Many of us think of our senior years as a time to take it easy and enjoy some of the things we didn’t have the time or budget for in our youth, like traveling, pursuing a hobby, or splurging on a big-ticket item like a dream car. However, the cost of living even a modest lifestyle is one thing that doesn’t slow down in retirement. In fact, the average 60-something couple is estimated to need at least $600,000 for just medical costs. Factor in housing, food, and transportation bills, and it’s easy to see why so many older adults have trouble making ends meet, especially those who didn’t do enough financial retirement planning.
The silver lining is that there are a lot of government financial aid programs for seniors. Whether you need assistance paying your medical bills, downsizing or making your home a safer space to live, or covering the assisted living or independent living costs of a senior home, we’ve rounded up the financial programs that can help make life more manageable for older adults. Not everything on our list fits the bill for a traditional financial aid program, but they can all help provide financial relief in some form for senior citizens, and taking advantage of as many as possible can go a long way.
General Financial Aid
Seniors 62 and older who worked at least 10 years have paid enough into Social Security to qualify for its retirement benefit. What you paid into the program during your years in the workforce will determine the amount you’ll receive each month, but on average, retirees received about $17,500 per year from the Social Security Administration (SSA) in 2019. These funds can be used for any purpose, and you can apply as early as three months before your 62nd birthday so you can begin receiving your benefit as soon as you’re eligible.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
Many seniors who are eligible for Social Security also qualify for SSI. In order to qualify, you must be 65, be considered a low-income resident (earning less than $2,000 monthly if you’re unmarried or less than $3,000 if you are), and have limited resources in your financial accounts to receive the benefit. SSI is also available to those with disabilities (including blind and deaf individuals) no matter their age.
Tax Credit for the Elderly and Disabled
Certain seniors receive a tax credit between $3,750 and $7,500, which is based on income. If you’re at least 65 or are retired due to a disability, make sure you take advantage of this benefit come tax time.
Medicare is a government-funded health insurance program designed to help seniors who are 65 and older as well as younger individuals with certain disabilities or end-stage renal disease. It’s widely accepted as a form of payment for health services all over the country. The benefit amount you’re eligible to receive varies based on the income you earned while you were working (because the amount you paid into Medicare with each paycheck was based on your salary) and any other government support you receive.
There are a few different parts of Medicare that may be helpful to seniors:
- Medicare Part A helps pay for hospital and some skilled nursing facility bills, and some recipients are eligible for hospice care coverage. Part A is free to all 65+ seniors who contributed to Medicare for at least 10 years as a member of the workforce.
- Medicare Part B provides assistance for primary care physician visits and other outpatient doctor’s appointments, but it isn’t free. It has a $135-per-month premium and an annual deductible of $185.
- Medicare Part C provides the option for seniors to purchase Medicare Advantage plans rather than opt in to Part A or Part B coverage. While Medicare Advantage plans generally have higher premiums than Parts A and B, they usually offer more comprehensive coverage, because they’re offered through private insurance companies. Some of these insurance plans cover long-term care, including a retirement home or assisted living facility. They also often offer programs like nutritional counseling and SilverSneakers, which grants access to certain fitness facilities and saves seniors money on the cost of a gym membership.
- Medicare Part D helps cover the costs of prescriptions. It has a monthly premium of about $33.
Medicare Part A is mandatory for seniors who are 65 and older; those receiving Social Security benefits will be automatically enrolled once they turn 65. For those who don’t have a private health insurance plan, Part B is also required. Part D is optional for anyone with prescription drug coverage from a private insurer, including a Medicare Advantage plan, but is required for those that don’t have another source of medication assistance. It’s not uncommon for seniors to have coverage from Parts A, B, and D or from Medicare Advantage (Part C) and Part D.
Seniors who need assistance paying their premiums can apply for assistance from government-funded Medicare Savings Programs:
- Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB) Program
- Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary (SLMB) Program
- Qualifying Individual (QI) Program
- Qualified Disabled and Working Individuals (QDWI) Program
For each of these programs, recipients must be eligible for Social Security, have limited income, and meet fund restrictions (in other words, they can’t exceed a certain dollar amount between all of their financial accounts). You can apply for Medicare coverage here as early as three months before your 65th birthday.
Extra Help (Part D Low-Income Subsidy, or LIS)
Seniors who receive Medicare Part D benefits may qualify for additional support via Extra Help, which offers an additional $4,000 per year in assistance. Those who aren’t married must have a net worth of no more than $14,100, while married couples must have less than $28,150.
