Hispanic Elders Face Double Economic Crisis
Sunday, February 15, 2009

By Milagros Meléndez-Vela
Translated by Elena Shore
El Tiempo Latino

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Hispanic elders are suffering a double economic crisis: not only have they lost their savings; many are unaware of the benefits they could be accessing, experts working with the elderly told El Tiempo Latino.

"Our grandparents have been greatly impacted to the point that some of them are living on the edge of poverty, and some don’t have a place to live," said Ángel Luis Irene, director of the Educational Organization for United Latin Americans (EOFULA), the only center for elderly Hispanics in Washington, D.C.

In 2008, EOFULA provided $20,000 worth of food, rent and medicine to about 650 seniors who go to the center.

Last year the organization doubled its food program, which is provided through the Department of Agriculture, from 80 seniors who received food each month to 160, said Irene.

But for elders who don’t have legal immigration status, the situation is more severe. "They can’t access government assistance," explained Irene.

Social Security representatives, however, say that many Hispanics who could be receiving retirement benefits aren’t aware that they qualify. "One of the most common mistaken beliefs is thinking that they have to be citizens in order to receive retirement money. That's not true," said Diana Varela, a spokesperson for Social Security in Washington, D.C.

Legal permanent residents and immigrants with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) also qualify for Social Security assistance after retiring.

The retirement age is 65, although workers can retire as early as 62 and collect their monthly benefits, said Varela.

In some cases, seniors who haven’t worked or paid into Social Security may also be able to receive certain benefits, she added.

This is the case for Luisa Espinoza, a 105-year-old woman who lives in Columbia Heights, D.C. Espinoza immigrated to the United States from Peru when she was 67 and didn’t work, but now receives Social Security. Citizens over the age of 65 are eligible for this type of assistance.

“I feel fortunate. I receive a little over $600 a month and that’s enough for me,” said Espinoza, who also receives support from her relatives.

But not everyone is so lucky. Some elders find themselves alone, Irene said. “In many cases their children abandon them and they don’t have any income besides what they get from Social Security,” she said.

Many Americans who have invested in private retirement plans are choosing to delay their retirement as a result the toll the economic crisis has taken on private investments, according to national polls.

Social Security claims to be the largest source of revenue for elderly people in the country. One in nine people over 65 receives benefits from the agency. In 2008, 32 million retirees in the country were registered with the agency, receiving a total of $34.7 billion.


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