Senior Citizen Benefits & Programs In Hawaii

Posted Feb 3, 2012 at 4:43pm

Hawaii is a good place to grow old: The weather is mild year-round, the air is clean, the beautiful natural surroundings encourage outdoor activities, the pace of life is less-hectic, and the influence of Hawaiian and Asian cultures has produced a special respect for kupuna.

But that’s not all: There are also many state programs and benefits for seniors and retirees in Hawaii. The state has a quickly aging population, and as a result, more attention is being paid to issues such as long-term health care, affordable senior housing, and programs to help seniors stay active and independent for as long as possible. Many of Hawaii’s public assistance programs, subsidies, loans, grants, and community outreach programs are at targeted at seniors — the resources are there, if you know where to find them. And that’s where this article comes in.

Lawnbowling at Senior Fun Day, just one of the many events that Kauai County's Dept. of Parks & Recreation coordinates for the island's seniors. (Photo credit: Kauai County)

NOTE: Some of these benefits and programs have income eligibility requirements, as they’re meant for low-income households. I’ve purposely left out the qualifying incomes, because they change frequently. And if it’s a federal program, the maximum income allowed is usually significantly higher in Hawaii and Alaska than it is for the rest of the U.S. The most reliable way to find out if you qualify for these low-income benefits and programs is to contact the administrators directly, rather than rely on outdated info on their websites or brochures.

Tax Benefits
Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid
Affordable Housing
Other Statewide Programs
County Services

Tax Benefits For Seniors In Hawaii

Senior citizens who live in Hawaii enjoy several state and county tax benefits:

  • Additional personal exemption: Seniors over age 65 are eligible for an additional personal exemption on their state income tax return.
  • Exempt from state income tax: Social security income; government pensions (including out-of-state); military pensions; some private pensions; and retired military pay are all exempt from state income tax.
  • Exempt from 4% general excise (GE) tax: Prescription drugs and prosthetic devices are exempt from GE tax. (The GE tax is used in lieu of a sales tax in Hawaii.)
  • Exempt from property tax: Personal property, such as cars and boats, are exempt from county property tax.
  • Also exempt from property tax:
    • In the City & County of Honolulu (Oahu) – $80,000 of your home’s value if you’re under age 65; $120,000 if you’re 65 or older; $140,000-$200,000 if you’re low-income and 75 or older. This means you subtract the exemption amount from the value of your home and pay county property tax only on the difference. (City & County of Honolulu’s Home Exemption info and application form)
    • In Maui County (Maui, Molokai, Lana’i) – $300,000 of your home’s value. If your home is worth less than that, you pay no property taxes at all! (Maui County’s Home Exemption FAQs, tax code, and application form)
    • In Hawaii County (Big Island) – $40,000 + an additional 20 percent of home’s value (not to exceed $80,000) if you’re under age 60; $80,000 if you’re 60-69; $100,000 if you’re 70 or older. The amount you pay county property tax on is the value of your home minus the exemption amount. (Hawaii County’s Home Exemptions brochure and application form)
    • In Kauai County (Kauai) – $48,000 of your home’s value if you’re under age 60; $96,000 if you’re 60-69; $120,000 if you’re 70 or older. If you earn less than $40,000/year, you get an additional $55,000 exemption. (Kauai County’s Home Exemption info and application form [open with Adobe Reader])

Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid Benefits In Hawaii

If you are age 62 or older, you might be currently receiving monthly Social Security benefits. The amount of your monthly check depends on how long you have worked, how much money you earned, where you worked, and your age when you began getting benefits. Where you live, however, does not affect the amount. So regardless of whether you live in Iowa or Hawaii, your monthly Social Security check will remain the same.

What will change if you move to Hawaii are your Medicare and/or Medicaid benefits, because coverages and health plans under these two insurance programs vary from state to state.

Medicare Benefits In Hawaii

All Medicare enrollees (you must be age 65 or over) in Hawaii get:

  • Free preventive services — like colorectal cancer screenings, mammograms, and annual checkups.
  • 50% discount on brand-name prescriptions.

The rest of Hawaii’s Medicare benefits vary from person to person, depending on factors such as income. Luckily, there’s a state program — SAGE Plus — to help you figure out exactly what your Medicare benefits are in the state of Hawaii, and whether you qualify for the Medicare Savings Program or the Medicare Rx Extra Help program. Income limits to qualify for these 2 programs are higher in Hawaii than the rest of the U.S. (except Alaska), so even if you didn’t qualify in another state, you might in Hawaii.

In case you’re wondering if Hawaii has a State Pharmacy Assistance Program (SPAP): Unfortunately, Hawaii’s SPAP (also known as the Smooth Transitions program) was discontinued in July 2011 due to a lack of state funding. (While it was in effect, it paid Medicare Part D prescription drug co-payments for Hawaii’s Medicare enrollees.)

