Financial Help for Seniors

Date: May 1, 2016      Publication: Bottom Line Personal      Source:  Jim Miller, Savvy Senior      Print:

Retirement is not “golden” for all seniors. More than 25 million Americans age 60 and older are living with limited assets and incomes below $30,000 per year. And even with a higher income than that, it can be difficult to make ends meet.

There are numerous financial-assistance programs, both public and private, that can help struggling seniors, as well as give relief to family members who help provide financial support for their loved ones. And because of a comprehensive resource called ­, a free service of the National Council on Aging, locating these benefits and applying for them have never been easier.

The website is a confidential tool designed for people age 55 and older and their families. It includes information on more than 2,000 programs. Many are available to anyone in need who qualifies, while others are available only to older adults and can help them retain their independence.


To use the site, you enter basic information about the person in need—date of birth, zip code—and check boxes for what the person needs assistance with. The site generates a report instantly, listing links to the programs and services that the person may qualify for.

Some assistance programs can be applied for online…some have downloadable application forms to be printed and mailed, faxed or e-mailed in…and some require that you contact the program’s administrative office directly.

It’s also possible to get help in person at a Benefits Enrollment Center. There currently are 36 centers in 24 states, with 12 more centers being ­added in 2016. Visit to locate a nearby center.


Here are some benefits that a senior may be eligible for…

Food assistance. Programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—previously known as “food stamps”—can help pay for groceries. The average monthly SNAP benefit currently is around $126 per person. Other programs that may be available include The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)…Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP)…and the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP).


Health care. Medicaid and Medicare can help or completely pay for out-of-pocket health-care costs. And there are special Medicaid waiver programs that provide in-home care and ­assistance.

Prescription drugs. There are hundreds of programs offered through drug companies, government agencies and charitable organizations that help reduce or eliminate prescription drug costs, including the federal low-income subsidy known as “Extra Help” that pays premiums, deductibles and prescription copayments for Medicare Part D prescription drug plan ­beneficiaries.

Utility assistance. There’s the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), as well as local utility companies and charitable organizations that provide assistance in lowering home heating and cooling costs.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Administered by the Social Security Administration, SSI provides monthly payments to very-low-income seniors, age 65 and older, as well as to people of any age who are blind or who have disabilities. SSI pays up to $733 per month for a single person and up to $1,100 for couples.

In addition to these programs, there are numerous other benefits that are available such as HUD housing (affordable housing for low-income families, the elderly and people with disabilities)…tax relief…veterans’ benefits…respite care (short-term care that gives regular caregivers a break)…and free legal ­assistance.



Shot of a woman helping her senior father out of the car

What would happen if you or someone close to you could no longer drive? Here’s a rundown of transportation solutions…

Family and friends. Include all possible candidates you might call on for rides, and determine their availability and contact information.

Volunteer-driver programs. These types of programs—usually sponsored by nonprofit organizations that serve seniors and people with disabilities—typically offer flexible transportation to and from doctor appointments, shopping and other activities. Many charge a nominal fee or suggest donations, though some are free.

Examples: The Senior Corps Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (National, which offers volunteer-driver services in communities around the country, provides free transportation primarily to and from medical appointments. iTN America ( includes transportation programs in about 20 areas across the US and has more in development. It charges riders age 60 and older and visually impaired adults of any age ­annual membership dues of around $50, plus a $4 pick-up fee and a mileage fee of around $1.50 per mile.


iTN America programs (see above) offer a car trade-in program that lets you convert your car into a fund to pay for future rides…and a car-donation program that provides a tax deduction if you itemize on your tax returns.

Paratransit services, also called “dial-a-ride” or “elderly and disabled transportation services,” often are government-funded programs that charge a small fee, typically ranging from $0.50 to $10 per ride. Some services may be free for people who can’t afford to pay. To locate a paratransit service in your area, contact your Area Agency on Aging (call 800-677-1116 or visit

Ride-sharing services. The two biggest ride-sharing services are Uber and Lyft, which operate in major cities across the US. You request a ride from a driver who uses his/her ­vehicle to transport you. Ride requests with Uber are made using the Uber smartphone app or at the Uber mobile website…with Lyft, you use its smartphone app only. Costs are comparable to taxi fares.

Private transportation services. Some hospitals, health clinics, senior centers, adult day centers, malls and other businesses offer free transportation for program participants or customers. And some nonmedical home-care agencies offer fee-based transportation services.

Two excellent resources for finding local transportation options include your local Area Agency on Aging (see above)…and a nonprofit service called Rides in Sight (855-607-4337,


Source: Jim Miller, an advocate for older Americans, writes “Savvy Senior,” a weekly column syndicated in more than 400 newspapers ­nationwide. Based in Norman, Oklahoma, he also offers a free senior e-news service at

