Government Benefits for Seniors: Navigate the Maze!

There’s a confusing maze of government income, health and care programs for seniors out there. Here’s a quick guide to eight of them:

Monthly Income Programs

Social Security Retirement (SSR):
SSR is a program for seniors funded by the federal government. Eligibility to receive SSR is based on one’s work history, while the amount of monthly benefits received reflects past earnings. Right now, the earliest age to retire is 62. In 2011, certain individual recipients who start receiving benefits at the age of full retirement, which is now 66, may be receiving the highest monthly SSR of $2,366. For further information on eligibility requirements and monthly benefits amounts see ssa.gov.

Social Security Disability (SSD):
SSD is another federal program based on one’s work history and earnings. It’s available to workers who, although younger than retirement age, are now disabled. A disabled person has a physical or mental impairment that is expected to last at least 12 months, or to result in death, and keeps them from performing substantial gainful activity. For more information on SSD benefits see socialsecurity.gov/disability.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI): SSI provides monthly income to people with low incomes who are blind, disabled or over the age of 65. In 2011, California’s single adults may receive monthly SSI of no more than $845, while couples may receive no more than $1,407. To be eligible for SSI, a single person cannot have more than $2,000, and a couple cannot have more than $3,000, in countable assets. For more information on SSI’s eligibility requirements, see dss.cahwnet.gov, and type “SSI Eligibility” in the search box.

Health and Care Programs

Medicare: Medicare is the national health program that covers seniors aged 65 and older, and people with disabilities. Seniors who do not have 40 or more quarters of Medicare-covered employment, but are otherwise eligible, may enroll by paying monthly premiums. Those who are younger than 65, but have been receiving SSD for 24 months or longer, are also covered by Medicare. For more detailed information, go to medicare.gov, and type in “Medicare & You” in the search box.

Medi-Cal: Medi-Cal, California’s version of the federal Medicaid program covers health care for low-income families, seniors and people with disabilities. Those who qualify for SSI automatically qualify for Medi-Cal. It is also available to low-income seniors whose countable assets are not more than $2,000 for a single person and $3,000 for a married couple. Medi-Cal will impose a deductible or share of costs for monthly earnings that exceed $600 for a single person, and $934 for a couple, although credit for payment of health insurance premiums is applied. For more information visit the California Health Advocates website at cahealthadvocates.org.

Nursing Home Medi-Cal:
For Medi-Cal to cover nursing home care, the limit on countable assets for a single person remains at $2,000. Where a husband and wife are both in need of long-term care, the Medi-Cal asset limit will increase to $4,000. A more generous asset limit applies for married couples where one spouse requires nursing home care, and the other - the community spouse - remains at home or in assisted living. Right now, although the spouse in need of long-term care may not keep countable assets exceeding $2,000, the community spouse’s countable assets may be as high as $109,560, and sometimes even more. For more detailed information see H.E.L.P.’s Nuts & Bolts Guide: Medi-Cal for Nursing Home Care or visit California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform at canhr.org.

In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS): California’s IHSS program assists low-income seniors and others in avoiding nursing home care by providing hourly reimbursements for personal care, meal preparation, laundry, grocery shopping, housecleaning and transportation to medical appointments. The countable asset limits are $2,000 for a single person and $3,000 for a couple. For more detailed information, visit the California Department of Social Services website at cdss.ca.gov, and type “IHSS Consumer Handbook” in the search box.

Veterans Aid & Attendance (A&A) Pension:
The A&A pension provides coverage for at-home as well as at assisted living and nursing home facilities for veterans and their surviving spouses. Physical criteria are met when a physician confirms that regular assistance in eating, bathing, dressing and other personal care is needed. Care in an assisted living facility also qualifies. In 2011, the A&A pension can provide yearly benefits of up to $19,736 for single veteran, $12,681 for a surviving spouse, and $23,396 for a veteran who remains married. For more information see veteranaid.org/program.php or  contact the Los Angeles County Department of Military and Veterans Affairs at 213-744-4825.