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Queens Chronicle

Helping low-income seniors pay their bills

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Posted: Thursday, April 4, 2013 10:30 am

Queens residents looking to lend a hand to low-income seniors, here’s your chance.

A social services program is expanding to help more low-income older adults and residents with disabilities stay in the community.

It’s easier than you think for budgets to get out of control, especially for seniors on a fixed income. Usually, it happens one bill at a time. If you’ve been hospitalized or are losing your eyesight, you may lose track of when the rent is due or how much you’ve taken out of the bank. You may also be afraid to alienate people who take advantage of you because they are the only people who show any interest in you at all.

Well, seniors in that position now have a safe option, a way to protect themselves from both financial abuse and the chaos that results when paperwork becomes so overwhelming that bills don’t get paid. They also can remain in their homes, in their Queens communities, with their dignity and independence intact.

It’s called the Bill Payer Program, a project of Council of Senior Centers and Services of New York City, Inc. and affiliated with AARP Foundation, which operates a network of money management programs nationwide.

Volunteers are matched one-to-one with low-income older adults and people with disabilities in their own communities who need help getting the right checks in the mail at the right time. The match is coordinated by social workers who know the client’s needs. Volunteers are screened, trained, and supported by professional staff throughout their service.

“We do get a lot of people who apply because they have worked in some financial capacity,” said Amanda Leis, the program’s director. “Anyone who has paid their own bills can be a bill payer volunteer.”

She said the program’s volunteers run from as young as 24 years old to as old as the mid 80s. They help seniors who may have disabilities such as vision issues, early memory loss or physical disabilities, or perhaps the client lost a spouse who always handled finances.

“It’s nice for us to have an age spread,” Leis said.

She added many of the volunteers work full-time or part-time because the time commitment is only 4 to 6 hours a month, though some volunteers spend more time than that with their clients.

Bill Payers don’t set any rules about where the money goes — that is for the client to decide — they just make sure that the basics such as rent, food, utilities and medical get paid on time and that paperwork is dealt with.

“They are de-stressors,” Leis said.

The program serves Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens as well as a few seniors in the Bronx. Leis said Queens is a place where there is a special need because many seniors live in areas not near public transportation that most volunteers use.

“Queens is a very neighborhood-based borough. If we get people who have a car, that’s really helpful,” she said, adding the program currently has roughly 110 volunteers, but they are looking for more.

“The problem is that we need to always have a pretty big surplus,” she said.

The Bill Payer Program makes every effort to match volunteers with clients in their communities. Leis said they do not want volunteers to have to travel more than 40 minutes to reach their clients.

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer or just wan to get more information, contact Joanne McGuire at jmcguire@cscs-ny.org or call (718)-858-2164.

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