As we become older, it gets harder to take care of the bills, stay healthy, and eat nutritious foods. Thankfully, government programs are available to help many seniors. One such program is Medicaid. As of 2021, it assists 7.2 million lower-income seniors who also benefit from Medicare.
Meanwhile, seniors who have paid into Social Security can opt to receive monthly payments at age 62 (or wait longer for higher amounts). This guide goes over four main categories of aid programs and explains how each program is useful.
Expert Insight on Government Aid Programs for the Elderly
Before we delve into specifics, let’s look at expert insight on government aid programs for seniors:
How Government Aid Can Help You
Government aid programs generally are available in four categories: housing, medical, nutrition, and employment/income.
Mortgages, property taxes, utilities, and other housing expenses may be manageable with a full-time job. For retired seniors, these costs can easily add up and become overwhelming. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development can help seniors through public housing, housing vouchers, and multifamily subsidized housing. Various programs also help with utility bills, weatherization, home repair, and property taxes.
Medical and Health
Medicare is the biggest and most well-known government program for senior health care. Medicaid is the next-biggest program and is needs-based. Both programs can provide coverage for hospital visits and nursing home care, among other things.
Food and Nutrition
Food and nutrition programs vary widely, but every state has at least a few options. One is SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). Just an extra $100 monthly from that program can make a big difference in a senior’s life. The government even gives food to food banks, pantries, and community organizations. Many of these groups, while not government agencies, also bring meals to isolated or disabled seniors.
Employment and Income
Several programs help seniors learn new skills and get jobs that fit their lifestyle. By working or volunteering, seniors can earn money, socialize, follow their passions, and participate in the community. Other programs such as Social Security and SSI offer monthly payments.
Where Can I Find Government Aid Programs for Seniors?
This guide does not cover each and every program available. To explore options not listed here, contact your local senator. Each senator has staff to advise you on smaller programs specific to your community. Your congressional representatives also have staff specialists on senior affairs.
Another option for assistance is your local Area Agency on Aging. Here, you find professionals who know senior assistance programs inside out. These folks can also help with applications. Meanwhile, the Administration for Community Living takes both national and community-focused approaches to advocate for seniors. It assists with legal matters, long-term care, health insurance counseling, and even elder abuse protection. Last but not least, check out the Additional Resources section at the bottom of this guide.
Renewals and Verifications
Most government aid programs ask you to fill out applications. Many are age-based, for example, requiring you to be at least 55 or 65. Several programs are needs-based and want you to verify your income and assets. You may have to re-verify every year or two. (Tax returns are a great help during these times!) If you’re applying for veterans’ benefits, you must prove you served in the military.
List of Aid Programs
All right, we are about to outline some of the most widespread government aid programs for seniors. As touched on above, we cannot list everything since dozens of programs are state-specific or even city-specific. Contact your political representatives or local Area Agency on Aging for details on these programs.
USDA Housing Repair Program
This program offers grants and loans with extremely low interest rates. The funds go toward repairing, improving, or removing safety/health hazards from homes. You must be at least 62 years old to qualify for a grant and must show the inability to pay back a loan. Grants go up to $7,500 and don’t need to be repaid (unless you sell the property within three years). Loans go up to $20,000. You can combine a grant and a loan. The U.S. Department of Agriculture gives you up to 20 years to repay any loans. You must meet low-income requirements.
This program gets assistive technology into the homes of seniors with severe vision and hearing loss. However, you do not have to be a senior to qualify. A specialist comes to your home and installs widescreen computer monitors, speech-enabled software, telephones designed for the visually impaired, and other devices. You must provide proof of limited income.
HUD Public Housing Program
Seniors who qualify for public housing pay no more than 30 percent of their adjusted gross income on rent. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development administers this program (and Section 8). Localities tend to have long waiting lists, so don’t hesitate to apply.
Housing Choice Vouchers Program
If you’re a senior either 55 or older, or 62 and older, you may qualify for Section 8 vouchers. You pay no more than 30 percent of your adjusted gross income on rental housing. Local public housing agencies administer the vouchers, and waiting lists can be long.
Weatherization Assistance Program
Households in the Weatherization Assistance Program save nearly $300 yearly on energy bills, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Seniors older than 60 are a priority group among applicants. Applicants may get free home repairs to increase the efficiency of their heating and cooling systems. Other services include the insulation of windows, doors, walls, ducts, water heaters, and floors. Proof of limited income is required. You usually apply at a local level.
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
Frail seniors are a target population of this program, and participants receive help with home heating and cooling costs. Funds are limited, so do not put off applications. Choose your state to find out more. Must be able to verify low income.
Medical and Health
Medicaid is for seniors with limited income and resources, and it covers many things that Medicare does not. Each state administers its program, so the benefits and eligibility requirements vary greatly. Medicaid can help pay for medical visits, inpatient and outpatient services, X-rays, transportation to medical appointments, prescription drug coverage, and home health services, among other things.
Nursing Home Medicaid (Spousal Impoverishment)
This program provides resource-limited seniors with health care and support services in nursing facilities. The spousal impoverishment component ensures that spouses living at home do not go broke in order to help their spouse meet eligibility requirements.
Medicare helps with seniors’ health care costs and has four parts: A (hospital insurance), B (medical insurance), C (Advantage plans), and D (prescription drug coverage). Most seniors don’t pay Part A premiums but are responsible for deductibles and other costs. Part B involves premiums, deductibles, coinsurance, and other expenses. In Part C, Advantage plans fold parts A, B, and D into one plan. Part D assists with prescription drug costs. Enroll before you turn 65 to avoid penalties and coverage gaps. Lower-income seniors should look into Medicare Savings Programs, which we also cover in this section.
