Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Public Assistance for Low Income Retirees

Several people we know are struggling to live off their very low Social Security benefits and this seems to be a problem for low-income seniors across the country.  While some senior citizens are able to get assistance from their adult children or other family members, others do not know where to turn.  As a result, I decided to provide information about some of the programs that are available to help retirees who are destitute or nearly destitute.  In addition, I have included the names of the specific agencies that you need to contact in order to get these services, since you cannot go to one place to apply for everything, unfortunately.

If my readers are aware of other programs, please mention them in the comments section and I will amend this post to include them.  In addition, if you know of someone who would benefit from this information, please email it to them or print it out and give it to them.  Let's all work together to keep a few people off the streets this winter.

At the end of this article, you will also find links to websites that will provide you with additional information.   As you will notice in the description of the different types of help available, you may need to be persistent in order to be approved for help.  Some forms of public aid are routinely denied to applicants when they first apply.  Do not hesitate to seek legal or other assistance and appeal your denial.

Assistance Programs for Low Income Senior Citizens (And Qualified Younger Adults)

SSI or Supplemental Security Insurance

SSI is a program that makes payments to people with a very low income who are age 65 or older, or those who are under 65 and have disabilities or are blind.  You can be collecting a small amount of Social Security benefits or be earning income from a low-paying job and still qualify for SSI.  People who did not work long enough to qualify for Social Security may still be eligible for SSI. You can also own certain assets or have a small amount of savings and qualify for this help.

The federal government has a base amount that they pay, but some states add money to that amount.  Therefore, the exact amount you could receive will vary from state to state.  This is income-based aid, but they do not consider the value of food stamps, housing provided by non-profits or certain other income you receive when they calculate your eligibility.

They do consider your assets.  However, you are allowed to have up to $2000 in cash if you are an individual or $3000 if you are a couple.  In addition, your home and car will not usually prevent you from qualifying.

No one is going to call you and ask if you want this supplemental income, or any of the other forms of aid mentioned below.  You need to seek it out.  Contact your Social Security office if you believe you may qualify for this program.  You can make an appointment with a Social Security Representative by calling 1-800-772-1213.

Social Security Disability

If you are unable to work, but you are not old enough to qualify for Social Security, you may still be eligible for Social Security Disability.  If you have a health condition that is expected to last over 12 months, and it difficult for you to either have gainful employment in your former occupation or change your line of work due to your age, education or a physical impairment, you may qualify for disability.  In order to qualify, you generally must have worked at least 5 of the past 10 years.   Parents' work credits can be applied for young adults under the age of 22.  If you think you qualify, you need to be persistent in order to be approved.  Approximately 60% of applicants are denied when they first apply, especially if they have inadequate medical records.  Do not hesitate to appeal your denial.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps)

If you qualify for SSI, you may also be eligible for food stamps.  You can get more information about this nutritional assistance at the Social Security office when you apply for SSI.   If you are not yet eligible for Social Security or SSI, you may still be eligible for food stamps.  In this case, you will want to contact your local welfare office to check your eligibility for food stamps.


If you collect SSI because you are blind or disabled, and you are not old enough yet to receive Social Security Retirement Benefits, you may also be eligible to get free or low cost medical insurance through your state's Medicaid program.  Medicaid is also available to millions of low income wage earners.  You can apply through your local welfare or medical assistance office.  Go to a website called, which is a national nonprofit, if you want to find help paying for your medicine and food.


Most people have their Medicare premiums deducted from their Social Security benefits.  However, if your income is extremely low, your state may pay your Medicare premiums for you.  In some cases the state may also pay your deductibles and co-insurance expenses.  You need to contact your state or local welfare office or Medicaid Agency.  Income requirements vary from state to state.

You may also qualify for help with your drug costs and Medicare Part D premiums.  The income requirements for this assistance are different than those for SSI so, even if you don't qualify for SSI, you might qualify for this assistance.

You can apply at your local Social Security office.  You can make an appointment with a Social Security Representative by calling 1-800-772-1213.

Section 8 Housing

In addition to SSI, disability, food stamps and assistance with your medical expenses, you may also qualify for Section 8 housing vouchers.  These vouchers can be used for any housing you find and the government will cover a portion of the rent.  This may make it possible for you to find an inexpensive place to live, even if you live in an area where rents tend to be high.  In order to be eligible, your income must be less than half of the median income for the city or county where you will be living.  At least 75% of the vouchers must go to people who have an income that is 30% or less of the medium income of the area where they will be living.

In other words, if you only receive the average Social Security benefit of about $15,000 a year and the median income in your area is $50,000, there is a very high probability that you will qualify for a housing voucher.  You may still qualify, even if you earn up to $25,000 in the same community.  If the median income in your area is higher, you can have more income and still qualify.

In order to apply, you must contact your local Public Housing Authority.  They are the ones who administer the program for the department of Housing and Urban Development.  You may have to go on a waiting list before receiving a voucher, so apply as soon as possible.  If your situation changes ... for example, if you become homeless ... you need to contact the PHA as soon as possible. You can get moved up the waiting list.

Veterans Administration Assistance

If you or your spouse is a military veteran, you may be qualified for various assistance programs from the Veterans Administration including healthcare, long-term care benefits, prescription drug coverage, counseling, mortgage assistance, disability compensation and more.  If you have been in the military you may want to contact your local Office of Veterans Affairs to see what services you may be eligible to receive.

If you are not satisfied with the answers you get, you may want to contact private organizations like the American Legion for assistance.  They will help you navigate all the confusing regulations.  It is not unusual for people to be denied benefits the first time they apply.  It is worth it to get help in completing the application or filing an appeal.

Private Assistance for the Poor

In addition to the public programs listed above, your religious organization may help you with short-term housing or other assistance for a few weeks until you begin to receive the public aid you are qualified for.

Even if they cannot provide housing or financial assistance, many churches and other organizations can provide you with food and clothing or direct you to the nearest available resource for those items.  A number of churches operate food banks that can help people get through a difficult time.

Senior Centers 

You should also contact the senior centers in your city or town.  Many of them will have information about community resources that may be available to you, people who might be looking for a roommate, rooms for rent to senior citizens, meals-on-wheels and other services that could help you.  For example, my local senior center sets out day-old bread and pastries that are dropped off daily by a local grocery chain. In addition, senior centers often provide low-cost lunches and similar programs to help the elderly.

Read these Sources for Additional Information About the Public Programs Mentioned Above:

Social Security Disability Help

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  1. You are so generous to put together this article. I'm sure it will benefit many people in need of this information.

  2. Thank you. I hope the information gets out and helps as many people as possible. I hate to see people suffer when there are programs available to help them.


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