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Web site helps seniors find benefits

Seniors who surf the Internet can now find out how to sign up for federal and state assistance programs using a single web site.

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According to AOL, more than 70 percent of older Americans now go online to search for information for themselves and for their families.

BenefitsCheckUp.org is a web service designed to help seniors, their families, and caregivers find benefits programs to meet their needs, according to the National Council on the Aging (NCOA). The site was created by NCOA with help from AOL Time Warner, Lucent Technologies, New York Life, and the Merck Company Foundation. It contains a free and confidential screening tool to determine eligibility for more than 1,250 assistance programs nationwide and provides detailed instructions on how to apply for them. It took the companies nearly two years to work with all 50 states to gather the diverse benefit information.

"Every day, millions of seniors are missing out on benefits programs that can provide help with health care, transportation, income support, meals, and many other important needs," says NCOA President James Firman. "Now finding out what programs you qualify for and how to take advantage of them is available to anyone, anytime, anywhere."

According to Firman, seniors without Internet access can go to a library or community center with computers to access the site, or have their relatives or caregivers help them.

Wired seniors

Fast fact

According to the 2000 Census, 12.4 percent of Americans are 65 or older. NCOA estimates 5.2 million of them (one in seven) have a limitation in performing the normal activities of daily living (ADLs) such as housekeeping, chores, and food preparation.

"Today, older Americans are logging on to the Internet to keep in touch with friends and family and to find valuable information and resources," says Kathy Bushkin, president of the AOL Time Warner Foundation. According to AOL, more than 70 percent of older Americans now go online to search for information for themselves and for their families.

At BenefitsCheckUp, seniors or their family members can fill out a questionnaire that compares their personal data to eligibility requirements for federal programs such as Social Security, Medicaid, or food stamps. They can also check state-administered programs such as pharmacy assistance, vocational rehabilitation, and in-home services such as meal delivery. Users then receive a printable report that tells them which programs they might qualify for and how to enroll.

The top 10 benefits seniors are missing

Three million eligible elderly Americans don't receive Medicaid and another 3.7 million are eligible for food stamps but don't get them, says NCOA. Firman says the problem is caused by a lack of awareness, lengthy and complex forms, and lack of a centralized location for applying for benefits programs. Here are the ten most common benefits many seniors are eligible for, but don't get:

Food stamps:

      More than 3 million seniors are eligible for and are not receiving monthly benefits that can be used to purchase groceries.

Health insurance counseling:

      Older people can get free help and counseling on Medicare, Medigap, HMOs, and other forms of

health insurance

      for seniors.

Medicaid:

      An estimated 3 million seniors are missing out on this program to help pay hospital, doctor, prescription drug, and other medical expenses.

Nutrition services:

      Meals, at reduced rates, are available to all persons over the age of 60 and home-delivered meals are available to homebound seniors.

Pharmacy assistance:

      Twenty-nine states offer benefits to help seniors pay for prescription drugs.

Property tax relief:

      In most states, there are programs to reduce property taxes for low- and middle-income seniors.

State veterans benefits:

      Many states offer supplemental benefits for veterans, such as extra educational, advocacy, or health services.

Supplemental security income:

      More than a million seniors are eligible for supplemental security income, but are not receiving it.

Veterans' benefits:

      The Veterans Administration offers help with medical care, in-home services, home loans, and more. Most of these benefits are available to veterans, regardless of their incomes.

Weatherization:

    This program provides free home energy repairs and services that can lower energy bills for participants.

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