Dear Savvy Senior,
What resources can you recommend for locating government assistance programs for seniors? My husband and I have been helping support his mother for the past three years and we can't afford to do it any longer.
-- Tapped Out
Locating government benefits and financial assistance programs for seniors is actually pretty easy to do thanks to two key resources created by the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a). Here's where you can turn to for help.
If you have access to the Internet, the easiest and most convenient way to search for benefits for seniors is at benefitscheckup.org.
Created by the NCOA 10 years ago, BenefitsCheckUp is a free, confidential web-based service that helps low-income seniors and their families identify federal, state and private benefits programs that can help with prescription drug costs, health care, utilities and other basic needs. This site contains more than 2,000 programs across the country.
To help identify benefits that could help your mother-in-law, you'll need to fill out an online questionnaire that asks things like her date of birth, ZIP code, expenses, income, assets, veteran status and a few other factors. It takes about 15 minutes to complete.
Once completed, you'll get a report detailing all programs and services she may be eligible for. You also can apply for many of the programs online, or you can print an application form, fill it out and mail it in.
If, however, you don't have Internet access you also can get help over the phone by calling the Eldercare Locator (800-677-1116), which will assign you a counselor to review your mother-in-law's situation, and provide you with a list of possible programs she may be eligible for, and who to contact to get the ball rolling.
Types of benefits
Depending on her income level and where she lives, some of the different benefits that may be available to your mother-in-law include:
• Food assistance: Programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can help pay for her groceries. The average monthly SNAP benefit is currently $119 for seniors living alone. Other programs that may help include the Emergency Food Assistance Program, Commodity Supplemental Food Program, and the Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program.
• Health assistance: Medicaid and Medicare Savings Programs 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 assistance: There are hundreds of programs offered through pharmaceutical companies, government agencies and charitable organizations that help lower 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 beneficiaries.
• Heating and cooling 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 those who are blind and disabled. The average SSI payment is around $500 per month.
In addition to these programs, there are numerous other benefits such as HUD housing options, home weatherization assistance, tax relief, various veteran's benefits, transportation, respite care and free legal assistance.
• Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of "The Savvy Senior" book.