Despite America’s significant recovery from the Great Recession of 2007-2008, many households continue to suffer its effects. People that were set to retire during that period had their retirement funds wiped out, leaving them with low income for the rest of their lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has made their situation even worse, as seniors are the most vulnerable to grave consequences should they contract the virus.
Access to health care and food security are two of the biggest challenges low-income seniors face. Older adults who don’t get enough nutrition are more likely to experience heart failure, asthma, heart disease, and depression. The latest data reveal that 9.8 million senior Americans are experiencing food insecurity, and that number is projected to rise. The increase will include seniors with chronic health conditions and complex needs, who make up the growing segment of the U.S.’s aging population.
Research has found that unmet social needs lead to declined health, which would require expensive hospitalizations and, potentially, palliative care. But if seniors can’t afford either, what options are still available for them?
1. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
According to research, seniors from Maryland who are enrolled in Medicaid and SNAP were 14% less likely to be confined in hospitals and 23% less likely to move into a nursing home the following year. Access to SNAP serves as a way for low-income seniors to address their health issues and age in place. However, there are 5.5 million more eligible seniors who aren’t enrolled in SNAP.
If the government extends the program’s benefits to those 5.5 million, hospitals will have fewer senior patients struggling to pay the bills, and the U.S. would save billions of dollars in annual healthcare spending. In the state of Maryland alone, dual-eligible seniors (in Medicaid and SNAP) will be able to save $34 million on nursing home expenditure and $19 million on hospital bills. Those amounts translate to $2,120 of savings per senior adult enrolled in SNAP.
Therefore, if your aging parent or relative is not yet enrolled in the program but is eligible, contact their local SNAP office and help in gathering the requirements.
2. Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA)
The Affordable Healthcare Act is another useful tool for low-income families, especially for seniors taking maintenance medicines. The act is especially beneficial this year, with the COVID-19 pandemic threatening the elderly.
Thanks to ACA, over 10.7 million individuals with Medicare saved more than $10 billion on prescription drugs. Beneficiaries in the “donut hole,” specifically the seniors, can receive a 55% discount on brand-name drugs and a 42% discount on generic ones.
Furthermore, Medicare beneficiaries are given access to preventive services with no out-of-pocket costs. Services include screening for cancer, diabetes, and other chronic diseases, as well as flu vaccinations and tobacco stoppage counseling.
ACA reforms are also reducing overall healthcare costs for seniors by containing the costs of Part B premiums. If they enrolled in Part B for the first time in 2016, their premium costs would be $121.80 or higher, depending on their income. It is worth noting that this is for seniors who don’t get Social Security benefits or are billed directly for Part B premiums.
It is also noteworthy that the ACA protects seniors from fraud. Over the past three years before 2016, the government recovered over $10.7 billion of fraudulent payments.
3. Social Security Benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
Throughout a senior’s working years, they’d been contributing a portion of their paychecks to Social Security. As of May 2020, an average retiree receives a monthly benefit of $1,465.10. If their spouse has passed away or suffered a disability, they can qualify for more benefits.
The SSI, on the other hand, is specifically designed for low-income retirees. It provides financial aid and basic needs to the aged, blind, or disabled.
4. Support from Relatives
Though you’re not obligated to support your aging parents financially, doing so anyway is a chance for you to give back the support they’ve provided for you growing up.
Have an honest discussion with them about their financial challenges. Find out how they save, budget, and spend. If their main struggle is their inability to save or afford a quality living situation, non-monetary support may suffice. But it’s still necessary to ask them what specific type of assistance will help them the most.
Some of the things you can do are to help them downsize and find a better place to live. You can also ask them to move in with you if you have enough room and your home is senior-friendly.
If they’re struggling to budget, help them create a plan, and offer to pay for certain expenses such as home maintenance and repairs.
The hard truth is that no matter how much we save today, we still can’t predict if we can retire with a fortune. Therefore, take advantage of all the benefits you’re entitled to so that you can at least live comfortably even without luxury.