Connecting Seniors to Economic Assistance


The role of senior centers

The statistics are staggering:

  • One in six seniors faces hunger.
  • Thirteen million seniors are economically insecure, living on less than $22,000 a year.
  • One in three seniors relies on Social Security for 90% of their income.

We surveyed senior centers about how they’re helping to connect older adults experiencing economic hardship to services, benefits, and other support.

The 94 responses indicate that senior centers are dedicated to connecting their low-income clients to a holistic set of services to improve their economic well-being.

Bringing benefits to seniors in need

Senior centers administer a range of programs such as congregate meals, transportation services, and community education that maintain the health and independence of older adults.

Many also recognize the value of public benefits programs to assist low-income older adults with paying their medical, prescription, food, and energy costs, and they offer public benefits screening and assistance. Among those surveyed:

  • Benefits counselors are available on-site at almost half of the senior centers (43) to assist with screenings and applications. Some centers—like the 13 that fall under the St. Louis Area Agency on Aging—make arrangements for benefits counselors to be available on specific days each week/month to help with applications. But a small number of senior centers, such as the South Brunswick Senior Center in Monmouth Junction, NJ, have secured funding to employ a full-time staff member to do this work.
  • 11 centers use BenefitsCheckUp®, NCOA’s free, online screening tool that helps seniors and their families check their potential eligibility for benefits. As the Otsego County Commission on Aging in Gaylord, MI noted, “BenefitsCheckUp® and the Medicare websites provide valuable information and an important tool for our advocacy efforts.”
  • 18 senior centers offer information and referrals to community agencies, but no direct benefits application assistance.
  • Co-location of some senior centers with area agencies on aging, the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP), and/or the Senior Medicare Patrol Office allows them to expand their services. Nine centers indicated they offer health insurance counseling, and eight have legal assistance programs.

Success stories

Several senior centers shared stories about how they’ve helped seniors struggling economically.

In Philadelphia this fiscal year, Center in the Park has:

  • Offered benefits counseling to 829 older adults.
  • Provided housing counseling to 124 community members, including assistance with mortgage foreclosure prevention/diversion, default and delinquency issues, budget counseling, accessing affordable housing, advocacy, and consumer education workshops.
  • Helped 517 low-income community members with accessing energy assistance benefits including LIHEAP and Weatherization.

Shepherd’s Center of the Northland in Kansas City, MO shared this story:

“Our first clients [in the new Benefit and Health Advocate Program] were a couple—the husband (aged 62) was a disabled Vietnam Vet and the wife was a disabled homemaker (aged 59) with no insurance. Although their monthly income did not put them in a low income level, and the husband had full medical coverage through the VA, medical expenses for the wife consumed more than two-thirds of their income. The couple completed a BenefitsCheckUp® screening. The report included a discount prescription program for which they qualified. The counselor researched the program, compared current costs of medications to projected costs through the program, and assisted them in applying for the program … The client had three prescription medications that were not available through this program. A second savings program was identified that could offer a discount on those three medications … In a follow-up interview, the couple had completed all required actions and reported that they had received their first month’s prescriptions at a savings of $2,000.”

As the gateway to the nation’s aging network, senior centers play a valuable role for seniors who are struggling financially by providing and connecting them to vital community services that can help them remain active and independent in their communities.