Millions of older Americans don’t know how to check if they’re eligible for benefits, but you can find them here at a single agency, with more physical locations than ever.
Where can you get help with resources for senior housing, food stamp eligibility, retirement jobs and so much more? The National Council on Aging (NCOA) just added 20 new locations, known as Benefits Enrollment Centers (BECs), where seniors can get personal assistance finding help.
Millions of older Americans can now visit 69 BECs in 36 states to check if they’re eligible for benefits programs to help pay expenses of daily living. Better yet, they’ll get help filling out application forms, which can be half the battle.
“Half of people with Medicare live on incomes of less than $26,200 a year, and they often lack the resources needed to meet basic living expenses,” said Leslie Fried, Senior Director of NCOA’s Center for Benefits Access, which oversees the network. “The BECs provide one-on-one assistance that is essential for older adults trying to access vital programs that often have confusing applications or complicated eligibility requirements.”
The mission of the NCOA is to help people aged 60 and up meet the challenges of aging, with an emphasis on those who are struggling. Veterans, minority populations, those with disabilities or those who are homeless are particular targets for the program. However, all seniors are welcome, regardless of income or situation.
If you can’t get to an enrollment center, go to this NCOA website page for links to services and three useful tools. The Benefits CheckUp tool tells you if you qualify for help with food, medicine, rent and other daily expenses. The Economic CheckUp offers tips and resources for saving money, avoiding scams, following a budget and finding a job. Finally, the My Medicare Matters tool examines how to make the most of benefits and find the best plan for you.
Think that there’s nothing available for someone like you? More than 6 million seniors have qualified for $24 million in benefits, and many of them thought their income was too high, or had no idea how many programs are offered in their state.
Save Money on Summer Utility Bills
Summer is just around the corner, and many older adults will be financially stressed by the cost of cooling their living space. How to cope?
NCOA is a fine place to start, with a webpage devoted to energy assistance benefits . You may be eligible for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program for help with utility bills. The Weatherization Assistance Program provides money to insulate your residence, regardless of whether you rent or own. You will have to meet income qualifications, however. Finally, alternative sources of energy assistance may be available to you as a senior American.
But what about those of us who don’t qualify for a program, but would rather spend money on ice cream than a higher energy bill? Here are seven simple ways to save money this summer:
1. Pull the plug. Did you know your computer, television, toaster and other electrical devices are using power even when they’re not on? The only time they’re not costing you is when the plug is out of the socket. If you don’t want the hassle of pulling the plug, especially on devices you use often, consider getting a Smart Strip , which automatically cuts power when a device isn’t in use.
2. Close vents and doors. Shut off rooms and areas that aren’t in use, even if it’s just for a day. If you have a sewing room that you won’t be in until the weekend, shut the vent and close the door so you’re not paying to air condition unused space. You can insulate around the door and install a sweep or draft dog at the bottom to cut down on leaks.
3. Foam your home. Get a can of spray insulation and hunt down the gaps where air is slipping by your dryer vent or plumbing. This is one project you don’t have to be a handyman to do well.
4. Use daylight. Try turning off as many lights as possible. If you’re always in the kitchen, you don’t need every light in the living room turned on. Check to see that older bulbs are replaced with energy-saving LED light bulbs that will last for years.
5. Hang ‘em high. Laundry, that is. Your dryer is probably eating nearly as much energy as the refrigerator, which consumes the most of any appliance. If you can spin out most of the water and hang laundry over chairs or on a clothesline, you’ll see the difference on your bill.
6. Ban the oven. Think of ways to avoid using your oven during the summer. Put more salads on the menu, or use a toaster oven that doesn’t cost as much to heat.
7. Spare the air conditioner. Use fans instead for those days that aren’t sweltering, or when temperatures are cooler, such as in the morning.
Medication assistance programs cover not only patient assistance programs through Medicare and the state, but also savings on prescriptions and discount cards. You could be eligible to get discounts on medications or copays and deductibles. On average, seniors who apply for these benefits receive $4,000 per year in assistance.
Income assistance programs can provide cash for basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter. Food and nutrition help includes the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program and home delivered or group meals, in addition to the better-known Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program , formerly known as Food Stamps.
You may be aware of Section 8 housing, but have you heard of the Lifeline or Link-Up programs? Other little-known benefits exist to help you age in place by making utilities more affordable, or helping with repair costs to keep your home safe and compliant with housing codes.
Tax relief for older Americans takes many forms. You may qualify for an elderly, disabled or veterans credit. Other programs include freezing the valuation on your home; property tax abatement or deferrals; and homestead exemptions rebates, credits, and refunds that many older adults don’t claim because they’re not aware the programs exist.
NCOA can also help you find employment, no matter your age. Have you considered being a foster grandparent or senior companion? A pair of federal jobs programs might be the ticket you need to get back into the workforce, or browse RetirementJobs.com, the employment site that’s for seniors only.
Need help finding free or reduced public transit, legal services, respite care, education programs or other services? NCOA can help with all of that, too. Find it under the “And More” button on the benefits page .
There’s plenty of information on the internet about money management, employment and what to do if you’re in debt, but it can be hard to find information specifically written for seniors. In addition, the NCOA site offers additional tools and tips to make planning and taking action easy. Quotes from people like you who have successfully navigated various financial issues offer encouragement to stay the course.
You’ll be asked to enter your zip code and what specific subjects you’d like information about. You can check one box, or all, depending on your needs. The site returns general information, as well as programs applicable to your state and area. You can compare renting vs. home ownership, get advice on legal issues or find out how to set up a budget.
Is there anyone who hasn’t been confused about Medicare benefits? NCOA gives you one place where you can explore coverage choices, understand your costs, research options and get a roadmap for what to expect from health insurance after age 65.
Better yet, it’s written for normal people! Buttons on the main Medicare page offer information tailored to those brand new to Medicare, familiar with the plan, ready to sign up or who are enrolled but want to switch plans.
The site also offers helpful articles such as what you need to know before choosing a Medicare Advantage plan and how to avoid late enrollment penalties. There’s even a Medicare Map to define different options and help you understand how they work together to provide coverage. The page includes a button to Get Answers Now for any questions you may have. There’s even an option to enter your email to get reminders that will ensure you don’t overlook your enrollment period.
For the 10,000 baby boomers who turn 65 every day, the NCOA provides a uniquely apt resource for the economic challenges ahead.
“10 Ways to Reduce Your Summer Utility Bills,” US News.
“Low Vision Lighting,” WebRN-MacularDegeneration.
“How Many Lumens Do I Need?,” 1000Bulbs Lighting Blog.
Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors