72-year-old Blythe Danner has landed a leading role in the 2015 romantic comedy “I’ll See You in My Dreams”. She still projects all the endearing charm and energy of women half her age (though she is now happy to devote most of her time to her grandchildren).
On the island of Okinawa, south of Japan, is the highest ratio of centenarians (those 100 years +) in the world. They credit their longevity to simple living, moderation and, importantly, to an upbeat attitude.
In the U.S. life expectancy continues to increase though we have a much smaller percentage of those who reach 100+ years. And if attitude matters, some might say small wonder! Incomes are usually fixed, costs are rising, aging homes need repairs and healthcare costs boggle the mind.
If you are smart and/or lucky enough to have saved enough for a comfortable retirement, congratulations! If you’re like millions who need a helping hand this is a good place to start. While aging brings challenges it also qualifies you for lots of programs, benefits and services beyond a discounted price at the movies! Check out senior benefits you may not be aware of:
Discover your program today!
We begin with basics like Food and Nutrition then move on to Housing, Utilities, Employment and the Arts (yes, Arts!). But first, an important note for seniors who are receiving any kind of financial benefits from the government: If you have resisted switching to receiving those benefits electronically rather than through the mail, you really should reconsider. Setting things up online can be confusing but it would be worthwhile to get some help if you need to do so. Though the U.S. Mail is very reliable, it can be disrupted — sometimes for long periods of time — after a disaster. For example, the Department of Homeland Security reports that 85,000 check recipients lost their mail service for quite some time after Hurricane Katrina. And some no longer had a home to which mail could be delivered! The u.S. Department of the Treasury recommends signing up for Direct Deposit so your funds go right into your checking or savings account. You can sign up for that service simply by calling 800-333-1795.
There may also be additional resources available for you that are not covered in this article. You can take the time to fill out the complete questionnaire at benefits.gov to see if you can find anyway. But fortunately the National Council on Aging has developed a simpler tool - with a much shorter set of questions - specifically designed for seniors. It will ask you for your zip code, the year and month of your birth, your monthly gross income and which subjects you are interested in. Based on that information it will generate a report customized for you. You can learn more and submit the questionnaire at benefits checkup.org.
You should also be sure that you are receiving all the Social Security Benefits to which you are entitled. See our article about Social Security to be sure you are not missing out!
Food and Nutrition
While food and nutrition might sound like the same thing we differentiate between them based on any kind of food vs. food that is actually healthy for you. If your budget is very tight you have to make tough decisions. Sometimes you may need to fill a prescription and risk going without a meal. If this is the case there are several options you can pursue to be sure you have enough food to get by. Note that sometimes this may involve having to swallow your pride in order to maintain your health. But you may also be able to enjoy a visit to a Farmers Market!
- Check for Senior Centers in your local area. Often they host meals at least once a week. Sometimes they are free, particularly for members, and sometimes they charge a nominal fee. If you can come up with enough cash for a membership it could serve you well - they’re usually not expensive.
- Do an internet search for meal programs using the name of your city. You might find a church or community service agency that offers free meals on particular days of the week. If transportation is a problem call the phone number associated with the agency or church to get references for free transportation services, or search for “senior rides”.
- Have you applied for the SNAP program? Previously known as “food stamps,” this government program provides food to people in need regardless of age. There are asset and income requirements for eligibility but it may be easier to get than your realize. You can qualify if you have as much as $3000 in cash or savings, but pension and retirement accounts are not included in this number. So if you have a monthly income below the specified amount (which varies based on your area) you can qualify and not be forced to withdraw more than you wish to from your retirement savings.
- SNAP is accepted at many food stores and even some fast food restaurants. With regard to nutrition, the decisions you make about how you spend your funds are important to your health. Some great news is that SNAP is now being accepted at more and more Farmers Markets. There’s even an easy way to find one of those markets near you that accepts SNAP. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (usda.gov) maintains a database of Farmers Markets you can search by zip code. When you find one near you just look under the heading “Payment Accepted” to see whether they take SNAP.
- Have you been to church in a while? Many churches have a coffee hour after their main morning service. It’s not only a welcoming place to be but it usually includes food. You might learn about other meals available during the week as well as ministries and programs they offer for seniors. Nourishment for body and soul, both so important!
