10 Programs That Help Struggling Retirees With Living Costs

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According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the poverty rate among Americans age 65 and older was 10.9% in 2022, up from 10.3% in 2021.

Millions of older Americans are eligible for assistance programs — but might not be taking advantage of them. Before you spend money you don’t need to, here are several programs to help you manage your living costs as a senior.

1. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

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What it does: The SNAP program is the largest anti-hunger program in the United States. It is a federal program but is run at the state level. It’s designed to supplement the food budget of low-income families, helping those facing hunger insecurity purchase healthy food.

Whom it’s for: Generally, to qualify for SNAP, you need to meet your state’s income and asset requirements. There are special rules for those whom the program considers elderly — that is, age 60 or older. To qualify, you need to submit an application through your state’s SNAP office.

The AARP estimates that 16 million adults age 50 and older who might be eligible for SNAP benefits aren’t using them. This includes more than 3 million who could be eligible for more than $200 a month in SNAP benefits.

2. Commodity Supplemental Food Program

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What it does: The U.S. Department of Agriculture sends food and administrative funds to participating states and Indian Tribal Organizations. That food is then distributed to eligible individuals, and seniors can apply to participate through their state.

Whom it’s for: Designed for low-income seniors at least 60 years old, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program is intended to help participants supplement their diets. The food packages that are distributed offer nutritious foods that might otherwise be missing from the meals of older Americans.

3. Medicare Savings Programs

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What it does: There are four different Medicare Savings Programs, all run at the state level. Most help pay for Medicare Part A or Part B premiums, but one also helps with Medicare deductibles, coinsurance and copayments.

Whom it’s for: Generally, to qualify for any of the four programs, someone must have income and other financial resources below certain limits, which are outlined on the Medicare program’s “Medicare Savings Programs” webpage. However, these limits increase every year, and there are some exceptions to the limits in some states.

In fact, more than 3 million seniors age 65 or older are eligible for Medicare Savings Programs but have not enrolled, according to Kaiser Health News.

4. Extra Help

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What it does: As part of the Medicare program, Extra Help is designed to help eligible seniors pay their Medicare Part D premiums, deductibles, coinsurance and copayments. Medicare Part D is the prescription drug coverage component of Medicare. Seniors who need help paying their drug costs can benefit from Extra Help.

Whom it’s for: Extra Help is aimed at seniors who meet income and resource thresholds. In general, if you’re on Medicare and qualify for full Medicaid coverage, get help from your state to cover your Medicare Part B premiums or receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), you likely qualify for Extra Help.

Depending on the situation, you might qualify automatically. However, some eligible seniors might need to apply. If you don’t automatically receive Extra Help, you can apply through the Social Security Administration.

5. Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

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What it does: LIHEAP is designed to help low-income families and seniors with energy costs so they can stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Unsafe heating and cooling practices can cause health problems, and LIHEAP distributes funds that can be used to cover energy costs through state and local programs.

Whom it’s for: This program isn’t exclusively for seniors, but many low-income seniors can benefit. Seniors are especially vulnerable to health issues that come from overheating, and they also develop increased cold sensitivity. Cold issues can be especially problematic for those with diabetes, a condition that impacts 16.5 million seniors.

6. Lifeline

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What it does: Phone (including mobile) and broadband internet service are increasingly important to remain connected. Lifeline is administered by the federal government in every state and is designed to provide discounted services to low-income consumers.

Whom it’s for: Those who meet the income requirements can go through eligible providers to receive communications services at a discount. If you qualify for SNAP benefits, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicaid or some other programs, you also qualify for Lifeline.

7. Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

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What it does: This federal program is administered by the Social Security Administration, but it is not funded by Social Security tax dollars. Instead, it sends out monthly payments using general tax revenue. The money is intended to help low-income and disabled individuals pay for basic needs. The SSI program is available to those on Social Security, although your Social Security benefits may affect how much you receive from SSI.

Whom it’s for: Those age 65 and older who meet income and resource requirements can apply for SSI. It is also available to younger people who are blind or disabled. These extra SSI payments can help you with living expenses if you’re struggling. You can apply through the Social Security Administration.

8. Medicaid

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What it does: Medicaid is a state-administered program that offers health coverage to eligible low-income people in certain groups. It is funded by both states and the federal government, according to federal rules although each state does things differently.

Whom it’s for: Medicaid offers health coverage to a wide range of low-income Americans, including adults, children, pregnant women, people with disabilities and seniors.

9. Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program

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What it does: This federally funded program is designed to help seniors access locally grown produce while aiding the development of farmers markets and other community agricultural programs.

Whom it’s for: Adults at least 60 years old with a household income at or below 185% of the federal poverty level are eligible.

10. Meals on Wheels

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What it does: Meals on Wheels supports over 5,000 community programs across the country to help feed seniors plus provide “additional benefits of tailored nutrition, social connection, safety and much more.” The organization serves 251 million meals a year to about 2.2 million seniors.

Whom it’s for: Eligibility varies from program to program, but the national organization says “generally programs serve adults 60 and over.” It is for people who can socialize over meals, although meal delivery is available for those who lack mobility. Other services, such as pet food delivery and transportation to doctor appointments, may be available.

Are you eligible for assistance?

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Don’t assume that you’re not eligible for assistance. Millions of older adults who qualify aren’t using these programs to their benefit. Find out what benefits are available to you using the National Council on Aging’s free BenefitsCheckUp tool. You can also contact your Area Agency on Aging to learn about programs and apply for benefits.

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