Fighting poverty

Like most, Verla Blind, 82, of Stockport, must pay to keep up with an automobile, home insurance, car insurance, propane costs and an electric bill each month, not to mention the cost of food and other essentials.

But Blind must cover all those costs with about $700 from Social Security and a VA check from when her husband served in the military.

Poverty is widespread in the Mid-Ohio Valley, Ohio and beyond but it can hit the elderly population especially hard.

“Every month, I don’t go much of anywhere or buy anything extra,” Blind said. “I don’t go out to eat…on a very rare occasion I get to do that.”

For some senior citizens on fixed incomes and unable to work it’s even more dire, forcing a choice between a good meal and medication.

According the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2012, 3.9 million senior citizens 65 and older across the nation were living in poverty, a rate of 9.1 percent.

At a state level, out of nearly 1.7 million senior citizens there are 124,798 living in poverty. In Washington County there are 10,539 senior citizens and 1,287 living in poverty, a rate of about 12 percent, according to the Area Agency on Aging 8 (AAA8).

“There are more and more seniors living in poverty than there have been,” said Robin Collins, social services coordinator for the O’Neill Center in Marietta. “There are high costs, everything has increased, especially high medical costs.”

Collins said a huge issue facing seniors really starts with needed prescriptions.

“Medicine is expensive,” she said. “Then there’s the donut hole. We can help reduce the cost.”

Collins added that many seniors have to do a spend down before they can really get any discounts on medications.

“Even if seniors have Medicare Part D, they can still access discounts,” she said.

Rick Hindman, AAA8 director, said another issue facing seniors is the rising cost of food.

“There is a clear indication of hunger,” Hindman said, adding that the AAA8’s Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program can help negate that.

“There are a lot of seniors homebound and on a fixed income that have to have meals provided and delivered to them,” he said. “There’s a broad economic impact. There’s health care cost and Medicaid dollars to spend. (Missing meals) goes beyond someone being hungry…They are more likely to go into a hospital or nursing home and that costs us all.”

Collins said many seniors refuse to get help.

“So many seniors are so proud and very resistant to getting help,” she said. “They start to scrimp on other things.”

Collins said they might forego a medication one month and another a different month, or they might even start to scrimp on how much they eat or miss a bill on a utility.

“It could lead to hospitalization and skipping medicines,” she said. “It comes down to ‘Do I pay utilities, medical or food?'”

Local programs available to help low-income seniors include the Area Agency on Aging, the O’Neill Center and Belpre Senior Center. The two centers alone serve 2,160 seniors each year.

Collins said that even if a senior has Medicare or Medicare Part D, they are still eligible for the Prescription Assistance for Seniors, where drug manufacturers have programs for discounted prescriptions.

“It’s a great program,” she said. “We’ve given over $5 million worth of free medications to Washington County seniors.”

Other programs that will help seniors struggling to make ends meet are the Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) through Washington-Morgan Community Action, Senior Wheels Program through the O’Neill Center, where seniors can be transported, and the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program through the AAA8, where coupons are given for the Farmers Market and seniors don’t have to pay for the food.

Blind said that while she does get assistance for her heating through HEAP, and through Medicare and Qualified Medical Benefits (QMB) for her medications, she doesn’t get any other assistance.

She said she recently started going to the Gospel Mission food pantry in Marietta.

“I just recently found out about it,” she said. “I think it’s a great thing. It’s a great place to go to look for clothes…and I get books.”

Patricia Croston, 65, moved to the Betsey Mills Club in Marietta after relocating from Zanesville. Like Blind, she gets by every month with Social Security; her check is around $781.

Croston pays $360 a month to live at the Betsey, but her utilities are included. She pays $141 for a medical card, $45 for a phone and $28 for a life insurance policy.

“It doesn’t really leave a whole lot of room to play with,” she said. “It just seems like you have to keep cutting and cutting. But I don’t have it as bad as a lot of people.”

Croston also said her lack of money keeps her from even thinking about getting a car.

“I walk everywhere I go,” she said. “You think about getting a car, but then there’s a car bill, car insurance, gas and you never know if something will go wrong on it…It’s tough but I always think to myself I could be worse off.”

When asked what the future held for seniors living in poverty and on fixed incomes, Connie Huntsman, executive director of the O’Neill Center and Belpre Senior Center, said that she wished she knew.

“I don’t know what’s coming,” Huntsman said. “I wish we could have a crystal ball…Being prepared through education (is important). Through education is where (seniors) can find assistance.”