Public Assistance Programs for Older Adults

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  • 0:02 Financial Challenges
  • 1:26 SSI & Medicaid
  • 2:53 Additional Programs
  • 6:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christine Serva

Christine has an M.A. in American Studies, the study of American history/society/culture. She is an instructional designer, educator, and writer.

This lesson discusses public assistance programs available to older adults. You will explore the types of benefits and support that older adults with very limited resources may be eligible to receive.

Financial Challenges

Ted is a 65-year old veteran with no vehicle and very little income, property, or savings. As he looks out over the next year of his life, he expects to have many out-of-pocket medical expenses that are not covered by his current medical plan, and he is very worried about what this will mean for him. He is already having trouble paying his basic bills. In particular, his utility bills have been high recently due to a cold winter and a drafty home. Since his daughter died last year, Ted has been caring for her child, his 10-year-old grandson, Frederick. He would also like help with legal issues related to adopting Frederick, but he cannot afford a lawyer.

Ted has had some weeks when he has cut way back on groceries even though he and Frederick end up without enough food in the house for adequate meals. He fears he won't be able to keep paying his current rent and that they may end up living on the street.

Ted decides to find out what help is available to him since he is an older adult. Since he is also a veteran of the Korean War and a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, he wonders if his military service or his ethnic heritage may affect the services he is eligible to receive.

This lesson will highlight the major types of public assistance available in the United States to older adults who are in need.

SSI and Medicaid

In order to help individuals stay afloat, cash and benefits from the government are available to support individuals and families with limited resources. For those who qualify by meeting financial criteria, this public assistance helps a person cover their basic needs through government funds. Public assistance, for any age, is also referred to as welfare.

An older adult will typically already receive Social Security income and Medicare health benefits, regardless of their resources. Those with very few resources, like Ted, may qualify for additional help. Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a cash benefit that helps an individual cover basic needs when their income and resources are too low. A person aged 65 and older with limited resources can apply for SSI by contacting their local Social Security office.

Since Ted is also worried that he will have many out-of-pocket medical expenses that he cannot afford, he could contact the state of Oklahoma's Medicaid office. Funded by both federal and state governments, Medicaid helps pay for medical and support services for those who cannot afford them without assistance. Eligibility requirements vary by state, but there are minimum federal requirements that the states must follow to ensure that older adults with this more serious need are covered.

Additional Programs

Since Ted is also worried about paying for food, he will want to explore SNAP. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), sometimes known as food stamps, provides a debit card with funding on it that helps a person afford to purchase adequate groceries. This program is funded by the federal government and administered by the United States Department of Agriculture. Ted can apply for SNAP by contacting the program's 800 number or using the program's website.

Public housing assistance may be available from the federal government to support Ted in affording a place to live, because this service provides subsidies to help pay for housing and home repairs. To get help, Ted would contact the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Since older adults, like Ted, may fear the cost to heat and cool their homes will be too much to afford, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), is funded by the federal government through grants made to states, territories, and tribes and offers assistance to help a person pay less on utility bills. The United States Department of Energy also provides grants to improve the energy-efficiency of low-income households through the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP).

Even accounting services are available in some areas for free for those 60 years of age and older through Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE). These programs have local offices that can be accessed by contacting a main phone number for each type of assistance.

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