Marin Independent Journal, February 27, 2008: Helping seniors cope with high cost of living

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Jennifer Upshaw

Article Launched: 02/26/2008 11:20:10 PM PST

The federal poverty line is leaving seniors behind in Marin and elsewhere, an East Bay nonprofit group said Tuesday.

“They find in their old age they can no longer take care of themselves and the government is not paying them back and it’s just not fair,” said Susan Smith, director of the California Elder Economic Security Initiative, a program of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development in Oakland.

Forget the old federal standard – we have something better, initiative officials said Tuesday as they presented a new index at a state Senate subcommittee hearing in Sacramento.

The elder economic security standard index indicates that the poverty line covers less than half of California seniors’ basic costs, they said. The federal poverty line is based on 1950s data that assumes seniors spend a third of their budget on food.

Backers hope the new standard – the first of its kind that measures the financial picture for seniors – will one day replace federal poverty guidelines, used to determine income eligibility for most public programs, as well as state and federal money allocations to local communities, officials said.

The new California index was developed by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, using



data for each county that reflected local market rates for housing, health care, transportation and long-term care.

In Marin, 57 percent of households with adults 65 and over have incomes less than $50,000 per year, and more than 30 percent of seniors’ incomes come to less than $30,000, according to the 2001 Marin County Health Survey.

The basic annual cost of living for a retired older adult, who is in good health and living in rental housing in Marin County, is $26,581, or $39,573 for a single elder with a mortgage.

For an older couple renting in Marin, the basic cost of living is $35,355, or $48,348 for a couple with a mortgage.

In 2007, the federal poverty line was $10,210 for a single elderly person and $13,690 for an older couple.

“I do think the federal poverty levels are definitely a disadvantage for people in Marin,” said Nick Trunzo, director of the county Division of Aging.

“It (the new standard) is an interesting idea whose time has come,” he said. “Hopefully our political leaders will be willing to put the funds behind it so more people can qualify for services, especially in California.”

Money is a major issue, agreed Mimi Schreiber, marketing director at Senior Access, based in San Rafael.

“I think any organization that works with the senior population certainly believes that more has to be done for seniors to help them live,” she said.

“The bottom line becomes, where is the money going to come from?”

Contact Jennifer Upshaw via e-mail at

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