Make the best senior care decision
In the United States, 15 million people ages 65+ struggle to live on less than $28,000 annually, and many who rely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) receive just $841 per month. With the rising costs of living, low-income seniors find challenges not only in paying their rent or mortgage but also in figuring out how to pay for health care and support with daily activities. Assisted living communities provide assistance with personal tasks like bathing and dressing while also offering apartment-style housing. However, the price tag for these communities is often out of reach for many low-income seniors. The good news is there are several financial assistance programs and a variety of low-income assisted living options for seniors.
Low-income status is set at 150% above the poverty line, which in 2022 is $13,590, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
In most states, for an individual to be considered low-income, their annual income must fall below $20,385. There is a range of low-income maximums that are dependent on the number of family members living in a household. For example, a family of four is considered low-income when their annual combined income is less than $41,625. In Alaska and Hawaii, the low-income threshold is slightly higher, due to a higher cost of living in those states.
When it comes to applying for income-driven programs, many states and cities provide services that guide families by helping them determine assets and income and by assisting them through the application processes.
Our free tool provides options, advice, and next steps based on your unique situation.
There are several options when it comes to seeking low-income living assistance for seniors. From government-sponsored health care insurance programs like Medicare and Medicaid to programs designed and operated by private, nonprofit organizations, there are several paths to choose from. While the options may vary from state to state, using a combination of the following resources may help you create the best affordable assisted living solution for your loved one.
Medicare is a national, government-funded health insurance program for individuals 65+. The program cannot be used to pay for room and board at an assisted living community, but it may cover some of the health care costs provided at such a facility.
Medicare can often be used for short-term care after an illness or injury. It may also cover services like occupational and other rehabilitation therapies, either at home or in a senior living community.
Administered by individual states, Medicaid provides health coverage to low-income seniors. Medicaid programs may cover some long-term care expenses like home health services and hospice care. To qualify for certain Medicaid programs, a senior must show both functional and financial need.
Medicaid waivers offer states the opportunity to create a variety of service options that are not available under Medicaid’s general federal guidelines. While each state is able to customize the waivers as they see fit, there are two waiver programs that tend to be the most common.
The Medicaid Home and Community Based Service (HCBS) waiver is used by states to create community-based programs for individuals who can live independently but need support with daily activities. HCBS can include care in the home or in a Medicaid-certified assisted living community.
Meanwhile, the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) provides low-income seniors with a team of health care professionals. This PACE team helps individuals meet their health care needs while remaining in their own homes, rather than going to a long-term care facility.
Eligible veterans and their surviving spouses can use the VA Aid and Attendance and Housebound benefits to help them pay for long-term care. Both of these benefits provide supplemental income to a senior’s VA pension to assist in covering the cost of care.
Veterans must meet specific service, financial, and clinical requirements to qualify for the VA’s long-term care benefits.
In many states, there are nonprofit programs that can help to supplement living costs for low-income seniors. For example, in Denver, Colorado, the “Area Agency on Aging provides funding for senior care and services such as meal programs, transportation, and home health,” said Shannon Gimbel, ombudsman manager at Denver Area Agency on Aging.
The minimum monthly payment of $841 that most individuals 65+ receive through Supplemental Security Income (SSI) may not go far , considering that the average price tag of an assisted living community can often stretch to over $4,000 each month. However, SSI can be combined with other services and aid programs to help pay for the assistance your loved one needs.
Income, living situation, personal assets, and the state you live in can impact SSI benefits. Some states add to minimum federal contributions which may increase monthly benefits. Meanwhile, individuals with a qualifying disability may receive additional benefits through Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).
Depending on your loved one’s care requirements, there may be several options for affordable assisted living. Some are offered through federal agencies like the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Other options include private homes with on-site care or living with family. There are also in-home care services that allow seniors to age in place. Consider these common options as a stand-alone solution, or you can combine several of these for a customized approach to fit your family’s unique needs.
In many states, low-income seniors might find that government housing options fit their housing and care needs. Section 202 housing was developed for low-income seniors and helps them live independently, often by including supportive services.
In states that have Section 202-designated buildings, many will offer assistance with activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing, cooking, and cleaning. Some may even offer 24-hour skilled nursing care.
Operated by private, nonprofit organizations, Section 202 housing allows seniors who qualify for the program to pay as little as 30% of their income to rent.
HUD Section 811 is similar to Section 202 but is specific to all people with disabilities, regardless of age.
Some states have Section 811 buildings or homes set up to support the diverse needs of people living with disabilities. Comparable to assisted living facilities, they may offer on-site care along with services such as transportation, housekeeping, and meal preparation.
As with Section 202, Section 811 living options are operated by private, nonprofit organizations. Rent for qualified seniors starts at 30% of their adjusted income.
The Housing Choice Voucher Program focuses on low-income individuals and families, regardless of age. Families who make less than 50% of the median income for the area where they live qualify for this program. Qualified families are responsible for finding their own housing, but they can search anywhere as long as the building owner agrees to rent under the program.
For families interested in learning more about Section 811, Section 202, or Housing Choice Voucher (Section 8) programs, the nearest HUD regional office or a local Area Agency on Aging can provide more information on the various HUD programs in your area.
Low-income seniors who would prefer to live in their current home may have access to a variety of support options. In addition to using HUD programs to help them pay rent, they may be eligible to use a combination of Medicaid and Medicare to pay for services that support them with daily activities and health care.
In many states, Medicaid programs can be used to help pay for in-home care, which should be easy to customize based on a senior’s needs and lifestyle. Caregivers can also support seniors with personal activities, such as bathing and dressing, or provide companionship by having conversations, playing games, or helping to cook meals. For seniors who need help getting out into the community, in-home caregivers can arrange transportation to attend events, activities, or appointments.
Many private, nonprofit organizations also offer low-cost and even free support services for low-income seniors who live independently at home. For example, Meals on Wheels, a national organization that operates in most states, not only delivers food to homebound seniors but also offers some companionship services.
Living with family can be an option for low-income seniors who are unable to safely live alone. Family members can offer support with activities of daily living, transportation, and social interaction.
Some families will qualify for HUD vouchers or programs to help them pay rent. And, similar to the support offered to low-income seniors who live alone, government health insurance may help provide in-home and medical care to supplement care provided by family, depending on the state in which you live.
The homelike setting of residential care homes offers an intimate environment where residents can receive personalized care. While many of these communities provide similar services and amenities to larger assisted living facilities, they are often a less expensive option.
Our advisors help 300,000 families each year find the right senior care for their loved ones.
Community resources that can guide people through the processes of applying for aid and finding assistance are available in most states and cities.
Many cities have a public housing authority (PHA) office that can help your family navigate the various public housing options in your area that are available for low-income seniors. Your local PHA office may offer assistance determining your income status in addition to providing assistance with applying for HUD programs that your loved one may qualify for.
If you and your family are unsure of where to start, Senior Living Advisors at A Place for Mom can help you determine what assets you have and what types of senior living options you can afford.
The National Council on Aging. (2022, July 15). Get the facts on economic security for seniors.
United States Department of Education. (2022, January 12). Federal TRIO programs current-year low-income levels.
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. (2022, January 12). HHS Poverty Guidelines for 2022.
Gimbel, S. (2022, August 23). Personal communication [Personal interview].
Social Security Administration. (2022). You may be able to get supplemental security income (SSI).
Genworth. (2021, November). Cost of care survey.
A Place for Mom. (2022). A Place for Mom proprietary senior living price index.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Section 202 supportive housing for the elderly program.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Section 811 supportive housing for persons with disabilities.
U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Housing choice vouchers fact sheet.
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