This is by no means an exhaustive summary of social programs available,
but only a few that sometimes have legal implications. Please contact
your local Area Agency on Aging for more information, and see the
resources included in this article and listed below.
Basically there are two ways to enlarge the spending power of older
persons: by increasing the amount coming in, and by decreasing the
amount going out. Here are some ways of doing each:
- Working - Community Programs
- Supplemental Security Income
- QMB, SLMB, QI-1 (paying Part B premiums)
- Food Stamps, Senior Rx, Help with Utilities
- Rethinking Investment Strategies
- Avoiding Unnecessary Expenditures
Working. Many retirees have looked forward
to the day when they could retire only to find that either they
are bored or they cannot manage on their retirement incomes, or
both. There are many businesses glad to have older part-time employees
who will work flexible hours and bring experience and good judgment
to their jobs. A few may offer insurance benefits.
There are also jobs available through the State Community Services
Employment Program for low income residents 55 or over. They pay
no less than minimum wage and offer various kinds of employment
for up to twenty hours a week. Some offer transition into unsubsidized
or private sector employment. Contact the local Area Agency on Aging
or on the web, go to www.adss.state.al.us/senioremployment Either
type of employment offers increased income while providing mental,
physical and social stimulation.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI). A
major resource for lower-income seniors is Supplemental Security
Income, or SSI. In order to receive SSI an applicant must be disabled
and have limited income and assets. Unlike Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI)
which is a program to which workers contribute during their work
years, SSI is a form of public assistance. It provides income assistance
to the aged, blind and disabled of any age. Those 65
or older automatically meet the aged test.
Disability is defined as being unable to engage in any substantial
gainful activity by reason of any medically determinable physical
or mental impairment which can be expected to result in death or
which has lasted or can be expected to last for a continuous period
not less than twelve months. [42 U.S.C. § 1382c (a)(3)(A).]
Inability to work is affected by age, education and work experience.
It is more likely that a 62-year-old with a significant
chronic illness or impairment would qualify than a 25-year-old with
a similar health problem, especially if the situation were complicated
by limited education and experience.
One major advantage to qualifying for SSI is that SSI recipients
are automatically qualified for Medicaid assistance. A person who
receives only $350 in Social Security benefits and who also qualifies
for SSI will usually receive medical care without co-payments and
deductibles and and will receive substantial assistance with prescription
drug coverage, and costs of prescribed drugs.
In 2009 an individual SSI applicant may have no more than $674
(plus an additional $20 a month that is not counted, or a total
of $694) in income and no more than $2,000 in cash resources. The
residence, a vehicle worth no more than $4,500, and burial plots
and burial or life insurance up to $1,500 do not count against the
resource limit. A couple may have a combined income of no more than
$1,011 (+$20, for a total of $1,031) and resources of no more than $3,000,
with the same exemptions. Food stamps, energy and public housing
assistance are not counted as income. Working individuals have slightly
Some contributions from others count as income, whether cash or in-kind.
If an elderly person lives with an adult who is not a spouse, and does not
pay rent, or pays only a token, the applicant's SSI benefit may be reduced
by about one-third. A portion of the income of a spouse who is not SSI-eligible
may be attributed to the SSI applicant. On the other hand, a third party may pay
an SSI beneficiary's medical bills or utility bills without being counted as income.
SSI applications are made at the Social Security district offices
and can now be made online. Applicants should be prepared to document
income, assets and current expenses. There is information online at
Veterans Benefits. Veterans and surviving spouses
of veterans should contact the VA representative in their areas
to see if they are eligible for any of the array of benefits the
VA provides for veterans and survivors with limited incomes. In
addition to pensions and survivor income benefits, homebound beneficiaries
may be able to qualify for aid and assistance payments to help them
stay in their homes. Other health care assistance may be available
as well. Every county has a representative who is either located
at the courthouse or makes regular visits there.
QMB, SLMB and QI-1. Seniors on Social
Security and whose incomes are limited but who do not qualify for
SSI, may qualify for assistance with their Part B Medicare premiums.
An important factor is that, at this time, in Alabama, assets are
not counted and in most cases income from assets is disregarded.
Note that the income limits change each year.
QMB. In 2009, individuals with monthly
retirement incomes up to $923 and couples with combined retirement
incomes up to $1,235 may qualify as Qualified Medicare Beneficiaries.
For those who qualify Medicaid not only pays the monthly Part B
premium, now $96.40 (for individuals with incomes under $85,000
and couples under $170,000), but also pays all co- payments and deductibles.
It does not pay for medicine, but it is an excellent benefit.
SLMB. In 2009, individuals with incomes
up to $1,103 and couples with incomes up to $ 1,477 may qualify as
Special Limited Medicare Beneficiaries. For those qualifying,
Medicaid will pay the monthly Part B premium, currently $96.40 a month per
person (except those with high incomes).
QI-1. At present, Alabama is not accepting
applications for QI-1 because of limited state funds. In better economic
times, individuals whose incomes would not qualify for QMB or SLMB might
qualify as "Qualifying Individuals-1". In 2009, the limits for states that
can provide the supplement, are $1,239 for individuals and $1,660 for couples.
QI-1 pays the monthly Part B premium.
QWDI. This program is applicable to certain
disabled persons who work (Qualified Working Disabled Individuals).
