When I'm 64?
April 3, 2012 3:29 PM   Subscribe

What happens to elderly people in the United States who have run out of retirement savings, can't work, and aren't getting enough from Social Security to cover their living expenses?

For the sake of argument, let's say that this elderly person has no job, no savings, and can't get a job because of an illness that keeps them from getting most jobs, but doesn't qualify for disability money. Despite the illness, though, and barring a fatal illness, they are likely to live for at least another decade. Basically, I'm trying to imagine a scenario where a senior has zero prospects for earning sufficient living income for the remainder of their life.

Is there a safety net in U.S. society for someone in this position? What resources are available to them to allow them to survive?
posted by El Sabor Asiatico to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
In Massachusetts, local housing authorities offer subsidized housing based on income to elderly and disabled Social Security recipients. I know that many other states have similar programs.

On a federal level, folks in this situation would be eligible for Section 8 housing vouchers. Also food stamps.

Still, there are plenty of over-65 people in homeless shelters. There isn't enough of a safety net. It's a serious problem.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:34 PM on April 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


In the Long Island/Islip/NY area, this would be handled by HUD (Housing Urban Development, IIRC), and some of the elder services. They work with landlords to pay rent on a place. Another option is always the church -one of my sisters in law has been helped by the church.
posted by kellyblah at 3:34 PM on April 3, 2012


From what I understand in Massachusetts, there's a 7-year waiting list for such housing (anecdata only).
posted by Melismata at 3:36 PM on April 3, 2012


One anecdata point: at the complex for the elderly and disabled where my dad lived for the last few years of his life, there were people paying monthly rents of $100 and below; the rest was subsidized by the local Housing Authority, out of the "market rent" income the people who could afford it paid and out of state and federal grants.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:36 PM on April 3, 2012


Melismata, I think that must differ widely by community. My dad waited 2 months.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:37 PM on April 3, 2012


Ah, yes, Sidhedevil, you're right, the person in question was talking about a very desirable city.
posted by Melismata at 3:38 PM on April 3, 2012


This is what subsidized senior housing is for, the idea being that if you can get the senior in question housed and on Medicare/Medicaid, and then possibly hooked up with a food bank, they won't starve, although they'll be living tight.

In practice, some, I think primarily seniors with substance abuse or mental health problems, do become homeless.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 3:39 PM on April 3, 2012


My Dad used to run a nursing home; he would frequently admit folks who couldn't pay and just eat the cost.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:41 PM on April 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Housing subsidies aside, my dad survives without them on his social security alone, and he never made much and retired at 62 so it wasn't much of a check. He lives in an older trailer and he eats a lot of rice and beans and similar sorts of things. That wouldn't work everywhere in the country, but it is at least possible.
posted by gracedissolved at 3:44 PM on April 3, 2012


Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is a safety-net income for (among others) an elderly person who hasn't earned enough to get Social Security. The person has to be 65 or older to get it.

Subsidized housing exists, but it's scarce and there are long waiting lists.

Unfortunately, the solution is most often "depend on the charity of family" and if there is no family or friend support system the elderly person is SOL.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 3:56 PM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Housing Authorities are countywide agencies (usually-- sometimes several rural counties form a consortium), and provide public housing and rental assistance voucher assistance to low-income households, including seniors, through several programs, including the Housing Choice Section 8 program. Housing Authorities and other housing providers also provide subsidized housing through a number of other Federal and state programs, such as HUD Section 811 and HUD Section 202. A state-by-state search tool for HUD-funded subsidized housing is available here. Anyplace that allows residents to pay rent on a sliding scale based on income is probably getting HUD funding of some kind, probably tenant or project-based Section 8 or Section 202 funding.

State programs are generally funded by Federal dollars allocated on a state-by-state basis, and programs vary.

It is important to note that Section 8, while valuable for seniors, is not just for seniors-- and while some other subsidized programs are targeted toward seniors, many support eligible low-income households generally-- singles, couples, families with kids, etc etc. In high-cost areas, lots of people need help, not just older folks. So there are often waiting lists, and they can be very, very long.

A couple people mentioned waiting times for housing assistance above, and commented on the differences in various areas. In the Portland Metro area, not one of the four regional housing authorities is even accepting applications for Section 8 and Public Housing waitlists-- there are thousands of families waiting already, and all the assistance we have is already being used by low-income households (including many seniors). The agency I work for estimates that at our current turnover rate, it could be up to ten years before we get through our current waitlist.

