The National Council on Aging (NCOA) recently unveiled its newest version of BenefitsCheckUp, a user-friendly website connecting those with lower incomes to benefit programs.
“Literally millions of older adults qualify for assistance programs and don’t apply,” said Brandy Bauer, director of the Center for Benefits Access at NCOA. “And they’re potentially leaving thousands of dollars on the table that could go back into their budget.”
Since its 2001 launch, BenefitsCheckUp has supported NCOA’s mission to help people age well and maintain their financial security. The latest version (in both English and Spanish) allows people to find benefit programs quickly and easily.
“Previously, the tool required more pre-screening in order to get program information,” Bauer said, “but now it’s literally just your ZIP code, what you’re interested in, and boom, you get all that information at your fingertips.”
Recognizing a need
Bauer said the pandemic exposed a huge need for the type of help the service hopes to provide.
“When COVID hit and everything shut down, we saw a huge spike, particularly in people looking for food assistance,” she said. “People were either losing jobs or they were losing access to senior center meal programs.”
And now, with rising inflation, she said, searches for assistance are climbing again.
“We get a lot of inquiries specifically about food, about housing, about utilities.”
The service is already impacting people in real ways, Bauer said, who shared a recent BenefitsCheckUp success story. Carol, a 70-year-old Florida resident who lives alone, needed a healthier diet to keep her diabetes under control but often had little money left over once all her monthly bills were paid.
Carol approached the Area Agency on Aging of Broward County for assistance. The agency used BenefitsCheckUp to help her apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP/Food Stamps), and Carol was awarded $139 in benefits per month. Before getting SNAP, she couldn’t buy fresh fruit and vegetables, but now she’s able to make healthier food choices.
Carol’s situation isn’t unique. In 2020, an estimated 5.2 million Americans 60 years and older were food insecure. And a recent report found 3.5 million Americans over 65 couldn’t afford their prescription medications. An additional 1.5 million disabled Americans younger than 65 couldn’t fill their prescriptions due to the cost.
Tapping into resources
If you’re an older adult or a person with disabilities struggling to pay for food, medications or other living expenses, BenefitsCheckUp provides access to local, state and federal programs.
Running short on food? You can apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, less than half of Americans over 60 who are eligible for SNAP benefits actually receive them.
Are you skipping medication doses or not having prescriptions filled because you can’t afford them? The Social Security Administration’s Extra Help program subsidizes Medicare’s Prescription Drug Plan costs.
With nearly 2,000 assistance programs nationwide, you’re likely to find more help than you knew existed. You’ll even find resources aimed at helping you age well by volunteering or enjoying state and national parks.
Determining eligibility is easy
BenefitsCheckUp allows you to see the full range of assistance programs available in your area.
If you’d like to screen programs based on your eligibility, you’ll need to input some information, including your age, income and medical expenses, to instantly learn which programs you’re eligible for. Creating a free account saves your eligibility profile to resume your search each time you visit BenefitsCheckUp, and all information remains confidential.
Applying for benefits
After eligibility screening, you can search for benefits based on your specific needs, such as help paying utility bills or legal assistance. If a program accepts an online application, it can be completed on BenefitsCheckUp. If a program requires a paper application, you can download both the application and instructions.
If you need help at any point, call, email or chat with a benefits enrollment specialist at 800-794-6559 or visit a local Benefit Enrollment Center. There are currently 85 centers in 41 states.
“It’s completely free. It’s completely confidential. It’s comprehensive,” Bauer emphasized. “Go on BenefitsCheckUp and see if you might get help from some of these programs. Even if you feel like your income is too high, you never know. You’re not losing anything to screen and find out.”