Township offers help for seniors balancing a budget

Township Offers Help for Seniors Balancing a Budget

With costs rising and Covid benefits waning, more help needed

With high inflation and the cost of medical care and medications, many senior citizens on fixed incomes are struggling to make ends meet financially. But the senior services division of Oak Park and River Forest Townships is here to ease the burden of budgeting.

Through its money management program, trained volunteers are connected to program participants to guarantee financial obligations are met while keeping their savings stable for the future. Volunteers pay home visits to their clients once a month to help them develop and keep to a budget, while also ensuring all bills get paid and check books are balanced. They can also protect their clients from engaging in financial scams and help them dispute misattributed or unusual charges.

The program is open to any person aged 60 and above, who would like to feel a little more secure in their finances. Those who qualify as low-income can participate in the program cost-free. Many participants are referred to the program by caseworkers.

The same service is also available for people who do not fall into that income bracket at a fee of $50 per hour. Participants who pay for the program may not need all the services the volunteer assigned to them can provide. For this reason, the private pay option tends to be short-term for many participants.

“It’s kind of a middle ground for the people that might not need a financial planner but need some level of assistance, maybe to get them straight with a budget,” said Vivian Holt, program coordinator.

The money management program is surprisingly one of the senior services department’s lesser-known offerings, considering that over 15 million U.S. adults aged 65 and up are economically insecure, with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level, according to the National Council on Aging.

Program participation ebbs and flows, but the senior services department is expecting an increase with the decrease in benefits provided through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.

Temporary pandemic SNAP benefits ended March 1 in Illinois. With this change, all Illinois SNAP participants can expect to have their benefits cut anywhere from $55 to $255 a month, according to the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Food is hardly inexpensive these days; the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported the cost of groceries increased by 9.9% in 2022.

To make sure participants are not taken advantage of by their financial helpers, Holt trains all volunteers before assigning them to their clients. The volunteers meet with Holt quarterly and the senior services department monitors the paperwork volunteers fill out after meeting with clients. The department also gets audited yearly by the Illinois Department on Aging. Volunteers do not have power of attorney and cannot write checks on behalf of their clients.

With the expected increase in new participants, the senior services department is looking for more volunteers. Volunteers typically work with one client at a time, making for both a diminutive time commitment and a prime opportunity to develop a deeper relationship between volunteers and their clients.

Oak Park resident Valerie Lester, who began volunteering with the program in 2017, still helps out her first client, who moved into subsidized housing in Chicago’s Galewood neighborhood. She helped her client get out of debt after her client’s grandchildren ran up her client’s credit cards.

“I knew she didn’t have family she trusted to know how much money she had,” said Lester. “We had worked to pay down her debt and the last little bit of it she was able to pay off with the pandemic stimuli [payments].”

Since the City of Chicago does not offer a similar program, according to Lester, she continues to help that client, submitting paperwork to the state rather than to the townships.

Lester is preparing to take on her newest client through townships and is looking forward to helping that individual become financially stable, as she has with her previous clients.

“I love doing this,” she said. “Every client I’ve had has been enormously grateful for helping them to get stabilized.”

Written by Stacey Sheridan.

Click here to see the original article published in the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest on March 14, 2023.