Dear Savvy Senior: Do you know of any financial assistance programs that can help seniors with home improvement projects? I would like to help my grandparents make a few modifications to their house so they can continue living there safely, but money is tight. — Searching Grandson
Dear Searching: Yes! There are a number of financial aid programs available that can help seniors with home modifications and improvement projects for aging in place, but what’s available to your grandparents will depend on their financial situation and where they live. Here are some different options to explore:
>> Medicare Advantage benefits: While original Medicare does not typically pay for home improvements, if your grandparents are enrolled in a Medicare Advantage (Part C) plan, it might offer some aid for modifications based on need. Contact their Medicare Advantage provider to see whether this is available.
>> Medicaid waivers: If your grandparents are low-income and eligible for Medicaid, most states have Medicaid Home and Community Based Services waivers that provide financial assistance to help seniors avoid nursing homes and remain living at home. Each state has different waivers, eligibility requirements and benefits. Contact your Medicaid office (see Medicaid.gov) for information.
>> Non-Medicaid government assistance: Many state governments and several agencies within the federal government have programs that help low- to moderate- income seniors who aren’t eligible for Medicaid with home modifications. For example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development offers HUD Home Improvement Loans by private lenders. Contact a HUD- approved counseling agency (call 800-569-4287) to learn more.
And the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a Rural Development program that provides grants and loans to rural homeowners. Your local USDA service center (see offices.sc.egov.usda.gov) can give you more information.
Many states also have financial assistance programs known as nursing home diversion programs. These programs, which might include grants, loans or a combination, help pay for modifications that enable seniors and the disabled to remain living at home. Modifications typically covered include accessibility improvements like wheelchair ramps, handrails and grab bars.
To find out whether there are programs in your grandparents’ area, contact the city or county housing authority, the local Area Aging Agency (800-677-1116) or the state housing finance agency — see NCSHA.org/housing-help.
>> Veteran benefits: If either of your grandparents is a veteran with a disability, the VA provides grants such as the SAH, SHA and HISA that will pay for home modifications. For eligibility requirements and other details, go to Benefits.va.gov/benefits/factsheets/homeloans/sahfactsheet.pdf.
Some other VA programs to inquire about are the “Veteran-Directed Care” program and “Aid and Attendance or Housebound Benefits.” Both programs provide monthly financial benefits to eligible veterans that can help pay for home modifications. To learn more, visit VA.gov/geriatrics or call 800-827-1000.
>> Nonprofit organizations: Depending on where your grandparents live, they may also be able to get assistance in the form of financial aid or volunteer labor to help with modifications. One of the most noteworthy is the organization Rebuilding Together (Rebuilding Together.org, 800-473-4229), which offers three programs: Safe at Home, Heroes at Home and National Rebuilding Day.
Another option is community building projects, which provide seniors with volunteer labor to help them make home improvements. To search for projects in your grandparents’ area, do a web search containing the phrase “community building project” followed by their city and state.
>> Reverse mortgage: Available to seniors 62 and older who own their own home and are currently living there. A reverse mortgage will let your grandparents convert part of the equity in their home into cash — which can be used for home improvements — that doesn’t have to be paid back as long as they live there. But reverse mortgages are expensive loans, so this should be a last resort.
For more information on these and other financial assistance programs, go to PayingForSeniorCare.com and click on “Senior Care” followed by “Home Modifications.”
Jim Miller is a contributor to NBC-TV’s “Today” program and author of “The Savvy Senior.” Send your questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070; or visit savvysenior.org.