Personal finance

What to do when your monthly Social Security check isn’t enough

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As the cost of everyday goods swell, retirees living on a fixed income are likely feeling especially squeezed.

The recent cost-of-living adjustment to Social Security checks of around 6% this year isn’t enough of a shield for many with grocery and energy, including gasoline, prices seeing their biggest jump in decades.

Many recipients get most or all of their income from the monthly benefit, which came in at an average of $1,555 in June 2021, according to the Social Security Administration.

Fortunately, there are many resources to which retirees worried about meeting their bills amid inflation can turn. Here are some of them.

Health insurance and drug cost help

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Pricey health insurance and prescription costs can take a big bite out of retirees’ incomes.

Some may be eligible for assistance with their monthly premiums under the Medicare Savings Program, said Caitlin Donovan, a spokeswoman for the National Patient Advocate Foundation, a nonprofit that helps patients access and pay for health care.

“If you qualify, your premiums, deductibles and copays will be covered, which would be an enormous financial relief for anyone,” Donovan said.

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In addition, those enrolled in Medicare Part D, which covers prescriptions, should look to see if they qualify for Extra Help. That program can reduce the costs related to your drugs. The benefit can be worth more than $5,000 a year, Donovan said.

There are also a number of charitable organizations that assist seniors with their health-care costs. For example, at Copays.org you can apply for funds to put toward copays, premiums, deductibles and over-the-counter medications.

The National Patient Advocate Foundation has a financial resource directory in which you can search for local aid for everything from dental care to end-of-life services.

Food benefits

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Many older people aren’t taking advantage of all the food assistance available to them, experts say. A 2015 study, for instance, found that less than half of eligible seniors participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

“There tends to be a lot of misunderstanding about the program and a lot of stigma, and unfortunately that stands in the way of people seeking help,” said Josh Protas, vice president of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger.

The extra money can go a long way for retirees on a fixed income, though. The maximum benefit a month for a household of one is $250. Grocery stores, online retailers and farmers markets accept the funds.

SNAP has rules around how much you can own in assets and earn in income to get the aid, and Social Security checks are factored in. Still, certain expenses, including your rent and child care costs, may be deducted, and experts say anyone who suspects they could qualify should apply.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also has the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, under which certain low-income people over the age of 60 are eligible for a monthly food package, containing fruits, vegetables, cheeses and more.

Meanwhile, retirees covered by a Medicaid health plan benefit may be eligible for free food through Mom’s Meals. Some Medicare Advantage health plans also offer meal benefits under the program for those recently discharged from a hospital or dealing with a chronic disease.

The meals are typically delivered every two to three weeks, and include dishes like Salisbury steak, pasta and meatballs, and sweet and sour chicken. People can let the program know of any allergies, and they accommodate for diets suited to vegetarians as well as to those with certain conditions like cancer or diabetes.

A spokesperson for Mom’s Meals recommended seniors who think they might qualify for the free meals contact a Medicaid or Medicare representative.

Other options …

While you have to be extremely low income to qualify, some retirees will be eligible for the Supplemental Security Income program, a means-tested program for those over the age of 65 or with a disability.

In December 2021, more than 2.5 million people received both Social Security and the supplemental payment, which can be as high as $841 a month for an individual. You can apply on the Social Security Administration’s website or by calling 1-800-325-0778.

For more help, the National Council on Aging has a “benefits check-up” website where you can learn about more than 2,000 resources available to struggling seniors by ZIP code.

The council also has a guide called You Gave, Now Save, including information on the most generous benefits that help older people with expenses like their phone bill and property taxes.

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