Here’s the presentation I made at the Michigan Association of Senior Centers conference in Mt. Pleasant on November 6, 2015. The presentation discusses social, political, and economic trends and how they represent opportunities for senior centers to reinvent themselves by responding to these trends and offering relevant programming to address them.
In the January 13th issue of the National Council on Aging‘s NCOA Week e-publication, they announced grant proposals for $25,000 or $50,000 to increase enrollment of older adults who are eligible for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The details of the RFP will be available next week. As stated in the e-publication, “NCOA soon will be seeking proposals from community-based organizations for Senior SNAP Enrollment Initiative grants in two competitive categories ($25,000 and $50,000). The Request for Proposals will be released on or around Jan. 20. Optional Letters of Intent are due Feb. 13, and applications are due March 6.”
A 2012 presentation by Lura Barber of the National Center for Benefits Outreach and Enrollment of NCOA is available online. Called SNAP and Older Adults, the presentation points out that only one out of three eligible older adults are enrolled in SNAP, and provides basic information about SNAP organizational structure, eligibility, application process, and techniques to reach out to older adults who qualify.
Filing an income tax return can evoke anxiety. A person’s income can be a sensitive topic, and all the different forms, rules, and documents can be overwhelming. Perhaps for these reasons, many people don’t benefit from the tax breaks that are available to them. Or they pay a professional to prepare their tax returns for them, even for uncomplicated filings.
The IRS has organized two volunteer programs for free tax return assistance. The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program is aimed at people earning $52,000 or less per year. These volunteers file taxes electronically, and can assist with several tax credit programs. There is an online locator tool to help qualifying tax payers find VITA services. The second program, called the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) Program, is coordinated with the Tax-Aide Program through the AARP Foundation. This service is open to all, but targeted to older adults. The tax counselors through TCE are better versed in retirement, Social Security, and pension issues. They can be located through another search engine hosted by the AARP Foundation.
Low income Social Security recipients probably won’t have to pay taxes on their benefits, but moderate income persons may have to pay taxes on up to 85% of the benefits received during the tax year, depending on the amount they receive along with other income they may have.
Adults who work, are moderate to low income, and are between the ages of 25 and 64 may be eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EIC). The credit amount is larger if the person is caring for a child in his or her home. Grandparents raising grandchildren or other kinship care can especially benefit from the EIC, as well as the Child Tax Credit (CTC). To receive the CTC, the person must have earned at least $3,000 during the year. EIC and TCT credit refunds don’t count as income for federal benefit purposes.
Low income individuals 65 and older or permanently and totally disabled persons under 65 may be eligible to take the Credit for the Elderly and Disabled. The rules and calculation are somewhat complicated, so getting help from one of the free services listed above may be advisable.
If you have a constituency to whom you can publicize these resources, the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities has a very rich website on EIC and CTC outreach, including outreach materials, tools, and strategies. Sue Sweeney, Chair, Department of Aging Studies, Madonna University
The National Council on Aging has an excellent resource for older adults in need of assistance. BenefitsCheckUp is a Web site that screens the user for eligibility for a number of benefits at the federal or state level. The site claims that the service has helped 3,678,107 people find over $13.5 billion worth of benefits. The tool asks a number of questions about the user’s needs, interests, marital status, veteran status, income, assets, home ownership, expenses, and other questions that build from the answers that the user supplies to earlier questions. You can use the tool for another person, as long as you answer as if you were that person.
At the end, a printable report is produced with a description of possible benefits, contact information for the user’s area, how to apply, and documentation that will be required when applying. I submitted a fictitious test case of a middle-income 85 year old widow of a World War II veteran, who pays on a mortgage and property taxes, and who has two chronic illnesses. The report I received included information on locating alternative housing, how to get a property tax exemption in the case of financial hardship, how to obtain advice on Medicare program selection, how to access the nutrition programs for older adults, information about chronic disease self-management programs, and how to get a senior discount for federal parks and national forests. The programs recommended will, of course, depend on the information submitted.
It’s a resource that’s easy to use, provides detailed relevant information, and can be used by an advocate or representative to find the range of resources to assist with the hardship the elder is encountering. That’s a huge advantage, because, as an example, the ability to save money on utilities or to use a reverse mortgage to access equity on a home may be the answer to the inability to pay the coinsurance on an expensive prescription. We need to be holistic in our view of the person, their strengths, resources, and needs. Sue Sweeney, Chair, Gerontology Department, Madonna University