In addition, HUD funding has been cut in the last several Federal budget rounds-- and much of the 202 and public housing stock currently in existence is old and need of rehab and repair (which is also not being funded). So there is a safety net, of sorts, that is meant to help seniors who are unable to work and do not have sufficient income to support themselves-- but it's a patchy network that's already overtaxed and likely to become more overburdened over time.
posted by Kpele at 4:06 PM on April 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


My mother-in-law is basically in this situation, except she's only in her 50s so she needs her safety net to last for several decades. Currently she's barely scraping by with a combination of food stamps and Section 8 housing vouchers in a low-income housing facility for seniors (she's not a senior but qualifies due to medical issues).

The only reason she was able to get that much is because my husband and I had the time/energy/resources to call dozens of housing facilities, fill out miles of complicated paperwork and harass people who would rather screw over people like her. In short, it's not much of a safety net at all if you're completely on your own without a younger/more agile generation to push things along.
posted by joan_holloway at 4:41 PM on April 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


joan_holloway: "The only reason she was able to get that much is because my husband and I had the time/energy/resources to call dozens of housing facilities, fill out miles of complicated paperwork and harass people who would rather screw over people like her. In short, it's not much of a safety net at all if you're completely on your own without a younger/more agile generation to push things along."

Yep, absolutely. If someone doesn't have the snap to stay with all this jive, and push those who are in a position to help, chances are very good that they're on the street.
posted by dancestoblue at 4:51 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some other housing options are funded on a local (not state or federal) level. In Houston, they are called Assisted Multifamily Properties. Here, they are privately owned but set aside a certain number (or all) units for lower income people. In Houston, quite a few have sprung up recently -- very nice apartments, new builds -- and they are having to advertise to get people to move in because so many are newly being built. Some that were originally for 60+ are now lowering the age limit to 50+ to fill the units. I checked one that I know, and it is not listed on the website Kpele gives for searching, so local searching might also work to find details for your specific area.
posted by Houstonian at 5:06 PM on April 3, 2012


I know someone who's kind of in this position (though lucky enough to qualify for disability income, it's not enough to live independently). Because of his veteran status he's eligible to stay in a Veteran's Administration men's shelter and get health insurance through them too.
posted by bleep at 5:07 PM on April 3, 2012


The only reason she was able to get that much is because my husband and I had the time/energy/resources to call dozens of housing facilities, fill out miles of complicated paperwork and harass people who would rather screw over people like her. In short, it's not much of a safety net at all if you're completely on your own without a younger/more agile generation to push things along.
posted by joan_holloway


Thirding this! This is so true.
posted by bleep at 5:08 PM on April 3, 2012


I just started volunteering at soup kitchens in NYC. No shortage of elderly people who have probably fallen through the cracks there, unfortunately.
posted by bquarters at 5:20 PM on April 3, 2012


Some of us who are rapidly approaching retirement age without significant assets are talking about pooling our resources so that we can maintain a decent quality of life. Setting up a cooperative/communal retirement home is one possibility.
posted by mareli at 5:39 PM on April 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


Yeah, unfortunately, because there are so many people that need the very limited assistance available, anyone who is unable/unwilling to deal with confusing paperwork that must be completed and filed in a timely manner is likely to get denied assistance.

I take some issue with the would rather screw over people line, though. All the people I know who work for HUD and housing authorities are trying hard to do good in incredibly draining jobs in which they get paid way too little to do way too much, and in which most of their thanks is getting yelled at by people who aren't getting as much help/getting help as fast as they think they ought to. When you have 1,000+ people who are all in equally desperate need competing for 1 voucher slot, you end up having to deny people who don't complete paperwork in a timely manner. It completely sucks, I agree, but the ultimate fault does not lie with the caseworkers, IMO, it lies with the people who decline to allocate funds to housing programs.
posted by Kpele at 8:32 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


[A couple of comments deleted. Reminder: OP is asking "what resources are available?" Providing some (helpful and pertinent) additional info or background is fine, but Ask Metafilter is not the spot for a general chat or rant about the topic.]
posted by taz at 12:53 AM on April 4, 2012


Great responses, guys, thank you! This was very helpful.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 10:47 AM on April 4, 2012


I did some investigation and came up with this clearing-house website: Senior Resource Alliance

Turns out there are some other programs, such as energy assistance for the low-income elderly (LHEAP), food stamps (these days it's not paper "stamps" but more like a pre-loaded plastic card), Meals on Wheels, and scattered other programs. The problem is, many of these programs are not always consistent, or equally available, from state to state (some areas are more poorly funded, some have longer waiting lists, some have more demand and thus might have to "triage" more heavily, others might depend on charitable contributions that fluctuate from year to year and whim to whim of donors); and also, as joan_holloway stated above, without a savvy and determined advocate(s), the elderly person might not know of them or be able to jump through the hoops to access them.

I wonder if more computer-literate generations of older people will at least be able to Google for assistance and come up with websites like the Senior Resource Alliance (that is if the person can afford a computer and internet access, or is able to get to a library).
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 11:37 AM on April 4, 2012


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