DANVILLE — Manny Martinez lives in rent-controlled senior housing and watches his expenses.
But with all of his other bills increasing each year, money from his Social Security, his only income, gets a little tight. The 83-year-old Danville man sometimes receives some food from a church food bank where he volunteers.
“It gets worse and worse every day,” he said after having lunch at the Danville Senior Center on Monday.
Martinez, who made ties in New York City before moving to Danville 14 years ago, said it doesn’t pay to get a part-time job because his rent would increase.
While Martinez has not had to borrow money, his situation is similar to many seniors who are struggling to get by.
A new report from the National Council on Aging shows that more seniors are in even deeper financial straits, borrowing and going into debt to meet their expenses.
The report states senior household borrowing has doubled older adults’ debt in the past decade, with over 61 percent of households headed by an adult aged 60 or older carrying some form of debt.
“I think one of the things we’re seeing most often are people that have mortgages later on,” said Karen Leonovich, administrator of the Northumberland County Area Agency on Aging, which finds assistance for seniors who need help paying their bills and other services. “The kids go to college and the parents refinance their mortgage, or they moved into a new home. The people we’re seeing through the agency have many concerns, problems. A spouse passes away and they’re trying to stay in the home.”
There is less income, but the taxes, upkeep expenses, heating costs and other bills are still there.
“It’s a lot to put on a single income,” Leonovich said.
Jim Gulliver signed over his Danville house and property to his two sons to make things easier for when the 89-year-old passes on. But he’s still paying the property taxes and upkeep, and when those costs go up, it takes more money from his pension.
While Gulliver receives a pension from working at TRW and Textron, in addition to Social Security, the additional expenses still put a strain on his wallet.
“The government is talking about cutting the COLA (cost of living adjustment) to cut our debt,” Gulliver said. “Privatizing Social Security is bad. When you retire, (then) you have to watch the market.”
Jack Houseman, 79, a retired trucking company dock worker, said his pension is a little bit above normal, “But I still have to pay what everybody else does.”
In fact, he doesn’t qualify for a lot of government help programs and still has to pay bills, including part of the nearly $300 a month he spends on prescriptions.
His property taxes, though, are “nil to none” because he lives in a mobile home park near Washingtonville.
The council’s report states that among older households with debt, the median total debt was $40,900 in 2013 — more than double what it was in 2001.
One-third of senior homeowners owed money on a mortgage or home equity line of credit, with 30 percent owing payments that exceeded one-quarter of their income, according to the report.
Also, senior households taking payday loans increased fourfold from 2007 to 2013, from 0.5 percent to 2.2 percent.
Attorney Marvin Rudnitsky of Selinsgrove, who specializes in elder law, said that over the years, he did not see growing indebtedness among the elderly.
“What I did see is growing concern about how they are going to pay for their long-term care,” Rudnitsky said. “There are court cases that have made children liable for long-term care. All of the rulings have been against the children for unpaid nursing home bills, other medical bills. They been suing the children successfully.”
The children must pay, unless they can get their parents on Medicaid to cover the bill, Rudnitsky said.
He said there has been an increase in prescription out-of-pocket expenses, he thinks because of the escalating cost.
He said Medicare will pick up 95 percent of prescription costs, “Until you get a total drug cost of, say, $1,800, then you fall into the hole where, while you get discounts, you’re paying most of the costs, and that’s until you have out-of-pocket expenses of $4,700. That’s when there’s more relief.
“It’s the hole in the doughnut. People start cutting their pills in half, not taking their medication.”
Rudnitsky said most seniors in this region don’t have pensions but rely on Social Security.
“That’s not enough,” he said.
The report, which includes findings from a survey of professionals who work with seniors in a variety of settings, states that more than 90 percent said that medical debt threatened their clients’ financial security, followed by credit card debt (87 percent) and household utilities (84 percent).
Nearly a quarter found their senior clients were forgoing needed home and vehicle repairs because of debt.
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