Many senior citizens struggle with budgeting after finding themselves on a fixed income. The Chatham County Council on Aging is partnering with the National Council on Aging to offer a program to help.
This week, we speak with Jimmy Lewis, the COA’s grants and communications specialist, about the “Boost Your Budget” week endeavor and more.
What is “Boost Your Budget” Week?
Boost Your Budget Week was established by the National Council on Aging as an annual educational campaign for low-income older adults regarding money-saving benefits that are often easily missed.
By the time we reach 65 years of age, the odds of being on a fixed income increase. And while income remains the same, the costs of everything — housing, health care and food — increase. More than 15 million Americans over the age of 65 find themselves in this situation. It simply isn’t tenable for many without knowing where to go to potentially save a few dollars. The information age has created a deluge of voices, both legitimate and otherwise. Making sense of the chaos is something many older adults don’t have an interest in doing out of sheer exhaustion.
Why don’t more older adults take advantage of these opportunities?
In 2016, the NCOA commissioned a nationwide study to find out why this may be the case. They spoke with over 1,000 adults over the age of 60 by phone who had incomes below 250% of the federal poverty line to discover their thoughts about benefit programs that can assist those with fixed incomes. They were keenly aware of programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but some other programs that help older adults — like the Medicare Savings Program or the LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) were less known. Just over half of the respondents had knowledge of LIHEAP, which can assist with heating and cooling costs during extreme temperature periods.
Survey respondents did not apply due to four key reasons: they weren’t aware of the program in the first place, they assumed the application process would be too difficult, they didn’t know where to apply, and lastly, they thought others needed the help more than them. Among program interests were help to pay for food costs, help to pay for heating and cooling, help to pay Medicare premiums and help to pay Medicare drug costs.
It’s important to note that $30 billion dollars in benefits go unclaimed every year because older adults who would be otherwise eligible are simply unaware that the programs exist or how to apply.
How can Chatham County older adults assess their eligibility for these programs?
The NCOA has a specialized website at benefitscheckup.org. On the home page, you can explore available benefits by simply entering your ZIP code. From there, you can click on the types of benefit programs you’re interested in — from health care & medication, food & nutrition, housing and utilities, income, long-term care and more. Then check out the program options.
Here’s a fun fact: I entered a Chatham County zip code into the search engine, highlighted all the categories, and it returned 100 different programs across 11 different categories. Keeping up with 100 different programs can be hard enough for anybody, let alone our older adult population.
As always, we at the Chatham County Council on Aging are here to assist with questions. Give us a call at one of our two senior centers in Pittsboro 919-542-4512 or Siler City 919-742-3975 or visit us online at www.chathamcouncilonaging.org.
What if prospective participants want to check eligibility for benefits, but they don’t have access to a computer?
If you don’t have access to a computer or internet capability, the NCOA has a helpline that can answer your questions. Call 1-800-794-6559 between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. weekdays.
What other upcoming events are in store at the Council on Aging?
We are getting ready to hit one of the most exciting times of the year, with the opening ceremonies of Chatham County Senior Games on Friday, April 28, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Eastern Chatham Senior Center in Pittsboro.
The games will run through May 11 as over 300 athletes age 50 and over will compete for the chance to represent Chatham County at the State Games in Raleigh later this year. The interest explosion in Senior Games has been phenomenal to observe, as we have set participation records in each of the last two years. Earlier this year, Chatham County Senior Games was presented with the “Thrive in Five Award,” marking a significant increase in participation over the past five years.
Prior to reaching the 300-participant mark this year, we had 262 sign-ups in 2022 and just 108 in 2017. While Chatham County is getting older by any objective metric, it is also prioritizing its health and wellness alongside this.
Certainly, we should take a moment to recognize the tireless efforts of our volunteers. Our work could not be accomplished at the scale and scope that it is without the Meals on Wheels drivers, volunteer tax preparers and those folks that are always willing to lend a hand to our exercise and educational programming. We are proud to honor these individuals with a Volunteer Appreciation Banquet on Friday, April 21, from 1-3 p.m. at Chatham County Agriculture & Conference Center.