Helping Older Americans Boost Their Budget
with Josh Hodges of the National Council on Aging
As the COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped the nation’s financial landscape, advocates say older Americans are uniquely disadvantaged.
Josh Hodges, Chief Customer Officer of the National Council on Aging, reveals resources available to help 65+ Americans “boost their budget” for daily necessities.
Aug 03, 2020
Anderson: Living on a fixed income is a challenging reality for millions of older Americans, and with the economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic, those challenges are heightened. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers," I'm Tetiana Anderson. For Americans aged 65 and older, many are struggling to make ends meet. Joining me to discuss a campaign that aims to help older Americans boost their budget for daily needs is Josh Hodges. He is the chief customer officer of the National Council on Aging. Josh, thanks for being here.
Hodges: Thanks for having me.
Anderson: So, Josh, there are billions of unused dollars out there that could really be going to help older Americans pay some of the bills that they have. What kind of bills are we talking about? What is it that older Americans need assistance with?
Hodges: Absolutely. It's a great question. There are actually $30 billion every year that go unused. These are benefits that come from both the federal, the state, the local governments, as well as private foundations. The benefits can be used for any number of things. There are benefits to put food on the table. There's a lot of food benefits. There's benefits to help older adults pay for heating and air conditioning. So there's energy benefits. There's benefits for veterans. If you're a veteran or a widow or widower or a spouse of a veteran, there are a number of benefits programs specifically for you. There are programs to help you pay for your rent or your mortgage. These are programs from, again, across a number of different entities that are really designed to help low-income older adults afford the things they need to afford.
Anderson: We know what they can use the money for now, but more importantly, how can they get it?
Hodges: It's actually very simple. For a number of years, you had to apply to each of these benefit programs separately. You had to go through a different process We at the National Council on Aging, which is a 70-plus-year-old national nonprofit, have worked to provide -- move all of this online. You can go to ncoa.org/boost to actually go through an application process. It's quite simple. It takes about five minutes to go through the quick questionnaire. It'll tell you what benefits are available in your zip code, what benefits are available that you might qualify for based on your income level or based on any number of other status questions. From there, you can actually go through the application process. Again, the questionnaire takes five minutes at most, and then the application process is verified benefit, but it's all done online and connected by NCOA.
Anderson: So a lot of people might be hearing about these kinds of benefits for the first time. I know I am. It was shocking to me that there was that much money out there that wasn't used. So I'm wondering, how did we miss all of this?
Hodges: I mean, there are great programs, but we do have to do a better job of educating older adults. It's part of what the National Council on Aging is trying to do. Since 2001, we've actually had a digital product online allowing people to get connected to the benefits. Through that, we've actually served 8.7 million older adults to the tune of almost $35.5 billion. In essence, this is already out there, but it really is, at the end of the day, Tetiana, an education and activation question. Are we able to educate the older adults in a way so that they know where these benefits are? And then how do we get them to actually apply for the benefits? And that's what we're working to do through Boost Your Budget Week.
Anderson: Longevity is a great thing, and I think some of the statistics from the National Council on Aging say that on average, a 65-year-old can expect to live another 19 years. That's great news, no doubt about it, but at the same time, there is another side to that. There can be a lot of dilemmas that come along with the longer that we live. What are we talking about, and how are you educating the people you serve about what to plan for?
Hodges: Exactly. And you're right, a lot of people can live 19, 20, 25 years past retirement, which is a great thing for our country. It's great for it because of the medical advances. It's great because of the number of positive things that happen in our country. But when it comes to an individual's personal finances, it is not always great. A lot of people have enough money to retire for 10 or 15 years. And so, as as your retirement continues, as you live longer, you're running out of money. As you approach retirement, as you're considering retirement, really look to see do you have enough money to live for the next 20 years? Because oftentimes, retirement is a whole quarter of your life. The other thing is, is look at programs like we're talking about here. There are a number of programs out there that are specifically designed to help low-income older adults stretch their dollars further. One in two older adults live on less than $30,000 of income year. One in for older adults live on less than $15,000 a year. These programs can really help you stretch your budget.
Anderson: It's not just older Americans that need to look ahead. What can younger Americans be doing to help them? I mean, I'm thinking about my mom. She's 70 now, but were there things that I should've been thinking of 20 years ago that might've been helpful to her planning today?
Hodges: Yeah, I think there are absolutely things that young Americans can do as they are both helping the older adults now and as they're planning themselves for retirement. You know, the first thing I always encourage is really sit down -- whether it's yourself or it's your parents, and really focus in on what are your retirement goals? How do you best wish to live in retirement? And make sure that those things are appropriately addressed early on because you don't want to be in your 70s, you don't be in your 80s and have to make choices that live in places you don't want to live in. I think as you're a caregiver to a parent and as you're considering retirement, it really is about that advance conversations. The conversations that are hard to have are important to have as to what somebody's wishes are in retirement.
Anderson: Josh, if people want to know more about the work that the National Council on Aging does, resources, where can they go?
Hodges: Yeah, the best place to go is online. ncoa.org is a great place to learn broadly about NCOA. And if you want to start the process of actually looking at potential benefits, go to ncoa.org/boost. Again, ncoa.org/boost. From there you can take the questionnaire and be connected to the benefits.
Anderson: Josh Hodges with the National Council on Aging, thank you so much for being here.
Hodges: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well, for joining us. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, be sure to go to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.