9 Government Benefits You Might Be Missing Out On

Senior couple meeting with agent

Is there anything more on our minds these days than stretching our dollars? And no question, nothing sabotages your budget like an illness or other health problem, especially one that affects your ability to carry out your everyday obligations. But help is available -- much more help than most people realize. Here are nine government benefits that experts say most people are missing out on.

1. Social security payments to dependents

Who's eligible: Widows and widowers, children, and other dependents of a social security recipient

What you get: Monthly payments based on the social security recipient's work history

How it works: After a death in the family, many people fail to take advantage of money they're entitled to receive from the Social Security Administration. Known as "survivor benefits," these payments are made to the spouse of the deceased and any children or stepchildren under the age of 18. To qualify, the widowed spouse must be over the age of 60 or over the age of 50 and disabled; if the spouse is caring for children under the age of 16, then this age restriction doesn't apply. And in some cases, stepchildren, grandchildren, or step grandchildren can also collect. If a child is severely disabled, he or she can collect on a parent's social security for as long as needed.

And one more thing that few people know: The parents of a social security recipient can collect up to one half that person's social security payment if they were dependent on the deceased for at least half their support. For more information, go to the government's Social Security site and scroll down to see the section titled "Benefits for your family."

Tip: Divorce doesn't disqualify you. You can collect on an ex-spouse's social security if you were married for more than ten years before you divorced and the benefits you are entitled to from your own work are less than his (or hers). If your ex-spouse has not yet filed for social security benefits, then an additional requirement is that you have to have been divorced for at least two years.

2. Shoes for diabetics

Who's eligible: Anyone with diabetes who's eligible for Medicare Part B

What you get: Custom-made shoes and inserts

How it works: If you have diabetes, it might surprise you to know that Medicare Part B will pick up most of the tab for therapeutic shoes. The criteria are fairly simple: You need to be under the care of a doctor for diabetes management and also suffering from serious foot problems, including ulcers, calluses that can lead to ulcers, nerve damage, poor circulation, or deformities.

The coverage is extensive; Medicare will cover 80 percent of the cost of one pair of specially made shoes and three pairs of inserts. Once you get a prescription for therapeutic shoes either from your doctor or from a podiatrist, the shoes will be fitted and provided by a podiatrist or licensed specialist who participates in Medicare.

Tip: You have to have met your Medicare yearly deductible to get this coverage, so wait a few months into the year until you've had a few other medical bills before pursuing.

3. Free rides

Who's eligible: People with mobility problems and seniors

What you get: Transportation to and from your home to appointments and activities

How it works: Paratransit is the official term for transportation provided by local communities for those who can't drive or comfortably use regular public transportation. These services vary by community, but typically it's a door-to-door van service that's available by appointment. The services are provided by local government agencies, but they receive federal funds intended to guarantee access for the disabled and elderly.

To find out more about the federally funded transportation options in your area, contact your local Area Agency on Aging. More transportation resources are available by searching the Department of Health and Human Service's Eldercare Locator on the topic Transportation.

Tip: These services typically require advance planning. It works best if you establish a regular weekly schedule, so you don't have to remember to call each time.

4. Low-interest loans for small businesses affected by disaster

Who's eligible: Any business or nonprofit damaged in a disaster

What you get: Up to $2 million in low-interest, long-term loans

How it works: If your business is affected by a natural disaster such as a flood or hurricane, the Small Business Administration (SBA) offers low-interest long-term loans to help you rebuild, make repairs, restock inventory, and do anything else you need to do to get your business back off the ground. The loans can be used to make repairs to the property itself or to machinery and equipment; the money can also be used to replace furnishings and inventory.

Tip: You can get a larger loan to pay for improvements to your property that protect against future damage.

5. Home or car modifications for veterans

Who's eligible: Veterans with a disability

What you get: A loan or loan guarantee to buy a house or car or modify an existing house or car

How it works: The Veteran's Administration provides extensive services to veterans who are considered to have a service-related disability that prevents them from performing normal, everyday activities. But this doesn't mean that you had to become disabled during service; for many veterans, a mental, emotional, or physical condition that began decades before in the military only becomes disabling with age. In this case, you may qualify for service-connected disability benefits at the point that your condition actually becomes disabling.

A key V.A. disability benefit comes in the form of loans and loan guarantees to help veterans buy or refinance a home or condominium. These loans can also be used to modify a home or car. For some veterans with service-connected disabilities, the V.A. also gives Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) grants, which pay for modifications to a home to adapt it to accommodate their disability.

Tip: If you live with family members, the grants may also be used to modify the home you're living in or the car in which you're being driven, even though it's not owned by you.