  • Donna Schulze

    Especially the no driving problem

  • Jan Turner

    All this sounds great for people living in larger cities where help is available, but what do we do when we live in small towns? My husband died 3 years ago and I am ALONE!!! My closest child lives 10 hours away – gets only one week a year for vacation and his company doesn’t provide 3 day holidays so he is unable to come up to help. I have a lovely home but have spent all my husband’s insurance money on a new roof, siding that I discovered was buckling, a paint job on the outside of the house, new skylights when one began to leak and we discovered they were “crazed”, and last but not least, a bug man had to come spray two years ago when we were invaded suddenly by carpenter ants. I cannot find anyone to take care of my yard, so once a year for the past two years, the “Christmas in July” folks have come to my house and eliminated my weeds for a few weeks. Then, of course, they come back!!! I am not destitute, but cannot afford to hire contractors to come do anything except what absolutely MUST be done. I discovered when my husband died that I became invisible even though we had both been very active in the local community groups. He was extremely active in the Lions Club and the American Legion. I have not seen hide nor hair of any of them – and not even a phone call since he died!!! Two months after he died, I fell and broke my hip and my son & my sister came up to visit me for a few days each while I was in the hospital (to take care of my dog) but neither of them were able to remain more than 3-4 days. I had been attending a local church since he died, so when the hospital decided that I had to leave, the local senior services man called the pastor of the church I had attended and they found me a ride home from the hospital. I even had two meals provided by the ladies of the church in the next two weeks!!! I have one friend who came back from Los Angeles visiting her son, and she made sure that I ate for the next few weeks since I really was not able to get anything done.
    Finally was able to get out of the house on my own and go back to church on Sundays. Not once, did anyone ever offer me help to get my walker in and out of my car. About 18 months later, I dislocated my other hip, and was unable to go to the church I had been attending each week. That was in January of 2015. In March of 2016 – two ladies from the church FINALLY came over to see me to see how I was doing! When I dislocated my hip, I was so bad off, I couldn’t even get up to fix myself something to eat and almost starved to death until my friend came back from Los Angeles. I could not find anyone to help me – I do have a lady who comes in once a week and vacuums my floors, makes my bed and takes out the garbage. She is here for 2 hours a week. That is all I can afford. I called the Senior Services but was told I didn’t qualify because I “make too much money”. Why I make so much my poor door hasn’t been able to go to the vet when she needs to! Eventually, the woman from Senior Services decided to allow me to be registered for 10 hours a month of help because I was “depressed”. I’m not depressed – I grieve the loss of a husband of 57 years, but other than that, I am closer to mad than depressed. I had no idea that this small town was so closed off and uncaring about people. My husband and I have always done what we could, when we could for people, and I have been surprised by the uncaring attitude of people that I would have expected to at least call me on the phone occasionally to see if I’m still breathing!!!

    I am unable to get out now without help. My 10 hours a month home health aide takes me to the grocery store, or the post office when she comes, and brings my groceries out of the car. Something I am unable to do myself. Everything else I must do for my self. I have found that if I take a walker out to my front yard, then drag a lawn chair out there, I can shove the chair out into the yard a few inches at a time, sit on the chair and bend down to pull the weeds out of the rocks in my yard. I’ve tried for 2 years to find someone who will come clear the weeds for me other than mid July, but calling the high school hasn’t helped, nor has letting the church leaders know I need help. The kids are just not interested in earning a few dollars a month, I guess. I really can’t afford more than 2-3 hours a month and assume that is not enough for them.

    Thus far, my driving is ok – I just can’t get out of my car without help. I keep a walker in my car (minivan), but unless I can get someone to come out to get me when I get there, I cannot get out. My balance has been too bad since I dislocated my hip last year.

    I COULD sell my house and move in with my son, his wife and two teenagers, but am not really ready to live in a box – and that, in my opinion, is what it would be when the only room I could call my own would be a small bedroom. I’m not sure I could even get my bedroom set in it, much less my hair dryer, my walker, or any of the other things I would need. Nor, do I relish the thought of sharing a bathroom with two teenagers. Especially in a bathroom with a tub and no walk-in shower. Not sure I can even get into a tub to sit down on a stool – and I need things now that I didn’t need when I was young that need to be kept in the bathroom! I simply don’t feel right about taking up so much of their family space for my needs. On the other hand, it would be wonderful not to be so lonely all the time, so it’s six of one and half a dozen of another!!! Sometimes I think that if God were really good to me, he would just let me die and get it over with, but unfortunately, I am in really good health, other than my mobility issues, so will probably live to 92 or more like my father. That’s another 9 years away!!! In the meantime, I have at least found a church that I can count on to have someone on hand to get me out of my car each Sunday morning. And, I don’t feel invisible there. When people see me in the halls, they actually smile and say hello and call me by name! They don’t look through or past me.

    I know that eventually, I will have to discontinue driving all together, but not yet. My town is so small, I can still drive around it without danger. I see well – at least during the daylight and still have 95% of my marbles, so don’t feel like I am a danger to people YET. I’ve told my home health worker that one of these days soon, I want to do the driving to the grocery store and have her critique my driving to see what she thinks. I asked my grandkids to do that a couple of years ago when they were here, but either I did ok, or they didn’t want to “dis” grandma – I don’t know which.

    Sorry I went off on you on this, but feel a certain amount of vitreol that I got out of my system, and I imagine that there are others out there with the same problems – and others!!!

    • Diane Mettam

      I am so sorry. I’m distressed that your church isn’t more helpful, but I have experienced that before, and I am a pastor. Have you tried another church in the community? You’ll find that different congregations take the command to “love one another” a little more seriously than others.