What the latest stimulus package means for senior citizens

What the latest stimulus package means for senior citizens

The latest stimulus package, aimed at improving Americans’ financial and medical situations during the pandemic, mentions little about retirement savings — and yet, there’s plenty that retirees need to know about it. 

The long-awaited $900 billion stimulus package, approved late Monday night, allows for distribution of a second round of checks, as well as money for vaccine disbursement and suffering small businesses. The 5,500-page bill also prolongs unemployment benefits and prevents evictions. Still, President Trump said Tuesday evening the stimulus package was not enough and demanded changes. 

How to get your $600 check

The most anticipated part of the new bill, perhaps, is the stimulus checks. Eligible Americans can get at most $600 each ($1,200 if married filing jointly), even if they claim Social Security, Social Security Supplemental Income (SSI), railroad retirement or veteran’s benefits — just like the first time, in April. But the process eight months earlier was much more complicated. Individuals who qualified for a check but did not typically file a tax return had to register with a newly created portal, which at times had glitches.

“It was a big mess,” said Nancy Altman, president of Social Security Works, an advocacy group for Social Security. 

This time, the process should be seamless, what with automatic payments, Altman said. There are still some exceptions, such as those who have dependent children (who are under 17 years old). 

See: I didn’t receive a $1,200 stimulus check during the first surge of COVID-19. Will I get a $600 check this time around?

Eligibility requirements for the $600 checks are similar to the first wave: single individuals must not earn more than $75,000 ($150,000 for couples married filing jointly). Above those income thresholds, the check amounts are phased out. Older children who receive Social Security assistance because of a disability or dependent status “fall through the cracks,” Altman said.  

The bill also states Social Security payments are protected from private creditors, a provision that was not in the CARES Act but was corrected in the HEROES Act, Altman said.

“Aging is challenging in and of itself under pre-pandemic circumstances,” said Dan Adcock, director of government relations and policy at the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. “Seniors have been the hardest hit group by the pandemic. They, like everyone else, are hoping this bill provides relief.”

Although the package does not go as far as some Americans would like, Adcock said, it does include numerous provisions that can benefit older individuals. Here are a few: 


The relief package also includes funding for vaccine distribution. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended Americans age 75 and older be next in line to receive the vaccination, after frontline workers. The CDC said at the height of the pandemic in March that older Americans and those who are immunocompromised were at a higher risk of complications if they contracted the virus. About eight in 10 deaths linked to the coronavirus have been of Americans 65 and older, the CDC found.

Vaccinations are expected to become available to the general public sometime in the spring, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. 

Don’t miss: Some older Americans are lining up for the COVID vaccine — but others are more cautious

Medicaid, Medicare and other assistance programs

Two Medicaid programs have a three-year extension. 

The first: the Money Follows the Person program, which provides grants to states so that Americans who receive long-term care assistance can receive the care they need in a home or community setting, as opposed to a nursing home.

This could be particularly beneficial in the next few months, considering so many deaths of older Americans have been associated with nursing home outbreaks, Adcock said. “When you talk about the three different places COVID deaths and infections have been the highest, it is meat packing plants, prisons and nursing homes,” he said. Because state Medicaid programs are stretched thin, there aren’t always options for people to receive home or community care. “But it is the safest option during the pandemic,” he said. 

The second: spousal impoverishment protection. Americans have to dwindle down their assets to the poverty line before they are eligible for Medicaid assistance, but this program preserves some of those assets — such as a home, car and certain amount of money — for the spouse who does not need long-term care. 

A part of a legislative proposal called BENES — short for “Beneficiary Enrollment Notification and Eligibility Simplification Act” — also made it into the stimulus package, making the general enrollment process for Medicare easier for individuals so that they can avoid penalty fees. The package also increased funding for various programs that benefit the elderly, including those in nutrition, home energy and caregiving services. 

Eviction moratorium extended

Americans worried about paying their rent can exhale a sigh of relief — for at least another month. The bill extended the eviction moratorium through the end of January. The stimulus package also includes $25 billion in emergency rental assistance. 

Payroll tax deferment 

President Trump signed an executive order in August allowing employees to defer payroll taxes for the rest of the year — an attempt to give them more money in their paychecks. But the move left many experts uncertain about the consequences to Social Security, which relies heavily on the payroll tax. If he had been reelected, the president said he would eliminate the payroll tax entirely. Under the executive order, however, individuals were going to have to repay the amount deferred between Jan. 21 to April 21, said Jeff Levine, director of advanced planning for Buckingham Strategic Wealth. 

The stimulus package extended that deadline until Dec. 21, 2021, giving Americans more time to repay — most notably, federal and military employees, who had to participate in the deferral, he said in his breakdown of the stimulus package on Twitter. 

The change means workers will still see a slightly higher reduction in their paychecks, but not nearly as steep as they would have if they only had four months to make up the difference, Altman said.

“It’s not nothing,” she said. “But it is a lot less substantial.” 

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