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Public Benefits That Can Help

En español | Older adults can have a hard time paying for basic necessities such as health care and food. There are a variety of federal and state programs that fill this need. Learn how to help your loved ones apply for benefits.

Identify Benefits Being Used

Find out what public benefits your loved one is already receiving and what other types they may qualify for. Make a list of these benefits and add to it as needed so there's always an up-to-date record. These can include:

  • Social Security.
  • Veteran’s Benefits.
  • Medicaid.

Find Out What's Available

Use AARP's Benefits QuickLINK to determine what programs your loved one qualifies for as well as to learn about other programs unique to his or her state. Helpful hint: Gather information about your loved one's resources before going online. After completing the Benefits QuickLINK survey, print out fact sheets, applications and websites for public benefits programs in your loved one's home state. If they qualify for a program, find out if they want to apply and help them do so.

Apply for Appropriate Programs
Gather proof of your loved one's monthly income and other resources. Your State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) can provide guidance if more in-depth help is needed during the application process. Find the relevant SHIP program by visiting SHIP. Note: The program name may be different in your state.

Take Care of the Details
Look over your loved one's documents for important notices about changes in their public benefits (these notices can be difficult to understand). Public programs may require recipients to show each year that they still qualify for the program. And if they're not already, keep these papers organized in an easy-to-find location.

What’s Available
Social Security:
A national program, Social Security 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. The amount of your benefit depends on your work history or that of your spouse — whichever is higher — and the age at which you start receiving benefits. The program also provides benefits to family members under certain conditions. To apply, visit your parents’ local Social Security office, call 800-772-1213, or visit

Medicare:  For a variety of information on Medicare, check out AARP’s Medicare section or go directly to Medicare’s website at

Medicare Part D Extra Help Program: This program assists people with Medicare who have limited incomes and assets to pay for most of their Medicare Part D premiums, co-payments and deductibles. It also provides continuous drug coverage throughout the year. If your loved ones are enrolled in Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or a Medicare Savings program, they will automatically get Extra Help with paying for Part D. Otherwise, they will need to first apply for Extra Help and then enroll in a private Medicare-approved prescription drug plan. Certain assets, such as your house and vehicle, do not count against the resource limit. Apply online through AARP’s Benefits QuickLINK tool. You can also apply by using Social Security’s online application at

Medicaid: A federal and state health insurance program, Medicaid assists people with limited resources. Some who may be eligible for Medicaid include disabled or older individuals, and, in some cases, grandparents taking care of grandchildren. Certain people with higher incomes and high medical bills may also qualify. Each state designs and runs its own program, so eligibility criteria and covered services vary. People with Medicare on limited incomes may also qualify for Medicaid, which covers services that Medicare does not. These include long-term nursing home care and, depending on the state, personal or other home care services, eye exams, eyeglasses, and transportation to medical care. For information, call the local Department of Social or Human Services, which can be found in the phone book. Or, visit the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services website to learn more.

Medicare Savings Programs: These programs can help pay for out-of-pocket Medicare costs if income and assets are limited. These programs include the Qualified Medicare Beneficiary (QMB), the Specified Low-Income Medicare Beneficiary (SLMB), and the Qualifying Individuals (QI). The QMB program will pay for Medicare premiums, deductibles and coinsurance for eligible people who qualify for Part A. It will also pay for the annual Part B deductible and the 20 percent coinsurance costs. If your income is too high to qualify for QMB, you may qualify for SLMB or QI, which pay for the Part B monthly premium only.

Food Benefits Programs: Now referred to as SNAP, these food programs help people with limited resources 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 someone receives depends on his or her assets, expenses and how many people live in the household. Residences with a person age 60 and older must adhere to specific rules. To apply, call your loved one's local Department of Social or Human Services, or visit  

Supplemental Security Income (SSI): 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. Check out the Social Security Administration's web site to learn more or to apply.

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