs the National Center for Benefits Outreach and Enrollment, “tens of billions of dollars of benefits are going unused every year” because seniors don’t know about them, find applications too difficult to complete, or feel conflicted about asking for help. This was stated by Josh Hodges. “Tens of billions of dollars of benefits are going unused every year.”

A great number of programs are geared on helping senior citizens who have extremely meager incomes and few assets. On the other hand, this is not always the case: There is no requirement for a means test for the programs that are financed by the Older Americans Act (such as home-delivered meals and legal assistance for seniors who are facing home foreclosure or eviction), although those with low incomes are typically given priority for these programs. Also, several community services, such rebates on property taxes for homeowners, are open to those who are at least 65 years old.

Assistance of even a few hundred dollars per month may make a world of difference for elderly people living on restricted incomes, which can make it difficult for them to afford essentials such as food, housing, transportation, and medical care. This is especially true for those who are living alone. However, many people are unaware of how to inquire about benefits and determine if they are eligible for them. And senior citizens are frequently reluctant to seek assistance, particularly if they have never done so in the past.

Hodges told the senior citizens that they should consider these advantages to be “like their Medicare, like their Social Security,” since they had worked hard to get them.

Here is some information about several different programs, as well as instructions on how to get started.

Obtaining assistance

Area Agencies on Aging, which are organizations that are dedicated to assisting seniors, carry out benefits evaluations or have the ability to recommend you to other organizations that carry out these evaluations. These agencies may be found in every community. Use the Eldercare Locator, which is a service provided by the federal Administration on Aging, or call 800-677-1116 on weekdays between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. local time to obtain the contact information for your local Area Agency on Aging.

Evaluations determine whether federal, state, and local programs can provide assistance with a variety of needs, including those pertaining to housing, transportation, health care, the cost of utilities, and other necessities. Staff members at the organization will frequently assist senior citizens in filling out application forms and assembling the required papers.

Waiting until a crisis has already occurred, such as when there is no food left in the refrigerator or when the power company is going to switch off the electricity, is a common mistake.

“It’s a much better idea to be prepared,” said Sandy Markwood, chief executive officer of USAging, a national organization that represents Area Agencies on Aging. “USAging” stands for the United States Association of Area Agencies on Aging. “Please come in, find a seat, and discuss all of your available options with the person at the table.”

BenefitsCheckUp is a program that is managed by the National Council on Aging. Older persons who are comfortable using the internet and who want to do their own research can utilize BenefitsCheckUp, which can be found at benefitscheckup.org. For those who would rather speak to someone over the phone, the number to call is 800-794-6559.

Contribution toward the cost of meals

Some groups that serve the elderly are reacting to the increased demand for assistance from older citizens by concentrating their efforts on fundamental benefits such as food stamps, which have become even more significant as a result of food inflation of approximately 10%.

There is a tremendous amount of potential to aid senior citizens with these costs. According to a new set of papers published by the AARP Public Policy Institute, an estimated 71 percent of persons age 60 and older who are eligible for benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program have not signed up for those benefits.

There are times when people of a certain age may believe that the rewards are not substantial enough to warrant the inconvenience. In contrast, elderly citizens over the age of 60 who lived alone earned a monthly average of $104 in food stamps in 2019. According to estimates provided by the AARP, at least three million persons aged 50 and older living on extremely limited incomes would be eligible to receive more than $200 each month.

According to Nicole Heckman, vice president of benefit access programs at the AARP Foundation, AARP has launched a marketing campaign in Atlanta and Houston to combat the stigma that some older adults attach to food stamps. The campaign explains that “food prices are rising and we’re all trying to stretch our grocery budgets,” which was said by AARP Foundation vice president of benefit access programs.

She stated that AARP aims to make a substantial expansion the next year if the initiative succeeds in changing the view that seniors have of the program and in increasing membership.

Contribution toward the cost of medical care

Additionally, the AARP maintains close relationships with community organizations in the states of South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi. These organizations assist senior citizens in the application process for Medicare Savings Programs and low-income subsidies for Part D prescription drug plans. Next year, it intends to roll out this initiative in as many as 22 states throughout the country.

The importance of these health care benefits, which are geared toward senior citizens with low incomes, is significant. Medicare Savings Programs will, at the very least, cover the cost of Medicare Part B premiums, which for the majority of elderly citizens come to $170 per month or $2,040 per year. The benefits are much more comprehensive for older persons who have the lowest incomes, and they even include coverage for cost sharing for medical care.

According to Meredith Freed, a senior policy analyst for the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Program on Medicare Policy, “Even if you believe you might not qualify for the program, you should still apply because there are various criteria among states.”

According to data provided by the Social Security Administration, the value of low-income subsidies for Part D prescription drug coverage, sometimes referred to as Extra Help, is $5,100 yearly. At the moment, some older persons receive only partial benefits; however, this will change in 2024; at that time, all older adults with incomes that are less than 150% of the federal poverty threshold will be eligible for full Extra Help benefits ($20,385 for a single person in 2022).

Because of the complexity of these health care programs, it is recommended that you get assistance with the application process. Freed advised individuals to begin their search by getting in touch with the State Health Insurance Assistance Program in their respective states (information on how to do so may be found here). Additional potential sources of assistance include calling the Medicare hotline at (800) 633-4227 and the department of aging in your state, which can point you in the direction of community organizations that assist with application processes. (You may get a list of the departments that make up the state here.)

Other forms of aid also available

As part of a more comprehensive “benefits checkup,” you should make it a point to investigate any senior citizen tax relief programs that may be available in your region.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program provides financial support to low-income households with senior citizens who are struggling to pay their high energy bills. Senior citizens who are unable to pay their utility bills may be eligible for financial assistance from their local utility company. Rebecca Lerfelt, who worked as the assistant director of an Aging and Disability Resource Center in the Chicago region before she retired, suggested giving them a call to find out more information. These resource centers provide support to individuals who are looking for access to long-term care services and are an additional potential source of assistance for senior citizens. (You can look for one in your region using this link.)

Diane Slezak, president of AgeOptions, an Area Agency on Aging in suburban Cook County, Illinois, advised veterans that “now may be the time to take a look at using your VA benefits.” AgeOptions is located in Cook County, Illinois. “I come across a lot of people who are qualified for veteran benefits but aren’t actually making use of them,” said the person.

Barriers to getting help

Advocates for a wide variety of programs have pointed out that organizations that serve older persons are currently dealing with personnel shortages, which makes it more difficult to give help. One of the most frequently cited reasons is the low compensation. According to Markwood’s research, for instance, 41% of area agencies for the elderly report having staff shortages of up to 15%, while an additional 18% report having vacancies of up to 25%. During the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations have also experienced a large decrease in the number of volunteers.

At the same time, there has been an increase in the demand for assistance, and customers’ requirements have gotten more complex as a result of the epidemic and rising inflation.

According to Markwood, “all of this is being compounded by the financial strains older individuals are feeling,” which describes the current situation.

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