Everyone needs a helping hand now and then. For older adults, sometimes that help comes in the form of access to public benefits that can help them age in place. Although most people over 65 take advantage of Social Security and Medicare, many do not know about some of the other exceptionally valuable government programs available to them. Here are five public benefits that caregivers and family members should investigate to see if they could provide needed help to a senior loved one.
1. Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). Staying warm in winter and cool during hot weather is critical for older adults, especially those with health issues. Since many seniors live on fixed incomes, the costs of heating oil, gas, and electricity often exceed their budgets. LIHEAP will pay heating and cooling bills, as well as some energy-related repairs, for those who meet certain income criteria.
2. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). For reasons that include the increasing costs of nutritious foods, it can be difficult for many seniors to maintain healthy diets. SNAP, which was originally founded with older adults in mind, issues qualified applicants an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card that can be used like cash to pay for food at participating grocery stores. The average per-person SNAP assistance varies by state. For instance, in 2013 it was $138.39 in Florida and $128.32 in Pennsylvania.
3. Extra Help with Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Costs. Anyone 65 or older who signs up for Medicare can obtain a Medicare D prescription plan offered by various insurance providers. Those with limited income and financial resources, however, may qualify for an estimated $4,000 per year under Extra Help, which can help cover the cost of monthly premiums, annual deductibles, and co-payments for drugs. To determine eligibility, a senior must file an application with the Social Security Administration.
4. Supplemental Social Security Income (SSI) Benefits. This program is primarily designed for disabled children and adults with limited financial means, but it’s also available to those over 65 who are not disabled but meet specific financial criteria. The federal government pays the same pre-determined amount each month to every recipient who qualifies — in 2014, that amount is $721. In addition, 42 states provide a state supplementary check anywhere from $10–$200 to residents who receive SSI. (Arizona, Arkansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, and Georgia do not currently provide state supplementary checks to residents.)
5. Telephone Assistance. Maintaining a home telephone line is vital for seniors for security purposes, as well as for health emergencies. This government public benefit program provides help with the cost of basic local telephone services for those on specific government assistance programs, including Medicaid, SSI, Federal Housing Assistance/Section 8 programs, SNAP, and LIHEAP. To learn more, call the sales department at your senior’s local phone company and ask how to apply for this program.
All of these public benefits have the potential to help an older person remain independent, which benefits caregivers as well — especially if your senior parents live with you. Your US senator’s office can provide more information or answer any questions about accessing these programs.