Financial Assistance for Seniors to Help Fight Inflation

financial assistance

We like to think that our golden years will be a time of carefree leisure, but unfortunately, that’s often not the case. Many of us know what it’s like to run out of money before the end of the month and have to juggle which bills to pay first. For some, that burden begins to dissipate as we enter our middle years and begin to make more money or become more established in our careers. But no matter how much we save for retirement, life is known for throwing curveballs.

Just How Difficult is Today’s Financial Outlook for Seniors?

About 15% of older adults who are aged 65 or older have household income that falls below the poverty level for at least one year, and even among those who are in the top earners, 30% of them will face economic hardship for at least three years, due to health care costs and the cost of long-term services and supports (including home care). That’s according to the Department of Health and Human Services, which conducted a modeling study of what older adults can financially expect as they age.

Keep in mind that it’s not all about not having enough retirement funds. Those who go into retirement with strong financial standing can still find themselves hit with unexpected changes, such as the death of a spouse (and the subsequent loss of their Social Security benefits or employer pensions), medical emergencies, disabilities, insurance changes that no longer cover what you might need, and the steeply rising cost of prescriptions, long-term medical support, and medical assistance in general[1].

There are also points that are entirely out of the control of the average person, such as the current issues with inflation and a potential recession looming. (For the curious, Business Insider explains what a recession really is and what to expect from one.)

While there are still some aging in place solutions that are quite affordable, such as opting for a medical alert pendant to get emergency help fast, installing grab bars and lever door handles for safety and ease of moving around, and even adding better, more robust lighting to living spaces to make getting around easier, many of the options for independence can have a high cost.

There is also the hidden burden on family caregivers, who often see their own financial health deteriorate as they take more time off work or pay for a variety of care needs out of their own pocket. If medical issues eventually become too much for a family caregiver, a professional caregiver is often hired. In fact, more than half of all seniors are expected to experience significant long-term care needs and will require some paid assistance after the age of 65[2].

Finally, those who go into retirement with debt are often in for a rougher time. In 1989, about 38% of elderly households led by those aged 65 or older carried debt; in 2016, 61% of older adults had debt, according to report from the Congressional Research Service. The amount of debt went up too, from about $7,500 in 1989 to over $31,000 in 2016. It might make sense that seniors have mortgage debt or even a car payment, but 41% of those between the ages of 65 and 74 have credit card debt, as do 28% of those 75 or older[3]. A 2020 report from Aging and Mental Health found that those who carry credit card debt are more likely to struggle to pay monthly bills.

The result of all of this can be a perfect storm of too little money to cover expenses and continue to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. Here are some ways for seniors to help ease their financial burdens.

Seek Out Available Assistance

Though many seniors might find that medical bills turn out to be the biggest burden, there are other areas to cut costs that can help immensely while helping to keep you safe and comfortable in your own home. Here is some of the best finance help for seniors out there.

Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program

In 2020, households in the United States spent an average of $117 per month on home energy costs, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Things are worse now than they were then; between February 2021 and February 2022, electricity prices have increased by nine percent.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, is offered by the federal government to help households with energy bills, such as heating and cooling costs. Households that already receive social security benefits or other government payments are often automatically eligible. There is a maximum income amount of $20,385 per year, before taxes, for one person – those who live in households with more than one person will see a higher maximum. Each state has different criteria for eligibility. This page tells you who to contact for your state.

State-Based Energy Programs

What LIHEAP doesn’t cover might be covered by state programs, or even city-based programs designed to fill in the gaps that the federal government doesn’t pay. For instance, LIHEAP doesn’t cover water bills; places like Chicago have assistance programs in place to help keep the water flowing[4]. You can find these programs through state-based agencies. Here is a list to get you started.

Help with Adequate Nutrition

Inadequate nutrition goes well beyond feeling hungry. Not getting enough food can mean you wind up with a variety of other problems, including anemia, weakened bones, cognitive decline, vision problems, weight loss, and more[5]. These issues can lead to even more problems, including a higher fall risk, lack of energy and depression – just to name a few. Though it is possible to get some peace of mind with an affordable emergency response solution, such as a medical alert watch or pendant, adequate nutrition is the goal.

Feeding America says that before the pandemic, 5.2 million seniors were food-insecure; the pandemic made it worse. There are other safety nets, including government, state, and organizational programs ready to help ensure seniors get the food they need. Here are a few of them.

·         Meals on Wheels. These daily deliveries of meals to seniors aged 60 or older (with some exceptions) is based on a sliding cost scale, which might mean no cost at all. Each program has its own eligibility criteria, so it’s essential to get in touch with your local organization to find out what you must do to qualify.

·         Senior Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program. Some of the most nutritious food comes from the local farmer’s market. This program is run by the USDA and gives low-income seniors access to fruit, vegetables, honey, and herbs. The food is often given in a variety box, which can be picked up at a central location, often a senior center. You might also be able to use a booklet at the local farmer’s market to choose your own foods.

·         Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This is essentially the same as food stamps, just with an updated name and range of benefits. If you qualify, you can get up to $250 for a single-person household, and if you’re over the age of 60, you might qualify for deduction allowances, which allow you to deduct medical expenses from your income and make you eligible for more assistance.

·         Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP). This program sends food to local organizations, such as food pantries and soup kitchens, for distribution in the community. The program is free to those who qualify, but keep in mind that each state has its own criteria for qualification. Most people who qualify for SNAP will also qualify for TEFAP.

·         Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP). This food program offers supplementary food – not a complete diet – but it serves to provide something more nutritious for those who have sparse diets. The funds go to the states, so your local area will have its own version of the CSFP food packages to distribute.

·         Local food pantries and delivery services. Many local food pantries are operated by local businesses, organizations, and churches. These pantries often have a set hours or days they operate, such as once per week. Get in touch with your local church or social services office to find out more about where these pantries are located and what you can do to get assistance.