Medicaid helps cover a wide array of medical expenses, including long-term care, and is often used alongside Medicare. It’s offered to those with disabilities and 65+ seniors considered to be living off extremely-limited funds. Those eligible for SSI usually qualify to enroll in Medicaid, but benefits and coverage types vary from state to state.
Programs for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE)
A Medicare and Medicaid program, PACE works with a network of healthcare providers who work with patients in their own homes or at PACE community centers, the goal being to help patients remain living independently for as long as possible. In addition to income requirements, individuals who qualify for care must meet these criteria:
- Be at least 55 years old
- Currently live, and be able to safely remain, in an area with an active PACE network care team and center
- Qualify as needing full-time care from a healthcare staff in a nursing home
US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
The VA offers physical and mental healthcare services to certain veterans and current service members regardless of age or income. The care provided by the organization is free or low-cost depending on factors like how long an individual served, and patients can visit their local VA hospital for services or sign up for certain types of remote care, such as telemental health appointments.
US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Public Housing Program
HUD’s Public Housing Program provides rental housing to low-income individuals and families, including seniors, and allows them to pay 30 percent or less than their adjusted gross income (AGI) in rent. It’s important to note that in most communities, there is a long waiting list to sign up for this program.
Housing Choice Vouchers Program (HCVP)
Previously called Section 8, HCVP is an income-based program for individuals 62 and older living in public housing properties and pays up to 30 percent of your AGI toward your rent (payments are made directly to landlords). This program also has a significant waiting period, with some areas having a two-to-five-year wait list.
US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
In addition to healthcare services, the VA also provides home assistance to active and retired service members of all ages in the form of low-rate mortgage loans, which also don’t require a down payment or private mortgage insurance (PMI). For those who already own a home, the organization also offers refinancing options. Finally, for those with a service-related disability, the VA offers Adapted Housing Grants, which helps vets buy accessible homes or modify the one they currently own to be disability-friendly. All of these programs’ benefits can save seniors tens of thousands of dollars during the home-buying, refinancing, or modification process and over the course of several years.
Section 504 Home Repair Program
This program provides grants and low-interest loans to senior homeowners who need repairs that will improve the safety and livability of their homes. Grants can be as much as $7,500, and loans can be taken out as high as $20,000.
US Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program
This program makes home appliances more energy efficient, which can cut hundreds of dollars from gas, electric, and water bills each year. It’s available to people of all ages, but preference is given to families with members who have a disability or who are 60 and over.
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
LIHEAP also provides assistance to individuals to make their homes more energy efficient and cost manageable, especially when it comes to heating and cooling. This can not only save seniors money on their housing budget, but also help keep them healthy even in extreme weather conditions.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
Low-income individuals, including seniors, may receive a monthly stipend from SNAP that can be used at eligible grocery stores and other retailers. Although this program used to provide food stamps that were redeemed for groceries (and the program is still often referred to as “Food Stamps”), funds are now deposited onto an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card every month, which can be used just like a debit card at points of purchase.
The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)
Most seniors who are eligible for SNAP meet the requirements for TEFAP benefits. This program works with food banks and soup kitchens to provide canned and fresh food to eligible low-income citizens.
Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP)
CSFP, sometimes referred to as the “Senior Box Program,” is run by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to assist seniors 60 and older whose income is less than 130 percent of the national poverty level. It provides a monthly package of USDA food commodities valued at about $50, according to Feeding America. This program can be used in conjunction with SNAP benefits.
Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP)
In areas with participating farmers markets, seniors may receive coupon booklets to be used among vendors selling fresh produce. Dried, canned, and some other packaged fruits, vegetables, and spices don’t qualify.
Other Ways to Find Assistance
There may be additional programs available to seniors at the city, county, or state level. To learn more about what assistance may be available to you, consult the following resources:
- Benefits.gov allows you to search for every public benefits program available in your state.
- BenefitsCheckup.org is a tool from the National Council on Aging (NCOA) that lists more than 1,700 assistance programs (both public and private) that may benefit seniors 55 and older.
- The Eldercare Locator from the US Administration for Community Living’s Administration on Aging (AOA) connects seniors with local sources of support.
The cost of living has continued to rise over the last several decades, and seniors aren’t exempt. What’s more, we’re all living longer than past generations, meaning we need more money than ever to support us during our golden years. For seniors who are having trouble paying for healthcare, home costs, food, or general living expenses, there are several government financial aid programs that can help.