When people talk about retirement, they often muse about traveling the world, playing golf or visiting with grandchildren.
But the truth is many seniors won’t spend “golden” retirement years like they are on a long vacation. Instead they will be working because they can’t afford to retire. Or they’ll fret about finding or keeping a job to supplement their Social Security check.
Their days won’t be spent in leisure. They’ll struggle to pay for health care costs. They’ll rely on government programs or nonprofits for meals, energy assistance or to help with legal woes.
But President Trump’s first budget sends a stark message to the most needy seniors: “You’re on your own.”
Here are some of the proposed cuts that will affect seniors.
— Low-Income Home Energy Assistance program, which “helps a whole lot of old people pay for heat in the winter,” Slate’s Jordan Weissmann writes.
— The elimination of the Energy Department’s weatherization assistance program. “It has provided states with grants that have helped insulate the homes of about 7 million families,” reported The Post’s Steven Mufson and Tracy Jan.
— Elimination of the Senior Community Service Employment Program, which provides job training to low-income job seekers ages 55 and older.
“The administration estimates that it would save $434 million by cutting the program,” reported The Post’s Jonnelle Marte. “In the budget proposal, the administration criticized the program as ‘ineffective’ and said that one-third of the participants do not finish.” Even so, that still leaves a lot of seniors getting help.
— Meals on Wheels. There was some confusion about whether the funding for Meals on Wheels would be eliminated. The Community Development Block Grant program is a target for cuts and some funding for Meals on Wheels comes through this program. However a large portion of federal funds for Meals on Wheels comes through the Older Americans Act, administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Administration for Community Living, according to a statement from Meals on Wheels America.
“The Trump administration has proposed a 17.9 percent cut in funding for HHS, but it has provided no detail on whether that would also impact the Administration for Community Living, which funds nutrition programs for the elderly,” reported The Post’s Glenn Kessler wrote in fact checking the outrage about possible cuts to Meals on Wheels.
Still, there’s reason to be concerned about cuts to the program. “The nationwide Meals on Wheels network, comprised of 5,000, local, community-based programs, receives 35 percent of its total funding for the provision of home-delivered meals from the federal government through the Older Americans Act,” the organization said.
— The elimination of the HHS office of community services, which includes an energy assistance program for low-income families, including seniors.
— The elimination of Legal Services Corporation, a nonprofit that provides legal aid to low-income Americans.
The American Bar Association said in a statement is was outraged about the proposed cut, writing that some of the worthy services the nonprofit provides include protecting seniors from scams.
In a letter to Trump, Nancy LeaMond AARP’s executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer wrote: “As the budget process proceeds, we would encourage the administration to reconsider the proposed cuts to important programs, including NIH’s health care research, LIHEAP energy assistance programs, community service employment for older workers, housing and legal assistance to the poor and elderly, and transit and transportation programs serving the disabled and elderly.”
I want to hear from you. What do you think of the cuts? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city and state. Your voice is important.
Live chat this week
Join me on Thurs. March 23 at noon (ET) for a live discussion about your money.
To participate in the discussion click this link.
Retirement rants & raves
This newsletter is your opportunity to talk about your retirement. It’s your chance to rant and rave (or both) about any retirement issue. Send your comments to email@example.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement Rants & Raves.”
Claudia Ruddy of Florida shared how downsizing has shaped her and her husband’s early retirement. They didn’t have children but lived in a five-bedroom home in St. Petersburg. They had a lawn, cleaning and pool service.
“We agreed in our 50s we would move upon retirement to a small, pool-less house in a beach community with the goal of reducing our expenses to travel as much as possible,” she wrote. “We expected to work until 66.
But plans change. Her husband was laid off at 60. They moved to a modest two-bedroom home in Ormond by the Sea.
“The location does not require flood insurance and our property tax decreased by almost two-thirds,” she said. “Instead of the monthly $188 and $210 bills for sewer, water and electricity, we pay $100 for electricity and $30 for water. (Admittedly we do now have the task of pumping the septic tank every two years.) We still pay someone to cut the grass, but I can clean the whole house in a couple hours. I do miss the pool, but being able to walk to the beach is great. We found we could live nicely (traveling the U.S. every couple months and Europe for a month once a year) on a combination of part-time work and our pensions. No doubt having children or having strong ties to the more expensive area would make moving harder for many people, but it has certainly worked for us. We joke we should send my husband’s former employer a thank-you letter.”
Mark Dziewit of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., wanted to shared his thoughts on a Fidelity Investments retirement IQ test that I wrote about in last week’s newsletter.
On the question on how much some financial experts recommend people save by the time they retire, he wrote, “I don’t know (or care) how much so called experts say one should save as a multiple of your last year’s income. I do know that if I have a sum of money and I assume a 3 percent real annual return less my withdrawals, I can play with the variables to know what is needed to achieve a certain level of ‘income.'”
On the question about the average monthly Social Security benefit benefit paid in 2016, he wrote, “I know it’s not much. It only matters in the context that this ‘not much’ amount is what many of my fellow citizens will need to live on. Not good for them, not good for the country.”
“I think this test was not very useful,” Dziewit said. “However, for some it could get them thinking. So much info from experts is simplistic or just wrong. Thank you for this opportunity to ‘rant.’”
Let me remind you of all the questions for the retirement IQ test.
1. Roughly how much do many financial experts recommend people save by the time they retire?
a. About 2-3 times the amount of your last full year income
b. About 4-5 times the amount of your last full year income
c. About 6-7 times the amount of your last full year income
d. About 8-9 times the amount of your last full year income
e. About 10-12 times the amount of your last full year income
2. Stock markets go up and down. How often over the past 35 years do you think the market has had a positive annual return?
a. The annual return was positive fewer than 12 out of 35 years
b. The annual return was positive about 12 out of 35 years
c. The annual return was positive about 18 out of 35 years
d. The annual return was positive about 26 out of 35 years
e. The annual return was positive more than 26 out of 35 years
3. If you were able to set aside $50 each month for retirement, how much would that end up becoming 25 years from now, including interest if it grew at the historical stock market average?
a. About $15,000
b. About $30,000
c. About $40,000
d. About $60,000
e. More than $60,000
4. Given the current average life expectancy, if you were to retire at age 65, about how long would you need your retirement savings to last?
a. 12 years (or until you are 77)
b. 17 years (or until you are 82)
c. 22 years (or until you are 87)
d. 27 years (or until you are 92)
e. 35 years (or until you are 100)
5. Approximately how much was the average monthly Social Security benefit paid in 2016 to a retired worker?
a. About $500
b. About $900
c. About $1,300
d. About $1,700
e. About $2,100
6. About what percentage of your savings do many financial experts recommend you withdraw annually in retirement?
7. Which of the following do you think is the single biggest expense for most people in retirement?
b. Health care
e. Discretionary expenses
8. About how much will a couple retiring at age 65 spend on out-of-pocket costs for health care over the course of retirement?
Click here to see the correct answers.
Newsletter comments policy
Please note it is my personal policy to identify readers who respond to questions I ask in my newsletters. I find it encourages thoughtful and civil conversation. I want my newsletters to be a safe place to express your opinion. On sensitive matters or upon request, I’m happy to include a first name and last initial. But I prefer not to post anonymous comments (I do make exceptions when I’m asking questions that might reveal sensitive information or cause conflict.)
Have a question about your finances? Michelle Singletary has a weekly live chat every Thursday at noon where she discusses financial dilemmas with readers. You can also write to Michelle directly by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read more Color of Money columns, go here.