The tornado that ripped through Joplin, MO in May 2011 had devastating consequences for the area’s older adults. Of those killed in the storm, 46% were seniors; many more seniors were displaced and forced to move to outlying areas, thus rendering them homeless.
For the Area Agency on Aging (AAA), Region X―which serves four counties in the southwest corner of Missouri—the disaster meant having to find creative ways to continue to do their work and address the emergency benefits needs of those they serve.
What did they do?
Following the tornado, local nonprofits, churches, schools, and human service agencies formed a Long Term Recovery Committee. The Committee met biweekly to discuss ways to coordinate services and connect citizens with needed resources.
While the AAA’s normal operations were interrupted by the recovery effort, they used these new connections to spread the word about benefits available to low-income seniors, such as Medicare Savings Programs (MSP) and the Part D Low Income Subsidy (LIS). At monthly meetings with disaster case managers from FEMA, AAA staff provided information and income guidelines for benefits programs. They also sent information out via home-delivered meals to those who are housebound, and included inserts in the local paper that talked about how to save money on Medicare and prescription costs.
The AAA also saw an opportunity to combine benefits outreach with property tax assistance. Each year during income tax season, the AAA had been helping older adults to apply for rebates on their property taxes. Recognizing that this was also an easy opportunity to gauge those potentially eligible for LIS/MSP, they began including messages about these programs during their tax counseling sessions.
What was the result?
Combining benefits outreach and education with property tax assistance enabled the AAA to reach more seniors that they weren’t accessing through other means. Likewise, making connections with FEMA case managers and other nonprofits in the community helped them to reach many seniors that had been displaced because of the tornado. Between February and April 2012, for example, the AAA assisted 78 people with applying for LIS/MSP.
The AAA has also benefited from forging new relationships as part of the Long Term Recovery Committee, which spread the word about their programs in the community, among people of all ages. For their efforts, the AAA, Region X was recognized by FEMA, and received a letter of honor from President Obama for their Medicare counseling activities.