5 Things States Can Do to Help Older Residents

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Most older Americans receive Social Security and participate in Medicare. Those programs help people meet their financial needs while assuring that they receive affordable healthcare. Yet those programs, combined with private retirement plans, are not always sufficient.

The Census Bureau reports that, prior to the pandemic, one in six seniors relied on a needs-based assistance program for additional help. Seniors living alone are twice as likely to receive assistance than seniors who live with a family.

The most common program that helped seniors is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). That program is generally limited to individuals whose net income does not exceed the poverty level. Asset ownership restrictions are eased a bit when a family has a member who has reached the age of 60.

Some seniors receive rental subsidies and energy assistance. Low-income seniors may also qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. 

Federal programs, including SNAP, are often administered by states and subject to state guidelines. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, state lawmakers are looking for ways to improve existing programs or launch new programs that will better serve the needs of seniors. The most promising legislation falls into five categories.

1.  Transportation

Calling an Uber isn’t a viable option for every senior. States and local communities can help seniors by making free or subsidized transportation available for individuals with disabilities and older people with limited mobility.

States might also follow the lead of Hawaii by studying ways to prioritize pedestrian safety near assisted-living facilities, senior centers, and other places where seniors live and congregate. Developing pedestrian-safe walkways and intersections, assuring that sidewalks are level, and replacing steps with ramps are among the pedestrian-friendly measures that local governments can implement.

2.  Housing

A majority of seniors hope to age in place. Providing affordable home repair services and subsidizing home improvements that make homes safer for older residents furthers the goal of allowing seniors to age safely in their own homes. 

3.  Food security

Simplifying the application process for SNAP would make food subsidies easier for older people to obtain. Some states have implemented phone registration and shortened the application form to make it easier to enroll in the program.

Meals-on-wheels programs assure that older people receive nutritious meals when they cannot visit a supermarket or prepare their own food. A healthy version of SNAP is the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. States that implement the program help low-income seniors buy fresh fruits and vegetables from farmers’ markets and roadside stands.   

4.  Caregivers

The demand for trained caregivers is growing more quickly than workers who are trained to fill caregiving positions. In conjunction with educational institutions, states should prioritize Direct Support Professionals Apprenticeship Programs that provide classroom instruction and on-the-job training in the knowledge, skills, and technology needed to deliver caregiving services to older people. Increasing the wages of government employees who provide caregiving services in state-funded health care centers will increase the supply of workers by making those positions more economically attractive.

5.  Fighting Elder Abuse

While low-income seniors often turn to federal programs for financial support, seniors of all socioeconomic classes may be vulnerable to financial exploitation. Telephone scams and greedy relatives who exploit their access to a senior’s financial accounts drain the resources that seniors depend upon after retirement. Strengthening law enforcement and social services efforts to protect older people from financial abuse should be a top priority in every state.

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