Solutions are known and are already in place – just waiting for more impactful action by government at many levels. For example, a recent article in TIME comments that the USA has some of the most robust programs in the world for people facing hunger.
Many are low cost solutions. Besides being “cost effective” they are also moral and ethical action items that benefit a significant portion of the population of our state and country.
But first: define the problem.
There is a lot of publicity about how wealthy seniors are. The only problem is that the same inequality exists with wealth of seniors as it does with the population as a whole. “Among people over 65, the wealthiest 20 percent own virtually all of the nation’s $25 trillion in retirement accounts, according to the Economic Policy Institute.”
Economic Policy Institute – epi.org
Many seniors are comfortable, but too many are struggling. As a result, there is a significant number of seniors in Colorado with few resources.
The recession of 2008 had a big impact on those approaching age 65. Too many lost their jobs, or took jobs with less pay. These people had to use savings accumulated over many years to pay basic living expenses. They have been unable to recover as they approached retirement age. Those who lost their homes lost a primary source of retirement savings, again with no opportunity to recover.
Too many people and too many legislators are not sufficiently informed about how little some seniors have to live on. Programs in place (not including targeted programs such as the VA, government employees, etc.) are:
- Old Age Pension (OAP) (funded by the state). This pays less than $800 per month. To qualify the recipients can have no more than $2,000 in assets.
- Social Security (funded by the federal government). For many this pays little more than the Old Age Pension (OAP)
There has been a major change in retirement benefits. Many retirees in the past had benefits provided by the company where they had worked. These retirement benefits would typically continue as long as the recipient and/or spouse were alive. This has changed for most. For those who earned enough to have some savings, they now have access to 401k retirement plan savings. But the 401k plan provides for retirement only until the fund is depleted. Studies show that for seniors the primary concern is – running out of money.
When you consider only the basic expenses – rent, food, transportation, and health care it is clear that living a healthy lifestyle is virtually impossible. Then you add on what is almost essential in today’s world: telephone, internet access and cable TV. All this on about $800 per month?
There are solutions that provide relief and make a big difference.
FOOD STAMPS: now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): The state of Maryland has completed a detailed study demonstrating that those participating in the SNAP program had significantly fewer medical issues. The study demonstrates the potential overall saving resulting from the SNAP program.
“SNAP provided, on average, $129 in supplemental monthly income for an average of 1.3 people in an older adult household in 2014.”
Maryland considered the SNAP program so cost effective, they added state funding to supplement the federal program.
“Besides enhancing beneficiary access, states can enhance benefit amounts for vulnerable older adults. For example, the State of Maryland recently passed legislation ensuring that all SNAP beneficiaries aged 62 and older receive a minimum benefit of $30 monthly by supplementing the federal benefit with state funds as needed. Furthermore, efforts to significantly cut federal spending on SNAP benefits through block granting or other structural changes may have adverse consequences.”
TIME magazine on October 2, 2017 published an article: “Why Paying for Nutrition Saves Money on Health Care”. The title says it all.
Link to Article – CLICK HERE
The SNAP program is currently being considered for a federal budget cut. This is the kind of action that is contrary to the stated objective – to find programs where investment saves significantly more than the amount invested. For SNAP there is economic support for funding, while also providing a quality of life benefit.
AREA AGENCIES ON AGING: (AAA)
The AAAs were created as part of the Older American’s Act, a federal law passed in the 1960s. There are 16 locations in Colorado. These provide direct services and funding for services provided by others. This included transportation, meals (both congregate meals and meals on wheels), in-home care and other services to support the needs of seniors. There is a lack of definitive studies on the cost effectiveness of these programs. But the SNAP study provide strong evidence of the benefits of programs provided by the AAAs. It is important that funding for the AAAs and their programs continue and are increased to stay in line with the aging population. As with the SNAP program – there is economic support for funding and also a quality of life benefit.
PROPERTY TAX, RENT, HEAT CREDIT (PTC) REBATE (This is a Colorado program.)
Since 1972 the PTC has provided an invaluable support system to Colorado’s low-income seniors aged 65 and older, surviving spouses aged 58 and older and people with disabilities. The average annual rebate is $372 or $31 per month. Eligible participants must make less than $13,234 for individuals and $17,839 for married couples. This should also be considered cost effective funding.
One thing stands out. Very small amounts can have a much larger impact on federal and state resources. Keeping seniors (and people of all ages) out of hospitals and nursing homes are key steps in insuring there are enough resources to provide basic needs for our aging population.
As public and private sector health care partners shift to outcome-driven, value-based care, social service programs such as SNAP, AAA and TPC will be critical tools to improve health for low-income seniors across the country.
Low participation in these programs, by eligible recipients, has left many deserving people without important benefits. This is unfortunate because it costs government significant additional funding to support other, more expensive, programs.
Government agencies may be cautious about promoting cost effective programs because of short term budget constraints. This is typical, but unfortunate. It is short term reality instead of long-term solutions.
It is important that you track your legislator’s votes and be sure he/she is making good value judgements. Any time a new or revised service is considered – it needs to be cost effective – will the saving in other areas exceed the cost of the expenditure.