For many adults who provide unpaid care to a parent or loved one, the financial strain can be immense. Many caregivers find themselves dipping into their own wallets to support their parents. According to the AARP's 2020 report on Caregiving in the United States, nearly half of caregivers have experienced at least one financial impact as a result of their caregiving. That can include not saving for their own futures, taking on more debt, or leaving bills unpaid.
If you find yourself helping an aging parent with money matters, you may find it helpful to familiarize yourself with the wide range of government benefits that can help seniors who are struggling financially – and help lift some of the burden from caregivers.
Depending on your parents' situation, these programs can help provide additional income support, healthcare coverage, or reduce costs for housing, utilities and food.
Here’s what you need to know about these programs and resources.
Benefits.gov: This is the official benefits website of the U.S. government. You can use its Benefit Finder tool to see what government benefits your parents might be eligible to receive – including financial benefits, housing assistance, health care and medical assistance, and Social Security and retirement.
Eldercare Locator: This public service of the U.S. Administration on Aging helps connect older adults with a variety of local support services and provides resources for caregivers. Its call center – 800-677-1116 – is open five days a week from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. E.T, or you can visit Eldercare.acl.gov.
National Council on Aging: This organization has a wealth of information on its website, NCOA.org, to help older adults stay economically secure as they age. You can use its free BenefitsCheckUp service to find out what benefits programs your parents might be eligible for to save money on health care, medication, food, housing, utilities and more.
Social Security: If your parents are retired, they likely are receiving Social Security benefits. They can start collecting benefits at age 62. However, they’ll receive a reduced amount for claiming benefits early. To get their full benefit amount, they must wait to claim benefits until their full retirement age – which ranges from 66 to 67, depending on the year they were born. By delaying benefits until age 70, they can actually increase the amount they receive.
Social Security isn’t just a retirement program, though. It provides disability benefits, survivors benefits for widows and widowers, and supplemental security income for low-income seniors and disabled adults. Visit SSA.gov to learn more about benefits and to sign your parents up for a “my Social Security" online account to check their statements and manage their benefits.
Veterans benefits: If your parents served in the military, they might qualify for a variety of benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs – including monthly pension payments, disability compensation, housing assistance and health care. If your parents need help performing daily activities such as bathing and dressing or are confined to bed because of illness, they might qualify for the VA’s Aid and Attendance program, which provides an increased monthly pension to help cover the cost of care at home or in a nursing home.
Medicare: Your parents are eligible at age 65 to sign up for Medicare, the national health insurance program for older adults. There are two ways to get coverage: original Medicare and Medicare Advantage. Original Medicare includes Part A (hospital coverage that is free) and Part B (medical insurance with a monthly premium based on annual income). To get prescription coverage, they would have to sign up and pay for Part D or a Medigap policy.
Medicare Advantage is offered by private insurers. It includes Part A, Part B and usually Part D and usually provides other types of coverage such as vision, dental and hearing.
If your parents need help paying for Medicare, they might qualify for assistance through their state’s Medicare Savings Programs. They might also qualify for a program called Extra Help to get help paying for prescription drugs.
Medicaid: If your parents have limited income and resources, they might qualify for Medicaid to help cover medical costs. This joint federal and state program also covers long-term care in skilled nursing facilities and at home. Medicare does not cover long-term care. Medicaid.gov has a list of state Medicaid office contacts you can use to find out if your parents are eligible for this program.
State Health Insurance Assistance Programs: These programs have counselors who can help seniors and their caregivers navigate Medicare options, understand guidelines and find payment assistance programs. You can find your local SHIP at Shiptacenter.org.
Department of Housing and Urban Development: HUD offers housing assistance programs for seniors, including low-rent apartments and housing choice vouchers. Information about federal housing assistance programs for the elderly is available at HUD.gov.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: This federal program provides food-assistance benefits to low-income individuals and families. Each state has its own application process, so you must contact your local SNAP office to learn about eligibility requirements.
Commodity Supplemental Food Program: This program provides low-income adults ages 60 and older with a monthly food package. Eligibility requirements vary by state. You can contact your state agency for details.
The Emergency Food Assistance Program: This federal program provides food at no cost to low-income people, including the elderly, through state and local agencies such as food pantries.
Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program: This program provides low-income adults who are at least 60 with coupons that can be exchanged for food at farmers’ markets. State agencies such as state departments of agriculture and area agencies on aging administer this program
Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program: Your parents might qualify for assistance with home energy bills, weatherization and energy-related minor home repairs through LIHEAP if their household income is low enough. The Department of Health and Human Services has a list of states with online applications. It also has a search tool for state agencies that administer the program locally.
Lifeline: This Federal Communications Commission program provides a $9.25 monthly discount on phone and Internet services for low-income adults. Universal Service Administrative Company administers the program and lists qualifications on its website.