Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Benefits Matter to Older Americans’ Budgets and Health

The following blog was co-authored by Ramsey Alwin and Brandy Baeur
of the National Council on Aging

Last year Della Davis, a senior in Saginaw, Michigan, frequently sought free meals at soup kitchens, and struggled to pay for her medications and utilities. After being screened with BenefitsCheckUp® – a free, confidential online tool from the National Council on Aging that helps Medicare beneficiaries determine their eligibility for public benefits programs – Ms. Davis is now receiving over $1,600 a year to help pay for food, prescriptions and household utilities.

Unfortunately, Ms. Davis’s circumstances are not unique. Over 11 million older Americans struggle every day to make ends meet, with the economic downturn only worsening their precarious situations. Consider this:

• 31% of adults aged 65 and older get by on an income below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) (200% FPL = $21,660 for an individual). Those numbers rise sharply for seniors aged 75+.

• Women fare worse than men, and communities of color are disproportionately represented amongst those living in poverty. For example, almost 50% of elderly African-American women have incomes below 200% FPL.

• 96% of Americans aged 65-69 with an income below poverty have retirement savings of less than $10,000.

For these seniors, public benefits programs – such as Social Security, Medicare Savings Programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and others – can have a profound impact on quality of life. Benefits not only help them to pay for necessary medical services, prescriptions, food and home energy costs, they also can make the difference in allowing seniors to continue living independently in their homes versus in an institution. Yet in times of economic leanness, the President and Congress often hear calls to cut/scale back public benefits programs.

This year, the theme of Older Americans Month is Age Strong! Live Long! We need to remind President Obama and Congress that achieving this goal of strength and longevity requires preserving benefits programs for economically vulnerable seniors.

Della Davis got the assistance she needed. Let’s make sure there are many more stories like hers in the future!

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