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Rock-bottom retirement living

By Jennie L. Phipps ·
Sunday, July 8, 2012
Posted: 6 am ET

Last week, my colleague Barbara Whelehan wrote about her 70-year-old friend who has suffered mental and financial hardships and is struggling to find her footing and create a retirement scenario that works for her.

Barbara's friend lives in Florida and so does my 64-year-old mentally handicapped sister-in-law. My husband and I do what we can to make sure his sister lives reasonably comfortably on her modest income, so I'm familiar with what government and social services have to offer in that part of the country.

Both Barbara's friend and my sister-in-law live on gross incomes of about $900 a month, which is $10,860 a year -- slightly below the federal poverty level, $11,170, for one person. Staying below the poverty level is important because earning more jeopardizes their eligibility for several state and federal poverty programs, including extra help with paying Medicare, which otherwise would be a big expense.

Note that there is no standard of eligibility. Some programs use a gross number, and others rely on a net number -- you can subtract out housing costs, for instance. But the federal poverty level, which is indexed to the cost of living, is always the base number.

Both Barbara's friend and my sister-in-law are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which used to be known as food stamps. You can test for your own eligibility or that of others on the U.S. Department of Agriculture website, My sister-in-law gets about $200 a month from SNAP, and I suspect Barbara's friend would as well if she were to apply.

The only catch is that a recipient can't have more than about $2,500 in savings. A kind state employee alerted my sister-in-law to that limit, and she found a way around the problem by spending the excess on food and paper products with a long shelf life.

Florida doesn't have much in the way of low-cost senior apartments like Michigan has. There's one near me where one-bedroom units rent for $350 a month, including utilities. So my Florida sister-in-law is a homeowner. She recently purchased a 37-year-old trailer in surprisingly good shape for $1,000 with the small amount of money her mother left her. We helped her paint, buy appliances and seal the roof so it won't leak.

It's in a well-maintained, safe mobile home park where the monthly lot rent is $400. That fee includes everything but electricity, which on a hot month can be nearly $100 because of air conditioning. The park has a clubhouse, swimming pool, shuffleboard courts and an active member association that looks out for people like my sister-in-law.

Unlike Barbara's friend, my sister-in-law doesn't drive, so she doesn't have that expense. The park is within a block or two of a couple of grocery stores, some fast-food restaurants and pizza places, a Salvation Army retail store, and a hardware store. That means my sister-in-law can shop for almost everything she needs. She's also close to the clinic that provides her health care until next fall, when she turns 65 and is eligible for Medicare. A free senior bus provides transportation.

Her remaining expenses are a cellphone for $50 a month and a fairly basic cable TV plan for $70.

Her basic bills add up to $620. That leaves her with $280 a month to cover her remaining costs, including some taxes on the phone and cable, things like soap, paper towels and toilet paper that aren't covered by food stamps, and an occasional dinner at the all-you-can eat buffet restaurant.

It's not a glamorous life, but my sister-in-law has known times that were much harder.

I think with a little help, Barbara's friend could figure out her own situation as well. As for the rest of us, if we do smart retirement planning, we should be able to afford something better.

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July 13, 2012 at 8:36 pm

Lets show our ignorance by blaming one Political Person. There are many fingers to point. I didn't hear any absolute fixes for the current situation for seniors. They cannot live off your finger pointing. You sound about as Christian as the guy lying on the counter in a bar. Christians do not accuse they pray.
Get over yourself and find some solutions for the seniors below the poverty line. Have a good day and pray for peace.

P in CA
July 09, 2012 at 10:35 am

I think Barbara has some very good advice for elderly people who are physically and mentally handicapped.

I think eieio is seriously paranoid, and I only wonder how a 64 year old mentally handicapped person is supposed to "improve their lot in life"?????

July 08, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Every family has a sob story. I help two family members as much as my husband will let me, but there is a limit for even us. Why do I help them, because as a Christian it is my duty to share.My sister is a Medicaid/private pay (100% alimony) bug infested nursing home and is a double leg amputee. She is a brittle Type I diabetic. My brother is almost crippled from a bad back that even the V.A. docs will not operate due to the 90% chance of ending up paralyzed. He is on full disability but just over the poverty line so it is very hard for him.

The 3rd paragraph and last sentence is typical of liberal/progressive/statist/Marist & socialist thinking and a sad commentary on how far America has declined. "Staying below the poverty level is important because earning more jeopardizes their eligibility for several state and federal poverty programs, including extra help with paying Medicare, which otherwise would be a big expense." In other words, don't try to improve your lot in life because you wouldn't want to lose your $200 worth of food stamps and energy assistance etc. Geez! This stuff is not free and those who have jobs have to pay it. God Almighty!

However, the article accidentally exposes that Medicare is not
FREE as most of the takers believe it is and supposedly be much improved with the disastrous A.C.A. (Obamacare), unless you stay within the poverty criteria. In a few years after 2014 those of us in our late sixties, seventies and eighties will be given a pain pill versus a pacemaker or whatever that may extend our quality of life. IPAD a.k.a. Death Panels. President Obama advanced that idea to a women in one of his stupid speeches a few years back. But to be fair he was off tele-prompter which is when he actually exposes his Marxist thinking.