Tax Credits and Deductions

As you get older, credits and deductions on your taxes could provide some much-needed financial breathing room. Here are some of the finance programs for seniors to speak to your tax expert about:

·         Credit for the Elderly or Disabled. This tax credit will lower your overall tax bill. You’re eligible if you are over 65 or retired on disability (total and permanent) and have taxable disability income. The amount of the credit might change from year to year, but as of this writing those eligible could get between $3,750 and $7,500 knocked off your tax bill.

·         Earned Income Tax Credit. This credit can result in a refund and is currently available for those aged 65 and older if you earned income under $57,414 during the 2021 tax year. This might help you out with between $543 and $1,502 back in your pocket. Keep in mind that as with all other tax situations, this one is changing all the time, so check with a tax advisor to be sure of what to expect.

·         Deductions for Seniors. Though most taxpayers take the standard deduction to reduce their tax liability, seniors can get a higher standard deduction. And if you have medical expenses that exceed even the higher standard deduction, you can itemize those deductions to lower your tax burden even more. Items you can include are insurance premiums, payments to Medicare, medical expenses for procedures, prescriptions, and more.

Assistance with Health Care Costs

Health care is one of the biggest costs you’ll face as you grow older. Fortunately, there are many ways to lower that burden.

·         Medicare Savings Program. If you are having trouble affording your Medicare premiums, this program offers assistance. There are four different programs you might be eligible for.

·         Extra Help Program. This Medicare program helps you afford prescription drugs if you make less than $20,385 in annual income and have no more than $15,510 in resources. This program means you pay no more than $10 for a Medicare-approved medication.

·         GoodRx and Other Pharmacy Programs. If you don’t qualify for assistance through Medicare, there are other options, such as GoodRx. Available to anyone, this service can cut down significantly on the cost of certain medications. Talk to your pharmacist for more information.

·         Dental Lifeline Network. This network of dentists and dental labs across the United States provides low-cost or free care to those who qualify.

·         National PACE Association. These programs offer low-cost or free medical care, rehabilitation, and personal services for those who qualify, especially the elderly.

·         Medicaid. If your financial situation is dire and you have medical needs, you might qualify for Medicaid. These are all-inclusive healthcare programs that can cover a wide variety of needs, including prescription drugs, medical care, and even some professional caregiving services. Each state administers their Medicaid program a little differently, so you’ll need to look at your state to see what it takes to qualify.

Don’t forget that there are things you can do at home to help ease your medical care costs. You can do this by staying as safe as possible. For instance, a medical alert device is quite affordable and can prevent you from suffering the consequences of a fall that leaves you unable to call for help – if you have to wait for someone to show up, that might take hours or even days. If you have the medical alert technology right at your fingertips, help is on the way immediately, and that can save you a great deal of pain, confusion, worry, and even an expensive hospital stay.

Assistance with Housing and Aging in Place Solutions

Sometimes just keeping a roof over your head is tough. If you own your own home, aging in place house plans are a must for living independently for years to come. There are several organizations and programs that can help with home finance for seniors.

·         Housing Choice Vouchers Program. Once known as Section 8 Housing, this program provides subsidies to those of low income or the elderly. It helps them pay for monthly rent in an approved property. Talk to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to see if you qualify.

·         Home Repair Program. If an aging in place specialist or contractor notes that you have a problem with your home that could be hazardous to you, this program provides up to $7,500 to seniors to help repair the damage and make the home livable, safe, or comfortable again.

·         Weatherization Assistance Program. Offered by the U.S. Department of Energy, this program focuses on making a home more airtight and comfortable so that heat and cooling doesn’t escape, but rather stays inside the home to keep you more comfortable. It can also include repairing or replacing water heaters, installing insulation, or replacing appliances with energy-efficient options. This can greatly lower your heating and cooling costs. Those over the age of 60 are given preference for eligibility.

·         Home Modification Information Network. If you’re looking for an aging in place specialist to help you understand the necessary home modifications for the elderly and how you can possibly make them more affordable, this organization can connect you with the information you need for your state and local area.

Other Types of Assistance

There are many other types of assistance that can get you the help you need while keeping your costs down. Remember that not everyone will qualify for these; look into each one that you might need to determine what the eligibility requirements are.

·         AmeriCorps Seniors. This is an organization of seniors who want to give back to other seniors; they can help with daily tasks and companionship.

·         Local transportation options. Local area transit systems often provide rides for free for seniors. This includes everything from rides to the doctor or dentist to a trip to the mall or grocery store. Look into your local area transit system to find out more.

·         Benefits Check Up. This website provides information for seniors on a wide variety of issues, from medications to taxes to employment opportunities.

·         Volunteers of America. These service programs for seniors include transportation, help with Medicare enrollment, finding affordable housing, and so much more.

·         Crowdfunding. If you have a particular medical, housing, or other need that you hope the broader community can help you with, try creating a crowdfunding accounts, such as a GoFundMe.

·         iCanConnect. Those who have hearing and vision loss can work with this nationwide program that covers the cost of computers, hearing devices, information in Braille, smartphones, tablets, and much more.

·         Assistance with pets. Those who qualify for Meals on Wheels and have pets might qualify for help with dog and cat food. Look into your local Meals on Wheels to see if this is offered in your area; if not, contact your veterinarian’s office to see if they know of nearby assistance. Your local humane society might be able to help as well, as can Best Friends Animal Society.

·         Debt counseling. Debt counseling services are often free to get started and can help you consolidate or pay down credit card debt. They can also help you find resources that could provide forgiveness of some debt, such as student loans. Some of these offer finance help for seniors at little to no cost.

As always, Alert1 wishes you health and safety!