Co-Chair: Elizabeth Scott, Director, Adult Economic Services,
Co-Chair: Martha Grove Hipskind, Eldercare Consultant
Donna Winbon, Investment Representative, Edward Jones Investments
Michael Haswell, Certified Mediator
Christena Schafale, Information Services Coordinator, Resources for Seniors, Inc.
Liane Simpson, JobLink Program, Wake County Human Services
Kathy Vidal, Executive Director, Carolina House of Smithfield
Stephanie Bias, Senior Health Insurance Information Program
Thelma Lennon, consumer
The need for economic self-sufficiency underlies many of the concerns addressed previously. Older adults worry that
they won’t be able to pay for health care, buy medications, pay their rent, access good-quality in-home and long-term
care, get transportation to the grocery store, and so on. In many cases, they worry with very good reason, since their
incomes have increased far less quickly than the costs of healthcare, housing, and so on. Social Security benefits
average only about $900 a month, and annual increases in recent years have barely kept pace with the increases in
Medicare premiums that are deducted from Social Security checks.
Even for those who have earned good incomes throughout their working lives, retirement can present unexpected
challenges. Many Wake County seniors saw their dreams of comfortable retirement slip away in the last few years due
to stock market losses. Funds which were supposed to last for many years can quickly disappear in the face of high
costs for long-term care and healthcare. Seniors faced with the task of investing their last major resource – often the
proceeds from the sale of their home – confront a bewildering array of options and a lack of unbiased assistance.
Long-term care insurance offers an option that was not available in the past, but policies vary and available coverage is
constantly changing as this market evolves.
Due to economic challenges, many seniors are choosing to continue working past 65, or return to the labor market to
supplement their Social Security benefits. Yet employment for older adults can be difficult to find, with some employers
reluctant to take on an older worker or to invest in training. Even if blatant age-discrimination is not present, seniors
are often at a disadvantage because they may lack the technology skills and confidence to compete in today’s tight
Facing the harsh reality of limited, fixed incomes and rising costs, many seniors turn to governmental agencies
seeking assistance. Then these people, most of whom have worked throughout their lives and have never asked for a
handout, face the bitter truth that government-subsidized assistance is only available to those even poorer than they
are. Unable to buy their medication, unable to pay for home care, unable to afford assisted living care, they are told that
their income is “too high” for them ever to qualify for assistance – and yet they have no hope of being able to pay for
these services out of pocket. The system is, in many cases, all or nothing – significant benefits available to those in
the very lowest income categories, and nothing at all for those whose income is just a little higher.
Existing Resources and Challenges
Many programs exist to provide a basic level of support to those who are in the very lowest income categories –
Supplemental Security Income provides cash benefits for those whose income is below $552/month, while Medicaid,
Food Stamps, the Low Income Energy Assistance Program and others serve those with incomes up to about $750 a
month. The problem is that these income levels do not begin to approach what is needed to provide a basic, decent
standard of living. And if an individual’s income is even $1 too high, there may be no benefits at all, or benefits so
reduced as to be near-meaningless. As a result, there is a large group of our senior population who will never qualify
for public assistance, and yet will never be able to manage the costs that they face on a daily basis. Our system fails
these people utterly.
Financial Planning and Insurance
For those who do have resources, there is no shortage of estate planning attorneys, financial planners, and other
investment professionals who are eager to assist them in selecting investments, purchasing long-term care
insurance, and arranging their estates. Yet even here there is a perceived lack of objective information from someone
who has no vested interest in the outcome. Where can a person of modest means go to receive this kind of help?
How can people learn the skills they need to manage their money for financial independence?
Consumer credit counseling services exist in Wake County, and part of their function is to provide budget counseling
and education about the appropriate use of credit. However, in practice, at most agencies the focus appears to be
placed on debt management programs that consolidate credit card payments. This is due in part to limited funding for
other financial education services. Triangle Family Services offers a financial literacy education program, targeting
teens as well as adults.
In the health insurance arena, the Seniors Health Insurance Information Program, sponsored by the NC Department of
Insurance, fills much of the need, with a volunteer-driven program that provides objective, comparative information
about Medigap policies. Education regarding long-term care insurance is also beginning to be available, though it is
less well-developed, partly because that industry is changing more rapidly and is less regulated.
For seniors who are seeking employment, one program that can help is the Senior Employment Program, funded
through the federal Older Americans Act, Title V. This program is targeted toward very low income individuals who have
been out of the workforce and need to acquire job skills to become competitive in the labor market. It provides
subsidized part-time employment opportunities and training, with the objective of transition to full competitive
employment within a limited period of time. However, it offers no assistance to seniors who are seeking higher-level
employment or already have job skills. Other programs include the JobLink center which offers assistance with job-
seeking skills and technology resources; and the Employment Security Commission. Neither of these programs offer
any services targeted specifically to the employment needs of older adults.
|Triangle J Council