6. Free credit check

Who's eligible: Everyone

What you get: Three credit reports per year at no cost

How it works: Don't get sucked in by the offers from for-profit credit repair companies; you can monitor your credit and fix any problems without spending anything. One of the ways the government helps us protect ourselves from fraud is by offering a free yearly credit check. By law, you're entitled to request one free annual credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Stagger your requests, and you could monitor your credit every four months at no cost. However, many experts advise ordering all three reports at once so you can compare them. To find out more, go to the federally authorized website www.AnnualCreditReport.com.

7. Therapy for Alzheimer's patients

Who's eligible: Patients with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia covered by Medicare Part B

What you get: Specialized services including outpatient physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy

How it works: For those dealing with memory loss, occupational therapy and physical therapy can be key to coping with the tasks of daily living. To qualify, you just need your doctor to prescribe the treatment, and then use a Medicare-certified therapist. Although Medicare doesn't usually cover psychological services by nonphysicians, there's an exception for Alzheimer's care. (Coverage extends to clinical psychologists or medical social workers who are Alzheimer's care specialists, as long as they're Medicare-certified.)

Tip: If you have Medicare Part C coverage, also called Medicare Advantage, you may be entitled to even more counseling or to additional services.

8. Burial benefits for veterans

Who's eligible: Veterans approved for eligibility with the Veteran's Administration

What you get: A grave site and headstone and, for some, a burial allowance for funeral expenses

How it works: If you're a veteran, you're eligible to be buried in any of the 131 national cemeteries, or in the state cemetery in the state you're living in at the time of death. Your spouse and children are eligible for the same benefit. The choice to be buried in a particular cemetery depends on whether there are grave sites available, and grave sites can't be reserved prior to death. There's no cost to your family for the grave site or for a government headstone or marker, which the cemetery provides. However, this benefit doesn't include the cost of either a funeral or cremation, which must be made privately.

For vets who prefer to be buried in a private cemetery, the government will still provide a government headstone or marker and burial flag. In addition, the Veteran's Administration offers a funeral and burial allowance to some veterans. If a veteran dies of a service-related disability, the V.A. pays up to $2,000 for burial expenses, plus the cost of transportation to a V.A. national cemetery. If the death isn't service-related but the veteran died while receiving care at a V.A. hospital or one under contract to the V.A., or the veteran is on a veteran's pension, the V.A. will pay up to $700 for funeral and burial expenses and another $700 for the cost of a burial plot or interment space. To find out more about medical and death benefits for veterans, contact the Department of Veterans Affairs.

9. Help with household chores

Who's eligible: Those over 60 or disabled

What you get: Free or low-cost home and yard maintenance and moving help

How it works: If you're struggling to maintain your home, it may be possible to obtain help with all those household tasks that have become difficult or impossible to cope with. Under the auspices of the Older Americans Act, many Area Agencies on Aging offer help with household chores as part of the umbrella of services they offer to help people live independently in their homes. In Florida, for example, the Mid-Florida Area Agency on Aging covers a wide array of household chores including seasonal cleaning, yard work, and household repairs that don't require a specialized license. They'll sometimes even cover pest control if it's part of overall house maintenance. They'll also send someone out to help with lifting and moving furniture, appliances, and other heavy objects.

In some areas, the Area Agency on Aging charges a fee for these services, but it's typically much less than you'd normally pay. In Minnesota, for example, one agency charges $15 an hour for snow removal and yard work. Some programs are free but require participants to pay for the services upfront, then apply for grants for reimbursement. In many cases, the minimum age to qualify is 60. Get started by finding your local Area Agency on Aging.


Melanie Haiken

Melanie Haiken discovered how important it is to provide accurate, targeted, usable health information to people facing difficult decisions when she was health editor of Parenting magazine. See full bio


2 months ago, said...

I am 46 years old and am disabled I am looking to get help with housework how do I go about doing that?


3 months ago, said...

I'm disable and I need a used mini van to get around.


4 months ago, said...

My 53 year-old disabled brother needs transportation.


4 months ago, said...

can I retire at the age of 57 to stay home and take care of my blind husband who is already on disability for his heart condition.


4 months ago, said...

I am disabled 65 year old widow After my husband's death an illigitimate son claims my husband's SS - when the boy is 18 ( if I am alive ) does that income revert back to me? This is a question rather than a comment - is that ok?


5 months ago, said...

