• State Sen. Judy Schwank

For older adults, budgeting isn’t always enough [Column]

By SEN JUDY SCHWANK

This article was published in the Reading Eagle.

September 11, 2022 at 5:00 a.m.


After decades of hard work, the days of retirement should be carefree and leisurely, but unfortunately, this is not a reality for many.


In 2021, it was estimated that one in three adults aged 65 and older were economically insecure. That’s a pretty startling statistic. Strategic budgeting, along with common sense measures taken by the state and federal government, can help make a difference.


For most people, it’s very important to stay within the constraints of your budget. If you’re retirement age, you have a lifetime’s worth of practice at this. Developing a plan at the beginning of each year that establishes how much you can spend on vacations, hobbies and other leisure activities can be a helpful first step.


Essential spending, like food, shelter, utilities, transportation and health care, can be a bit tougher to budget for. In addition to these expenses, there are some non-monthly bills like property taxes and insurance premiums that take a big chunk out of your bottom line.


One way to factor these expenses into your monthly budget is to divide their yearly cost by 12. This way, when it comes time to make the yearly payment, you have already set aside the money.


That being said, no amount of clever bookkeeping can solve every problem. There are many areas where the state of Pennsylvania and the federal government can take financial pressure off seniors.


For one, the cost of housing has become out of control for seniors, as I’ve written about before in this column. Expanding the Property Tax and Rent Rebate Program so more individuals are eligible would be a meaningful step. The program’s eligibility is currently Pennsylvanians 65 and older with an income limit of $35,000 a year for homeowners and $15,000 annually for renters, and half of Social Security income is excluded.


The maximum standard rebate is $650, but supplemental rebates for qualifying homeowners can boost rebates to $975. This year’s budget approved a one-time bonus rebate equal to 70% of your original rebate amount.


Additionally, the cost of health care, especially prescription drugs, can be a huge burden for many older adults. In fact, prescription drug spending was estimated to account for nearly 12% of total personal health-care service spending in the United States in 2019. Many older adults simply can’t go without their medication.


At the federal level, some new provisions are on the way that will help. The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act places an out-of-pocket cap of $2,000 a year on all drug costs for Medicare recipients. It also allows Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices. Lastly, the price of Insulin, which 15.9 million seniors use to treat diabetes, will be capped at $35 a month beginning in 2023.


Food insecurity is another problem that is widespread among seniors. Feeding America found that in 2020, one in 15, or roughly 5.2 million older adults, were food insecure.


In Pennsylvania, we established the Senior Food Box Program, which is a great option for low-income older adults. Anyone over the age of 60 whose household income is at or below 130% of the U.S poverty level qualifies. The program works to improve the health of seniors by providing nutritious USDA-approved foods free of charge. Other food resources include the State Food Purchase Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program.


Delivering for seniors who have contributed mightily to society for years should be a core goal of government at all levels. Looking at some of the numbers referenced in this column, there is no question that more needs to be done to ensure older adults have the means to live out their golden years with dignity.


Judy Schwank is a state senator for the 11th district. Her Reading district office is located at 210 George St., Muhlenberg Township. Contact her at 610-929-2151, senatorschwank@pasenate.com or visit her website www.senatorschwank.com or www.facebook.com/senatorjudyschwank.