As inflation takes its toll on the elderly, billions in benefits go unused

As inflation takes its toll on the elderly, billions in benefits go unused

Millions of seniors are struggling to make ends meet, especially in these times of inflation. However, many do not realize that help is available, and some important programs that offer financial assistance are underutilized.

a few examples: Almost 14 million adults age 60 or older are eligible for assistance from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as food stamps) but have not applied, according to recent estimates. Also, more than 3 million adults age 65 or older are eligible but not enrolled Medicare savings programs, which pay Medicare premiums and cost-sharing. And 30% to 45% of the elderly may miss help from others Medicare Part D Low Income Subsidy program, which covers plan premiums and cost-sharing and reduces prescription drug costs.

“Tens of billions of dollars in benefits go unused every year” because seniors don’t know about them, find the requirements too difficult to meet or feel conflicted about seeking help, he said. Josh Hodgeschief user officer at the National Council on Aging, an advocacy group for older Americans that runs the National Outreach and Enrollment Center.

Many programs target seniors with extremely low incomes and minimal assets. But that’s not always the case: Programs funded by the Older Americans Act, such as home-delivered meals and legal aid for seniors facing foreclosure or eviction, don’t require a means test, though low-income people are often prioritized . Some local programs, such as property tax credits for homeowners, are available to anyone 65 and older.

Even a few hundred dollars in monthly assistance can make a big difference for seniors living on limited incomes that make it difficult for them to afford basic things like food, housing, transportation and health care. But people often don’t know how to find out about benefits and whether they’re eligible. And older people are often reluctant to ask for help, especially if they’ve never done it before.

“You’ve earned these benefits,” Hodges said, and seniors should think of them “like your Medicare, like your Social Security.”

Here’s how to get started and some information about a few programs.

Getting help

In each community, area agencies on aging, organizations dedicated to helping the elderly, perform benefit evaluations or can refer you to other organizations that conduct these evaluations. (To get contact information for your local Area Agency on Aging, use Eldercare Locatorservice of the Federal Administration on Aging, or call 800-677-1116 weekdays during business hours.)

The assessments identify which federal, state and local programs can help with various needs — food, housing, transportation, health care, utility costs and other essential items. Often, agency employees help seniors fill out application forms and collect the necessary documentation.

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A common mistake is to wait until a crisis occurs, and there is no food in the refrigerator or the electricity company will turn off the electricity.

Older adults who are comfortable online and want to do their own research can use BenefitsCheckUp, a service operated by the National Council on Aging, at Those who prefer to use the phone can call 800-794-6559.

Help with food costs

Some aging organizations are adapting to the increased demand for senior care by focusing on basic benefits like food stamps, which have become even more important as food inflation hovers around 10%.

The potential to help seniors with these costs is huge. U a new series of reportsThe AARP Institute for Public Policy estimates that 71% of adults age 60 and older who qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program have not applied for benefits.

In some cases, seniors may think the benefits are too small to be worth the trouble. But they accepted the elderly who lived alone an average of $104 in food stamps per month in 2019. And at least 3 million adults 50 and older with very low incomes would receive more than $200 a monthestimated by AARP.

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

If the effort changes seniors’ perceptions of the program and increases enrollment, AARP plans a significant expansion next year, she said.

Help with health care costs

AARP also works closely with community organizations in South Carolina, Alabama and Mississippi that help seniors apply for Medicare savings programs and low-income subsidies for Part D prescription drug plans. It plans to expand this program next year to as many as 22 countries.

The value of these health care benefits, aimed at low-income seniors, is significant. At a minimum, Medicare savings programs will cover the cost of Medicare Part B premiums: $170 a month, or $2,040 a year, for most seniors. For the lowest-income older adults, benefits are even broader, covering cost-sharing for medical services.

“Even if you don’t think you qualify, you should apply because there are different rules in different states,” he said Meredith Freedsenior policy analyst for KFF’s health care policy program.

Low-income subsidies for Part D prescription drug plans, also known as Extra Help, they are worth $5,100 a year, according to data from the Social Insurance Administration. Currently, some seniors have only partial benefits, but that it will change in 2024when all older adults with incomes below 150% of the federal poverty level ($20,385 for a single person in 2022) will qualify for full Supplemental Assistance.

Because these health care programs are complicated, it’s a good idea to get help applying. Freed suggested that people start by contacting the State Health Insurance Assistance Program in their state (contact information can be found here). Other potential sources of help include the Medicare hotline (800-633-4227) and the state Department on Aging, which can refer you to community organizations that help with applications. A list of government departments can be found here here.

Other types of assistance

Be sure to check the senior property tax credit programs in your area as part of the broader “benefits check” process.

Older adults on low incomes can also get help with high energy bills through Low-income home energy assistance program. Your local utility company can also provide emergency assistance to seniors who can’t pay their bills. It’s worth calling to find out, advised Rebecca Lerfelt, a retired assistant principal in the Chicago area Aging and Disability Resource Center. These resource centers assist people seeking access to long-term care services and are another potential source of assistance for seniors. You can find it in your area here.

For veterans, “this may be the time to look at using their VA benefits,” he said Diane Slezak, president of AgeOptions, an area agency on aging in suburban Cook County, Illinois. “I come across a lot of people who are eligible for veterans benefits but don’t take advantage of them.”

Barriers to getting help

Proponents of many programs note that agencies that provide services to seniors face understaffing, complicating outreach efforts. Low pay is a frequently cited reason. For example, 41% of regional agencies on aging report vacancies up to 15%, while an additional 18% report vacancies up to 25%, according to Markwood. Also, agencies lost a significant number of volunteers during the covid-19 pandemic.

At the same time, the demand for aid has increased and the needs of clients have become more complex due to the pandemic and rising inflation.

Author: Judith Graham, KHN

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom that produces in-depth journalism on health issues. Along with policy analysis and surveying, KHN is one of the three main operational programs in KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is a non-profit organization that provides information on health issues to the nation.

• • •

Tampa Bay Times 2023 Medicare Guide

Everything Florida seniors need to know to prepare for Medicare enrollment is available at

HOW MEDICARE WORKS: Here’s what seniors need to know about open enrollment, how Medicare works and how to find the best coverage for 2022.

COMPARE MEDICARE PLANS: The Times put together a chart to help Tampa Bay residents shop for the best coverage for 2022 in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties.

COMPARE PRESCRIPTION PLANS: This chart shows the plans available in Florida under Medicare’s Part D prescription drug program.

FINDER OF PLANS: is another good way to compare coverage. That’s an online tool provided by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to help consumers compare and shop.

FINDING HELP: Serving the health insurance needs of the elderly, or SHINE, is a state program that connects with seniors online or by phone to help them navigate their Medicare benefits. Call 1-800-963-5337 or visit

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WILL SAVE MILLIONS ON MEDICARE FEES: A rare 3% reduction in monthly premiums will be coupled with a historically high cost-of-living increase in Social Security benefits.

BILLIONS OF USES UNDEPLOYED: Millions of older people are having trouble making ends meet, especially in these times of inflation. However, many do not realize that help is available, and some significant programs that offer financial assistance are unused.

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