I am a 64 yr old woman with a severely handicapped daughter that is 46 next month. Well for many years well 43 to be exact, and I have done this on own her father has been out of her life since she 13 yrs old. I had another husband that he was her daddy and he left with a good friend of mine and it was very hard on LIana my daughter. I ham older now and her as well and I would like to know if there are other care givers that feel like we are the lost in this big technical life we live in. I know I feel overwhelmed at times and I have to put my self in time out just to take a freath. She like a 2 yr old mentally and she doesn't talk, but she is so very smart and understands pretty much everything you saw its amazing but her lately she has been doing a lot more whining and crying for no reason and I am the only one areound her all of the time for quite a few years and I have never ever allow her to stare at people in the stores like people will do to us every time. She always been for the most part a happy girl and we always seem to have fun together/ but the only one here besides Liana I have to do the chores because I live in the montains and there are things you have to do to get ready for summer and winter and it is very hard work. I so I get tired a lot have not been away from Liana in over 2-3 yrs, Which seems crazu tp ,e amd now if I would I would not know what to do. She has also becoming more agrressive towards me if she does not get her way, and that were the case we would always be going ,going and I don't know. I am asking for type of advise a book to read just a note from another caregive that might feel the way I do at times and its seems to get more frequent. "Any help that you can give would greatly appreciitated so very much from the bottom of my heart and God Bless you for responding a head of time. MOM GOING BONKERS


5 months ago, said...

I am care-giver for my dad now who is 79 years old and he can not be left alone and I am a single parent of a 9 year old a daughter who is going off to college this fall, and I am paying out of my out of my pocket between me and my brother and son for home care aide to sit with my dad and it is getting costly. He has Freedom Health HMO and I have been going back and forth trying get at least 4 hours of services aide to help out with cost and no results. I trying everything possible and I am falling behind in my bills making sure my dad is being taking care of while I go to work, because I can not afford to loose my job and my health insurance. I really need help, suggestion.


5 months ago, said...

I am on ssi ssd medicaid and medicare im 60 years old i am much in need for a fre diabetes service dog


6 months ago, said...

My daughter is disable she just move to the.Antelope.Valley does she quilify for low income housing. Is assisting living.


6 months ago, said...

A lot of the comments I have read seem like people who could apply for their local vocational rehabilitation programs or Workforce Initiatives opportunities acts through local career centers. I know each state operates these centers a little differently, but they are federal programs. Even so- if you contacted your local offices and did not get anywhere you could then reach out to your local state representative (you can Google "who is my State Rep and type in your city/county) and they can give you some feedback... after all, they are there to represent you.


7 months ago, said...

I have BCBS as Primary Insurance and Medicare as Secondary. I'm in a Power Wheelchair and cannot keep up with household chores. I can mow on a riding mower because it doesn't involve me walking or lifting or moving things. I have Ankylosing Spondylitis as well as other problems and have been disabled since 1997.. My thoracic spine is fused together from the AS. I am married but my husband travels extensively for his job. Would I qualify for in home help?


7 months ago, said...

I am an 80 yrs old female and needs help with house cleaning. Have problems with legs and going up stairs become difficult.


9 months ago, said...

For adapastor......... The local Lion's Club has benefits for people who are having trouble making ends meet. You must fill out a request for them to process but it can happen quickly.


10 months ago, said...

My husband was born with spinabifida and now has been diagnosed with diabetes. He is still working but cannot afford eye glasses. Is there any program that provides glasses and/or hearing aids to the elderly who are still in the work force?


11 months ago, said...

I don't understand what you don't understand we live from month to month doing without at end of month


12 months ago, said...

I'm trying to get a free car so I can get to my appointment my son used to take me,and now his working nights there's no one else to help PS I'm on DISABILITY


about 1 year ago, said...

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about 1 year ago, said...

im 69 yrs old widow, must work full time but job so busy, 60 hours per week. driving a lot up to 1000 miles some weeks. need to stop working, so hard on me now. pain, exhaustion. adult grandkids cant find work, im taking care of them in my home. i pay for everything we all need- 6 of us. i make good money but spread thin with everybodys expense and utilities, bills, car, gas, everything. i need to quit working, i can feel my age finally and know i must stop working like i do. how do i quit without evetything crashing down around me and family?


about 1 year ago, said...

I need help . I am being evicted out of one of my houses by my abusive ex husband to be homeless .I am disabled, abused and elderly. Thank you


about 1 year ago, said...

I am 59 yrs old. My husband passed away in 2015, we were separated, not legally. I have Osteoarthritis, two compressed discs in my back. 3 yrs ago, I fell at work; workman's comp was a joke. I have pain in my knees, hips, shoulder and back. I can't stand for very long, and I can't exercise, so I am obese, which makes walking nearly impossible.. Performing everyday chores around the house is not possible, I have no energy. Please help me! Ate there any programs to help me? I don't know where to start. I have no children under 18, and I live alone. I work because I have to. I am so very tired. Just ready to give up. Please help!