Medicare Savings Programs
Many seniors struggle to pay for expenses that Medicare does not cover. Luckily, the Medicare Savings Programs helps with premiums, coinsurance, copayments, and other costs. Extra Help is a similar program that applies to prescription drugs. You must have limited income and resources to qualify.
VA Health Care System
Veterans in this system receive benefits such as covered hospital stays, home health services, hearing aids, dental benefits, mental health programs, and more. In many cases, senior veterans don’t need to sign up for Medicare Part D. Family members and caregivers may qualify for coverage, too. You must provide proof of military service (and your age for senior-specific benefits).
Food and Nutrition
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
SNAP provides monthly stipends to eligible seniors to spend on food. The amount allotted each month depends on income level and how many people are in the household. Special, more generous rules apply to seniors 60 and older. Be sure to check out deductions such as those for medical expenses and excess medical costs. Some states have different names for SNAP. For example, California calls it CalFresh.
The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP)
You don’t apply to the federal government for this program. Rather, food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture makes its way to food banks, pantries, soup kitchens, and community action agencies in your community.
Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program
In this program, seniors get coupon booklets they can use on fresh fruits, vegetables, honey, and herbs at farmers’ markets and outdoor stands. Coupon booklets are first-come, first-served, and not all businesses accept them. This program is not available in all states and may run only during certain times of the year. Generally for seniors 60 and older who are low-income.
Employment and Income
American Job Centers/CareerOneStop
There are 2,500 American Job Centers around the country that provide seniors with access to employment services. Each center can vary in the services that they offer, but most include employment skills assessment, training services for seniors, follow-up services for at least 12 months, and job search assistance and access to job banks. You’ll even be able to learn computer skills here to increase your skill-set and land a job faster.
This program is one way for seniors to socialize while giving back. You can even build job skills if that is a priority. AmeriCorps Seniors matches folks 55 and older with local community service projects. Dive into opportunities such as cleaning parks, building affordable housing, serving as foster grandparents, or serving as friends/companions to other seniors. Volunteers report reduced loneliness and anxiety and better mental health. Small stipends are available in some cases to low-income seniors. The Pathfinder tool is one way to research prospective work.
Retirement - (Federal Retirement System)
If you have worked for the federal government, you may be eligible to receive retirement benefits. The current system is called the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS), which replaced the older system in 1987. Through FERS, you receive a retirement plan with benefits from three sources: Basic Benefit Plan, Social Security, and the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP).
Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP)
This program by the Department of Labor helps seniors obtain long-term employment. The SCSEP provides training assignments where you learn skills such as computer programming and office administration. You get on-the-job training through community service work with public and nonprofit organizations. You could be placed at senior centers, schools, hospitals, day care centers, or governmental agencies. Participants work an average of 20 hours a week being paid while developing new skills. You can also attend employment-related lectures and seminars, and receive assistance creating a job placement and training plan. You must be at least 55 years old, unemployed, and meet income guidelines. Use the Older Worker Program Finder to see what’s near you.
Social Security - (Old Age, Survivors, Disability, & Health Insurance Programs) (OASDHI)
If you have worked and paid into Social Security, you become eligible for payments at age 62, although they are less than what you get at full retirement age. Alternatively, you can delay payments until age 70 and receive more money per month. These payments are based on your 35 highest-earning years. Spouses, children, widowers, and even divorced spouses are eligible for payments in some cases.
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
This federal program provides monthly payments as long as you meet guidelines such as being 65 or older and having income and assets under certain limits. Some states add to federal SSI payments in some situations. It is possible to receive Social Security and SSI at the same time.
Other Aid Programs
Several other programs are unique and worth looking into.
America the Beautiful Senior Pass
You must be at least 62 to get a lifetime pass to all U.S. national parks. The pass isn’t free, but at $90 ($80 plus a $10 processing fee as of 2021), it’s a good deal. The pass also offers discounts of up to 50 percent on some park amenities.
NCOA Reverse Mortgage Counseling Service
This service connects you with counseling agencies that explore the pros and cons of a reverse mortgage. Experts review your living situation and assess whether a reverse mortgage could benefit you. You must be at least 62 years old and the owner or co-owner of the home. A reverse mortgage is a financial/loan agreement where part of your home’s equity becomes monthly payments to you. It gets complicated, so this counseling search is a great way to make sense of it.
Tax Credit for the Elderly and Disabled
In 2021, this tax credit for lower-income seniors 65 and older varies from $3,750 to $7,500. It reduces the federal tax seniors owe, but not everyone can claim it. Do a brief interview on the IRS website to see if you qualify.
Elder Justice Initiative
If you are being abused, whether physically, emotionally, verbally, sexually, or in some other way(s), look into this Department of Justice initiative. You can report abuse through multiple channels and find resources nearby. The program also tries to improve prosecution, investigation, and victim recovery outcomes.
The senior years can be among the best of our lives but may also be frustrating. Government programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, SSI, and SNAP make life more manageable. They reduce the number of seniors who go without enough food, clothing, and shelter. Some programs even give older adults incentives to travel (America the Beautiful pass) and to connect with their community in new ways (AmeriCorps Seniors). Take advantage of everything you can!
While our list above covers common government aid programs for seniors, there are many more, especially on the state and county levels. The links below help you find more assistance.
This website finds programs available to seniors in a specific area. Fill out a quick survey to determine your location, income level, disabilities, and a few other factors, then get a list of programs you may qualify for.
AARP Foundation Guide to Public Benefits
Download your state's Public Benefits Guide and check out other resources.
This government website covers public benefits programs in each state. Use the Benefit Finder or search by state and category (such as Social Security and Retirement) to find programs relevant to you.
Legislation and government programs can change often. The AARP Bulletin keeps you on top of the news.