The federal government runs a program called HEAP — the Home Energy Assistance Program. Though it says that it provides cash to qualifying households to help handle home heating bills, it actually provides major grant money to individual states. States then determine what benefits to provide and what the eligibility requirements will be. To find assistance in your local area you can search “HEAP” and the name of your county or city, or go to your state’s website to locate its Aging Services Division. You can also contact your utility company and they can probably refer you to the right local agency. Depending on where you live, you might also be able to find crisis assistance (like if your utilities are about be cut off) and weatherization services which reduce your energy usage and improve the health and safety of those living in your home.
There are many assistance programs for housing in general. Some programs are offered specifically for seniors. The only real grants we know of for housing are offered by the Department of Agriculture. They actually fund a Rental Assistance Program for those who are elderly and/or disabled and who cannot find a place to rent for less than 30% of their income. You can even look online to see if there are rental homes and assistance available in your area. First you must be sure you are eligible: 62 years of age or older and technically considered “low income” or “very low income” compared to the median income where you live. Then go to USDA.gov, click Housing Assistance, then Rental Assistance Subsidy, and then Find A Rental Home in Your Area. Then find your state on the map, click it and you’ll get a list where you can look for homes in your area.
Reverse Mortgages may also be a possibility if you either own you home straight out or have built up a lot of equity in your house. With a reverse mortgage the bank pays you rather than the other way around. The amount of your loan increases rather than decreasing each month, but it does not have to be paid off until you move and/or sell your house. You may see a lot tempting ads about reverse mortgages because they are quite profitable for brokers and lenders. Be sure to read our review of Reverse Mortgages before you decide to apply because there are very important aspects you need to be aware of to make a good decision.
Would you like to have some extra income but aren’t sure you can still find a job? The “Older Americans Act” has resulted in a number of programs of interest to seniors. One is called the Senior Community Service Employment Program. It is essentially a job training program for seniors in the U.S. The program specifically targets those seniors who are low-income and unemployed. It helps clients get useful job training and experience in places like schools, senior centers, day-care facilities and even hospitals. The seniors are basically working as volunteers, providing valuable services and gaining important experience in the process —- all funded by the program. Workers are paid whatever is the highest wage among the federal minimum wage and applicable local state or city minimum wage. They work about 20 hours per week. Based on the experience they gain they can then seek regular employment, and they receive counseling to help them do so.
To learn more about a program near you just call SCSEP’s help line (free) at 1-877-872-5627.
Grandparenting Have you considered becoming a foster grandparent? This is a great program that is such a win-win-win all around! It makes you feel young to be around children and it’s extra rewarding to have a positive impact on a child’s life. You could be eligible if you are at least 55 years of age, have a limited income and have time available that you can devote to spending time with a child. You might help them learn to read, be a mentor and share life skills. You receive specific training and also some benefits like free meals and perhaps a small amount of income if you qualify as having a low income. You also get reimbursed for any travel expenses. Check it out at the U.S. Agency called Senior Corps — and be sure you are on a genuine government website. You can tell by looking at the address bar — the url should end in .gov.
Have you checked out any Senior Centers in your local area? Sometimes it's hard to acknowledge the fact that we are of a certain age that qualifies us for membership in such a place. We don't necessarily feel different, we don't want to think of ourselves as old, and as a result we might avoid something that could be of great benefit to us. If you find yourself by yourself much of the time and not eager to “go out”, take a second look at some of the programs offered in your area – especially those for seniors. You might as well take advantage of what's out there. Social interaction is actually good for your health, and even something as minor as a quick chat about the weather in an elevator can have a positive impact on your well-being.
Those who work with the elderly have verified that the creative arts provide great benefits to seniors - and therefore to society. Beyond that there is an economic incentive: those who participate in creative activities may improve their health, reduce feelings of isolation, significantly decrease depression and not need as much medical care.
The National Endowment for the Arts is an independent federal agency. It sponsors a wide variety of programs and services related to the arts. Of most interest to seniors may be their focus on Arts and Aging. They seek to involve seniors as artists/creators and as teachers and students. By doing so they expect to make a major contribution to individuals and communities. They work through education and encouragement and their results include conferences on these topics as well as a number of “Creative Aging Programs.” If this sort of topic interests you there is a database you can access to see if there is a program in your area. Check it out at creativeaging.org/programs-people/cad.
Of course you can (and should!) also consult programs and activities available at your local community center, senior center and community colleges. They are typically inexpensive and are a great way to have fun, learn something new and spend time with other people — all great for your attitude and your health!