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Federal and State Financial Assistance for Seniors

Published: August 30, 2022
Reviewed by: Melissa Garthwait, BSW

Many seniors live on fixed incomes, limiting the amount of money available for food, shelter and other necessities. In some cases, seniors try to conserve funds by skipping meals, delaying needed medical care and living in unsafe conditions, putting them at risk for serious illnesses and injuries. To reduce the risk of hunger, isolation and homelessness due to a lack of financial security, federal and state financial assistance is available.

This guide provides all available state and federal programs offering public benefits to help older adults stay safe and healthy, including cash, medical, housing, legal and nutrition assistance.

Government-Funded Financial Assistance Programs

Cash Assistance

At the federal level, older adults have access to two main cash assistance programs: Social Security and Supplemental Security Income. The Social Security Act, signed into law in 1935, established a social insurance program to increase economic stability for retired individuals. Eligible retirees receive monthly payments based on how much they earned when they were working.

Supplemental Security Income provides direct payments to seniors and disabled adults with limited financial resources. SSI payments are only available to seniors with limited income and assets. Recipients use their cash payments to pay for food, housing and other basic living expenses.

Several states also have general assistance programs that provide cash payments to residents who meet certain eligibility requirements. In 13 states, payments are available only to residents deemed “unemployable.” They are Washington, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Minnesota, Michigan, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Most recipients are unemployable due to physical disabilities, but seven states allow residents to receive cash benefits if they’re unemployable due to learning disabilities, low levels of literacy or older age (55+). In 10 states, limited cash benefits are available to residents who are employable and ineligible for other forms of cash assistance. Those states are Alaska, California, Nevada, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana, Maine, New York and New Jersey.

Food and Nutrition Assistance

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service operates two programs of interest to older adults: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. SNAP, formerly known as the food stamp program, provides nutrition benefits to help low-income individuals pay for healthy food. The Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program helps low-income seniors pay for locally grown herbs, vegetables, honey and fruits.

Many states also have their own government-funded food and nutrition programs for seniors. For example, some states provide home-delivered meals, commonly called Meals on Wheels, or cover the cost of meals provided in senior centers and other community settings. These programs are often managed by state agencies tasked with providing social services or helping older adults maintain their health and independence. There are eligibility guidelines per state that typically include being over 60 years old and meeting homebound criteria.

Housing Assistance

At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development operates the housing choice voucher program, which is designed to help seniors, low-income families and disabled individuals obtain safe, sanitary housing. Participants aren’t required to live in subsidized housing projects; instead, they can use their vouchers to live in any type of housing that meets the program requirements.

Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly is another federal option. Under this program, HUD gives interest-free capital advances to nonprofit organizations and consumer cooperatives. Recipients use the funds to provide supportive housing for elderly individuals. Section 202 housing is available to low-income households with at least one resident who is 62 or older on the date of initial occupancy.

Although federal programs are helpful, the stringent requirements make it difficult for some seniors to qualify for assistance. To fill in the gaps, many states operate their own housing programs. As of March 2022, there were approximately 130 state-funded rental assistance programs in the United States, some of which were developed specifically for seniors. Available benefits include tax rebates, rental credits and help paying security deposits or back rent payments.

Legal Assistance

Legal Services for Older Americans is a federal program that provides funds to states and community-based programs to assist older adults with a wide range of legal issues. Attorneys and other trained professionals help eligible seniors draft advance directives and power of attorney documents, access public benefits, fight evictions and foreclosures, maintain their financial security, and resolve issues related to physical, financial and psychological elder abuse.

Many states have legal aid societies or free law clinics to help seniors with civil issues, including Medicare fraud, difficulty qualifying for Medicaid, telemarketing fraud and landlord/tenant disputes. Some states have helplines designed to give seniors access to legal information and referrals to reputable attorneys.

Medical Assistance

Original Medicare uses federal and state funds to give beneficiaries access to preventive screenings and care for acute and chronic illnesses. The program is designed for older adults (65+) and some younger adults with qualifying disabilities. Beneficiaries pay a monthly Medicare premium and have some out-of-pocket costs, such as coinsurance and deductibles, but Medicare coverage is typically much more affordable than private health insurance.

Medicaid also uses federal and state funds to give enrollees access to medical care. The program is designed for individuals with limited income and assets. Some states also offer Medicaid to medically needy individuals whose incomes are too high to qualify for other types of Medicaid coverage.

In some states, seniors have access to the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, which provides medical care and social services to eligible individuals who may otherwise need to move to a nursing home to get the care they need. PACE is available to adults who are at least 55 years old, require a nursing home level of care and live in an area served by a PACE provider.

At the state level, government agencies may pay for skilled nursing care, personal care and other services to help seniors remain in their homes for as long as possible. Each state also has a long-term care ombudsman to ensure older adults have access to all the medical and social services they’re entitled to receive.

Property Tax Assistance

Many states offer property tax rebates and other forms of tax relief for seniors. Some of these programs are available only to seniors with incomes below a certain threshold while others are available to all seniors who meet the minimum age requirements. For example, California allows older adults (62+) to postpone payment of their property taxes if they earn less than $35,500 per year and have at least 40% equity in their homes. In Arizona, seniors (65+) who meet certain income requirements and have lived in their homes for at least two years can apply to have their property valuations frozen for three years, ensuring their property taxes don’t increase during the freeze.

Utility Assistance

The federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program provides funding to help eligible families pay their energy bills, make energy-related home repairs and reduce their energy costs. Local agencies are responsible for distributing LIHEAP funds, so seniors and their loved ones can use the agency locator to find out where to apply.

Because LIHEAP is an income-based program, not all seniors qualify for this type of assistance. For these individuals, some states have their own utility assistance programs.

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Alabama Indiana Nebraska Rhode Island
Alaska Iowa Nevada South Carolina
Arizona Kansas New Hampshire South Dakota
Arkansas Kentucky New Jersey Tennessee
California Louisiana New Mexico Texas
Colorado Maine New York Utah
Connecticut Maryland North Carolina Vermont
Delaware Massachusetts North Dakota Virginia
Florida Michigan Ohio Washington
Georgia Minnesota Oklahoma West Virginia
Hawaii Mississippi Oregon Wisconsin
Idaho Missouri Pennsylvania Wyoming
Illinois Montana

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