Benefits Go Unclaimed
By Wayne Zussman and Karen Baer
Hundreds of local, state and federal programs offer benefits to seniors. Most people are familiar with Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, but what about smaller, lesser known, but no less valuable benefits? Many seniors could take advantage of such opportunities, if only they were aware that these programs existed.
Where to Start?
One of the most comprehensive websites (www.benefitscheckup.org) was developed by the National Council on Aging and provides a free, easy-to-use interface to determine what programs and services a person is eligible for. By typing in information such as age, marital status, income and medications taken, this website provides a list of potential programs, complete with contact numbers. The process is anonymous and provides information on local, state, and federal programs. Seniors can learn more about COBRA subsidies, property tax relief, home care options, meals and reduced utility bills. BenefitsCheckUp compiles information on “more than 1,800 public and private benefits programs from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.”
If you choose the comprehensive option when looking for benefits (instead of choosing only prescription drug assistance or the senior housing locator, for example), the information-input process will take 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how comfortable you are filling out Internet forms. For those who are more comfortable with hard copy forms, you can print out a copy of the questionnaire. It’s important to note that a site like this one do not make decisions on whether a person will receive benefits. Rather, it serves as clearinghouses for information and for the application process, pointing people in the right direction to find the benefits. The final decision rests with the granting agencies.
State boards. Many states have a board, administered through the state health and human services department, that focuses on getting benefits to seniors. A quick search of your state’s website will usually send you in the right direction. The state board can help you find local agencies and nonprofit groups that can provide help to seniors and their families.
Utility relief. You can learn about some discounts for seniors, such as help paying utility bills, weatherizing homes and so on, by talking to your service provider, even if you get power or heat from a private company. The provider will know where to send questions about senior discounts and will often have links on its website that will lead you to a state or municipality site where you can find an application or phone number to learn about eligibility for assistance programs.
Veterans Affairs. The VA pension is available to wartime veterans who are 65 or older (or permanently and totally disabled) and on a limited income. The income limits depend on whether
the veteran has a spouse or child, needs aid or is housebound. Some expenses, such as education and health care, are taken into consideration when figuring household income, and an application form needs to be filled out. The VA also offers a burial allowance, even when the cause of death is not related to military service. This benefit does not apply to people who were dishonorably discharged from service. Certain other conditions must be met. Check the VA website (www.va.gov) for more information.
Business and membership organizations. Many senior associations, such as AARP (www.aarp.org) and the American Senior Benefits Association (www.asbaonline.org), offer members help in navigating the benefits maze. These organizations mail or e-mail tips to their members throughout the year about discounts on products and services, and offer newsletters and promotions that can open up opportunities for travel or education. Some organizations even offer cross-generational benefits, including information about scholarships for grandchildren of members or grants for adult children. Some organizations charge for membership, others are
Free. Some associations also have a lobbying arm or provide legislative updates as bills that affect seniors travel through Congress or local legislatures. Before joining such groups, seniors should research them carefully and decide whether they represent the seniors’ interests in a way in which they approve.
Every Little Bit Counts
Some of the best benefits can come in the form of everyday transactions. Seniors shouldn’t be shy about asking about discounts at restaurants, hotels, car rentals and other businesses. You’ve earned the benefit, now it’s time to collect.
Triton Wealth Management is an independent, fee-only financial planning and investment management firm that can provide resources to help seniors make the financial decisions that will see them safely through retirement. Triton has offices in Annapolis, Kent Island and Gaithersburg, Maryland, and can be reached at 410 202-2110 or by e-mail at info@TritonWM.com Please also visit us on the Web at www.TritonWM.com