Those who might qualify for this program should contact the nearest
Medicaid office for further details.
Food Stamps, Senior Rx, Utility Assistance and Other
Food. The food stamp programs are operated
though county food stamp offices; applications can also be obtained
a social security offices, and from the Social Security web site
(see below). Eligibility requirements vary according to circumstances;
age, number and status of persons in the household and so on. The
resource limits are similar to those for SSI, but if a household
includes someone 60 or over, the cash resource limit is $3,000 rather
than $2,000. Applicants under 60 are expected to try to find work.
Anyone who is having trouble making ends meet should investigate
the possibility of assistance from this source.
Another good resource is the nearest senior center that serves
meals, although some programs have been affected by the recession.
Meals are nutritious and tasty and offer the additional benefit
of social contact. The charge is small and there is no charge for
those unable to pay. Seniors unable to leave home should investigate
the availability of home-delivered meals. Contact your local Area
on Agency about these programs.
Prescription Drugs. Contact the Senior Rx
program at your local Area on Aging for help in applying for programs
provided by pharmaceutical companies to help those 55 and over who cannot
afford medications. Have the exact name, dosage (grams, milligrams,
etc.), times taken per day, and name of the prescribing doctors
for each of your prescriptions before you call. Drugs will be sent
to the prescribing doctor for the patient. Most programs require
re-checking every three months. Also see the Medicare article on this web site for information about the Medicare Prescription Drug Insurance program.
Alabama Cares. Another program available through
Area Agencies on Aging is the caregiver assistance program. Severe
budget problems in Alabama may somewhat curtail this excellent program,
but it can be a lifesaver to the senior struggling to care for another
person. The program provides vouchers for caregiver substitutes
so that the primary caregiver can have a break. Although the amounts
provided are not unlimited, responses have been enthusiastic. If you
are a caregiver, contact yoru local AAA to find out if you qualify
for this assistance.
Help with Utilities. Most utility companies
offer level payments, and help with high bills in extreme weather
for some seniors. The telephone company offers a small discount
for seniors on Medicaid. Call the utility or company for more information,
or check with the local Area Agency on Aging.
Avoiding unnecessary expenditures. Seniors seem
particularly vulnerable to aggressive marketing schemes and outright
scams. Seniors must be particularly wary in Alabama, where there
has been and still is little protection for consumers. In this connection
see on this web site the Consumer topics, including Insurance, Funerals,
Credit Cards, Avoiding Scams and Exploitation, and Identity Theft.
This may be a good time in life to return to an old-fashioned budgeting
approach; detailing every anticipated expense, planning for emergencies,
and ferreting out where money is being spent with little to show
for it. Rule No. 1 for most of us might be to resist impulse shopping!
Writing down every penny spent for a month will help to identify
ways in which money is leaking out with no real enhancement of life
Rethinking investment strategies. Many
seniors fall into that middle-income group who have too many assets
and too much income to qualify for assistance of any kind, but find
they are dipping into savings and resources to a disturbing extent.
Even in this time of miserable returns on almost every investment,
a careful review of all assets might indicate that some resources
are not working for the senior as well as they could: Is the CD
getting the best rate available? Is there a bond fund that would
bring a higher return without unacceptable risk? Should some portion
of resources be in a conservative stock equity fund? Is too much
cash being kept in a checking or passbook savings account, when
part of it could bring a slightly higher return in a money market
account or CD? Would a reverse mortgage be an option? (Keep in mind,
though, that while reverse mortgages can be helpful, they are also
very complicated and expensive.)
If you can find a qualified financial planner who is interested
in providing assistance to middle-income seniors, that might be
helpful. Unfortunately, the field has many charlatans and honest
but ill-informed people as well as well-qualified planners. Of
those who are qualified, we prefer fee-only counselors. While there
are many knowledgeable insurance and investment brokers, we believe
there is an inherent conflict for those advisers who
are paid through commissions from sales of their companies
products. But be wary. There is no law to prevent anyone who wishes
from having business cards printed up that say Financial Planner.
Any qualified planner will ask for a complete inventory of all
assets with original prices, rates of interest, etc. In fact, the
senior who goes through this information-gathering process may discover
that the process itself is helpful in developing a better approach
independently. There are books, magazine articles and websites that
can help you educate yourself. Do not buy the first
approach you read about look around. Financial magazines
and newspapers often list financial institutions with the best savings
rates, and credit card companies with the best rates for different
kinds of consumers. The time and effort required to educate oneself
can pay dividends in enhancing resources as well as in self-satisfaction.
See also the topic Medicare, Medigap and other insurance.
Few seniors have given adequate attention to what supplemental policy
is best for them, and as a result pay high premiums without addressing
their greatest risks.
For more information contact your local Area Agency on Aging, or
the Alabama Department of Senior Services (1-800-242-5463) or on
the web through our links or at www.adss.state.al.us.
The state web site offers links to the thirteen Area Agencies on
Also try the Eldercare Locator, a service of the federal Administration
on Aging, 1-800-677-1116; on the web at www.aoa.dhhs.gov/elderlocator
The Social Security web site can be accessed through our site or
at www.ssa.gov .
Another excellent resource is Benefits Check-up developed
by the National Council on the Aging. It takes time to provide all
the information requested but could be extremely useful in targeting
benefits that might be available for particular persons. www.benefitscheckup.org