Retiree Portfolio Free Money (If You're Over 54)

According to the National Council on the Aging (NCOA), some 5 million of today's elderly qualify for various public programs, but fail to use these benefits because they or their families are either unaware these entitlements exist or they don't know how to apply for them. As a result, billions of dollars in public-assistance benefits are lost to these folks each year. To assist older Americans, the NCOA has launched a website that enables the elderly and their families to find those federal and state public-assistance programs for which they may qualify.

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By David Braze (TMF Pixy)
June 25, 2001

I've said many times in this column that I'm only 29 years old. Whenever I do, my editors usually delete the claim or insert some sort of disclaimer. But those actions change nothing as far as I'm concerned. I'm still only 29 despite what some humorless wordsmith thinks. I couldn't care less what date appears on my birth certificate or driver's license. Those are only meaningless pieces of paper.

No, my inner self has told me for years that my age is 29. Still, it came as somewhat of a shock to me to discover I may qualify for 11 different public assistance programs, six of which apply only to the elderly. My discovery came because I did a test run for myself on a program launched this month by the National Council on the Aging (NCOA).

This program, called BenefitsCheckUp, is the result of a concerted effort by the NCOA to establish a centralized national database of more than 1,000 federal and state public-assistance and entitlement programs that too frequently go unused by older Americans who are eligible to receive these benefits. They go unused because many qualified recipients and their families are either unaware these benefits exist or have no idea where to find and apply for them. As a result, these folks lose billions of dollars in public-assistance entitlements each year.

According to the NCOA, more than 3 million seniors are eligible for but do not receive food stamps; 1.2 million elderly are eligible for but do not participate in the Supplemental Security Income program; and as many as 3 million eligible seniors do not participate in Medicaid. Additionally, 29 states have underused pharmacy-assistance programs. And many middle- and upper-income seniors are also missing out on Veteran's programs, property tax relief, nutrition programs, and educational benefits. All told, NCOA estimates that each year 5 million elderly miss out on benefits for which they are eligible.

But now, as a result of NCOA's action, senior citizens and their families are able to quickly determine the programs for which they are eligible. To do so, they just visit BenefitsCheckUp and complete an anonymous, confidential questionnaire. NCOA's program then uses that information to determine the person's eligibility for federal programs such as Social Security, Medicaid, and food stamps, or state-administered programs such as pharmacy assistance, vocational rehabilitation, and in-home services. Users may then print a report that lists the programs for which they probably qualify. That report also tells them where to go to enroll for those benefits.

Just for kicks, I tried the service. To get my program listing, all I had to do was answer approximately 30 simple questions dealing with my age, marital status, income, savings, living expenses, and place of residence. I estimate it took all of five minutes to complete the questionnaire. When I was finished, BenefitsCheckUp told me I probably qualify for the following benefits based on my answers:

  1. Veterans' Home Loans
  2. Veterans' Disability Compensation
  3. Social Security -- Old Age, Survivors, Disability, and Health Insurance Programs (OASDHI)
  4. Veterans' Medical Care
  5. Elderly Nutrition Program -- Home Delivered Meals
  6. Elderly Nutrition Program -- Congregate or Group Meals
  7. Employment -- Workforce Investment Act (WIA)
  8. Virginia Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program (VICAP)
  9. Adult Protective Services (APS)
  10. Legal Assistance Programs (Older Americans Act)
  11. Golden Age Passport (for persons age 62 and older)

Two items in that list surprised me. I was unaware of the existence of my state's program for Medicare and Medicare supplemental insurance counseling, to include assistance in medical benefits application, evaluation, and appeal. And I had never heard of the Golden Age Passport, a benefit offered by the U.S. Forest Service.

Of the two, the Golden Age Passport especially intrigued me, so I looked it up. I discovered that this benefit offers free lifetime entrance to the national parks, monuments, historic sites, recreation areas, and national wildlife refuges administered by the federal government that charge entrance fees. It also provides a 50%discount on federal use fees charged for facilities and services such as camping, boat launching, and parking.

Unfortunately, this freebie pass is only issued to citizens or permanent residents of the United States who are 62 or older. So, given I'm only 29, I guess I don't qualify. I wonder why BenefitsCheckUp said I did? Obviously, I must have made a typo when I entered my birth date. How else could such an error occur?

If you are age 55 or older (or concerned about a relative who is), I urge you to check out this highly useful website. You may find you (or they) qualify for some programs about which you were unaware. And some of those benefits could very well lead to a substantial improvement in your or someone else's quality of life. At the very worst, you will find a quick and easy way to determine what support may be available to you and yours, and how you may apply for those entitlements.

See you next week. As always, post your comments on the Retired Fools or the Retirement Investing boards.

Best to all...Pixy

Dave Braze believes inside every elderly person dwells a much younger self who wonders what the heck happened. At age 29, he won't qualify for most of the programs available to older persons. Still, The Motley Fool is all about investors writing for investors, so Dave urges all of you to invest a little time in determining the benefits programs for which you or any older relatives may qualify.