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How to Find Public Benefits for Caregivers

Lifelines for financial help

"Money is really tight! How do I make sure that my Social Security check is right?"

Social Security, a national program, provides monthly income to people starting at age 62 or those who become disabled and meet strict disability and work eligibility requirements. To receive retirement benefits, you must have paid Social Security retirement taxes for at least 10 years or meet other specific requirements. To apply, visit your parents' local Social Security office or click here.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) pays monthly income benefits to people age 65 and over, as well as to the blind or disabled if they have limited resources. People may receive both Social Security and SSI payments if they meet the requirements. Click here for more information.

"I can't afford my groceries. What can I do?"

Food Stamps help people with limited resources to buy food. They are free and come in the form of coupons or an electronic-benefit card that looks like a credit card. How much the applicant receives depends on his or her assets, expenses, and how many people live in the applicant’s household. To apply, go to your local department of social or human services, or click here.

"I'm having trouble paying my heating bills this winter, and my house is really drafty! Is there any relief for a homeowner like me?"

The Low-Income Energy Assistance Program helps people who cannot afford to pay their heating and cooling bills and provides money to help weatherize homes to make them more energy efficient. Click here to learn more.

Remember, the programs described above provide real dollars for your parents or loved ones to help them make ends meet, so digging in and learning if they qualify for assistance are true labors of love. And AARP makes it easy by providing tools to help you learn more and even apply for the programs. We keep the information in a convenient place on our Web site. Visit our Benefits QuickLink on the AARP Real Relief page to find out about programs that can dramatically improve your parents' or loved ones' quality of life.

Public benefits provide a social-safety net to help people who need it, and especially during these tough financial times, participating in these programs can be a lifesaver. The magnitude of the current economic decline has battered consumers on every front, so many who had made plans and were confident about their future financial security have now been shaken. Social-safety-net programs provide a financial shot-in-the-arm for your loved ones and will relieve financial pressure on you to intervene and support them with your own assets.

It is important to remember that caregiving is not about taking control; it's about helping those you care about make decisions to improve their living circumstances. The multitude of programs listed above can supplement your loved ones' household budget and reduce their anxiety about the future. We are all looking forward to the day when we are all better off!

Comparisons of the current economic recession with the Great Depression remind us of how serious our circumstances are. In that era, policymakers established several social-safety-net programs, and others were added later in the century. These programs are our 20th-century legacy that we, as 21st-century caregivers, should use to ensure that our family members age with dignity and independence.

All the best,

Elinor Ginzler

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