IT PAYS TO KNOW: Centenarians — An Elite Group

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Judd new 3.14By JUDD MATSUNAGA, Esq.

Wilson, Harding, Coolidge, Hoover, Roosevelt — sound familiar? If you’re a student, you might say they are competing high schools. If you’re a golfer, you might say these are golf courses. However, if you’re a senior citizen, you would know that these were the U.S. presidents from 1913 to 1945.

Believe it or not, if you were born during Woodrow Wilson’s administration (or earlier), you are among the growing number of Americans who have made it to 100 years of age. Centenarians — people who live past 100 years old — are an elite group. Most people born in 1900 did not live past 50.

In 1980, there were about 15,000 centenarians living in the United States. That number increased to about 50,281 in 2000. And, according to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month, the number of American centenarians in 2014 skyrocketed to more than 72,000, a whopping 44 percent increase.

“Not so long ago in our society, this was somewhat rare,” said William H. Frey, the senior demographer at the Brookings Institute. “Chances of survival to such ripe ages have improved with the rise of vaccines and antibiotics, and the improvements in hygiene, medical treatments and technology.”

Women (if you’re wondering) accounted for the overwhelming majority of centenarians — more than 80 percent. The report also noted that death rates for those older than 100 have slowed over the past six years, thanks in part to a bigger emphasis on health and well-being and better training for healthcare professionals who care for the elderly.

This is a side-note, but worth mentioning — Keiro is not “abandoning” the Japanese American community by selling their “brick and mortar” facilities. They are adapting (reconfiguring) their services in order to continue to serve the community. “Say what?” Circumstances beyond their control, such as lower reimbursement rates from the state’s Medi-Cal program, make it impossible to continue to operate “status quo” as a “non-profit” organization.

The Sansei generation does not donate to the community like the Issei and Nisei generations before them. Since the Sansei (and Yonsei) generation didn’t come running (checkbooks in hand) to save Keiro, the only logical solution that CEO Shawn Miyake and the Keiro Board had was to sell the facilities and continue to serve the Japanese American community though its Genki Living programs.

“Genki Living programs? What’s that?” I’m not exactly sure either, but according to the Keiro website, the Genki Living programs will “empower you to age with confidence and inspire lifestyles to achieve the quality of life you desire.” The millions of dollars raised from the sale of
the Keiro facilities are supposed to be used to educate the Japanese American community for years to come.

Back to the topic at hand. So the good news is that people are living longer. The bad news is that many of these 100-plus-year-old Americans didn’t plan to live this long. Thus, they have outlived their savings. According to a recent **L.A. Times** article (Jan. 31, 2016), “Nearly one-third of U.S. heads of households ages 55 and older have no pension or retirement savings and a median annual income of about $19,000.”

The article was titled “Too Poor to Retire, Too Young to Die,” by John M. Glionna. According to Mr. Glionna, “Many rely on Social Security and minimal pensions, in part because half of all workers have no employer-backed retirement plans. Eight in 10 Americans say they will work well into their 60s or skip retirement entirely.”

In other words, if you’re amongst the one-third of Americans with no pension or retirement savings, you may be quite concerned about your future well-being. It must be quite stressful to watch your savings account getting smaller and smaller (especially as your healthcare costs are going up).

For example, let’s say you are a single Nisei man or woman. You own your home free and clear. For years, you’ve barely been “getting by” on your fixed Social Security income. You hope and pray you won’t need a new roof, and that your car keeps running without any expensive repair. Now, the doctor has told you that you need to take some additional medications that you can’t afford. What are you going to do?

Or, you might be a married Nisei couple. Same circumstances, i.e., just “getting by.” What happens if you lose your spouse? Chances are, you’re going to lose half of your income. Now what are you going to do? Why not get help? Why not try to qualify for Medi-Cal, In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS), or even SSI?

SSI, or Supplemental Security Income, is a federal program that provides monthly cash
payments to people in need. SSI is for people who are 65 or older, as well as blind or disabled
people of any age, including children. To qualify for SSI, you must also have little or no income and few resources. The value of the things you own must be less than $2,000 if you are single or less than $3,000 for married couples living together.

Your home is not counted since it is considered an “exempt” asset. They also do not count the value of your car. Also, SSI will not count the value of certain other resources either, such as a burial plot. To get SSI, you must also apply for any other government benefits for which you may be eligible, i.e., Medi-Cal.

Although I do not “specialize” in SSI, I found the following on the Internet. California will pay up to $889.40 per month for a senior (over 65) living independently, and up to $1,496.20 if you are a married couple. The monthly amount is reduced by subtracting monthly countable income. That means if your Social Security is less than this, you should apply!

Families come into my office regularly and say, “Mom doesn’t want to go to a nursing home. We’ve been paying $2,000 a month for private, part-time home care.” I would ask, “What’s her income?” They would respond, “Just Social Security, about $750 per month.” I would suggest, “Why not qualify her for Medi-Cal, and then get IHSS to pay for her home care?” “Can we do that?” they would ask. “You bet!” I would answer.

Perhaps one reason why many seniors fail to qualify for public benefits is that they simply don’t know that they can. They’ve been misinformed that they don’t qualify because they have a home and/or too much in savings. They do not know that they can legally spend down assets to qualify for Medi-Cal, IHSS, and/or SSI.

But there might be another reason why the Japanese American community fails to qualify for public benefits. As one Nisei gentleman who came into my office put it, “Most Japanese American families are too proud to ask for help. But it’s a false pride.” I would have to agree, especially since there are legal ways to preserve assets, protect homes and qualify for Medi-Cal.

Judd Matsunaga, Esq., is the founding partner of the Law Offices of Matsunaga & Associates, specializing in estate/Medi-Cal planning, probate, personal injury and real estate law. With offices in Torrance, Hollywood, Sherman Oaks, Pasadena and Fountain Valley, he can be reached at (800) 411-0546. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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