Here are the Medicare health plans that are available in Hawaii:

Medicaid Benefits for Seniors In Hawaii

Unfortunately, there’s bad news for Medicaid enrollees in Hawaii: Starting this year (2012), the state will implement $150 million in Medicaid cuts over the next two years. It also lowered the income limit to be eligible for Medicaid if you’re an adult: The maximum income used to be 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and now it’s 133 percent. Medicaid enrollees who are still eligible will likely see a reduction in their services.

In Hawaii, Medicaid enrollees age 65 and older (and anyone with disabilities) get medical insurance coverage under a managed care program called Quest Expanded Access (QExA). There are 2 QExA health plans to choose from:

Those under age 65 without disabilities are covered by a managed care program called Hawaii QUEST (also known simply as QUEST). There are 5 QUEST health plans to choose from:

All of Hawaii’s Medicaid enrollees, regardless of age, get dental coverage through the Medicaid Fee-For-Service Program. This means you must find a dentist who accepts Medicaid patients. Many of Hawaii’s Community Health Centers (see below) offer dental services for Medicaid patients. Once you’re enrolled as a patient with your Medicaid dentist, you will receive a Medicaid ID card in the mail to use for future visits.

Hawaii’s Community Health Centers

Hawaii’s 14 federal- and state-funded Community Health Centers have become an important part of the communities they serve for providing quality health care to those who might otherwise go without. Their policy is to never turn anyone away from receiving medical care, regardless of the patient’s ability to pay or their insurance coverage. The Community Health Centers accept Medicare, Medicaid, and other types of insurance, as well as patients who have no medical insurance at all. They are located on every major island in Hawaii (including Molokai and Lanai).

Affordable Housing For Seniors In Hawaii

Federal & State Housing Projects In Hawaii

In Hawaii, there are public housing projects that are owned by both the federal and state governments, where low-income families and individuals can live at below-market rents. Currently, the waiting list for government housing in Hawaii is 2-5 years long. If you’re willing to wait, here are some links to guide you through the application process:

Section 8 In Hawaii

The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program is a federal program that gives vouchers to low-income families to use toward rent on any unit where the landlord accepts Section 8. The government, in turn, pays landlords to accept the vouchers. In Hawaii, the program is administered by the state and county governments.

Unfortunately, getting Section 8 vouchers in Hawaii is very difficult. The state government’s Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program (which is limited to housing on Oahu only) is currently closed to new applications because the waiting list is already 2 years long. The county governments also administer their own Section 8 programs, although several of them are closed to applications as well:

Rental Assistance Programs In Hawaii

The state of Hawaii also funds a Rent Supplement Program, which provides cash on a monthly basis to low-income families and individuals to use toward their rent. Each household is expected to pay at least 30% of their adjusted gross income toward rent; the cash supplement is intended to help cover the difference between that 30% and the actual rent amount. Income and asset limits apply to qualify for this program, but the asset limit is higher for seniors.

If you’re interested in living on Oahu, the City & County of Honolulu also has its own Rental Assistance Program. It’s a project-based program, however, meaning you must live in 1 of 6 housing projects to get the assistance. These housing projects are located in Honolulu (Chinatown and Manoa areas), Kailua, and Ewa Beach. Some of the housing projects are for seniors only, while others are mixed-population.

Other Subsidized & Affordable Housing In Hawaii

To find other low-income housing complexes in Hawaii that aren’t necessarily attached to a specific program (although income limits will still apply), there are a couple more resources that you should check out:

  • The U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) has a handy search tool for finding subsidized apartments by state. You can even limit your search to apartments that are just for seniors, people with disabilities, or families.
  • The Hawaii Public Housing Authority (HPHA) has a listing of Financially Assisted Affordable Rental Facilities located throughout the state. This list was published in 2005, so some of the contact info might be out of date, but the updated info can be easily found by doing a quick Google search for the complex’s name. (NOTE: The complexes marked with an “E” are exclusively for seniors. The complexes are marked with a carat (^) are government housing projects.

And here are a few other affordable-housing complexes I found that weren’t on either of the above lists:

Oahu

  • Villages of Moa’e Ku, Pahika St., Ewa Beach, HI 96706 – Phone: (808) 523-8826 (opening August 2012, accepting applications now)
  • [Not yet named], on Kona St. between Piikoi and Pensacola, Honolulu, HI – Phone: (808) 593-8945 (opening late 2014). This upcoming senior development is being built in conjunction with the Waihonua at Kewalo tower (although it will be located about one block away from the tower). It will consist of 72 units (studios and 1-bedroom apartments) for seniors age 62 and older. Rent will start at around $900 per month. Prospective tenants will need to meet limited-income requirements.
  • West Loch Elderly Village, 91-1472 Renton Rd., Ewa Beach, HI 96706 – Phone: (808) 681-0562
  • Chinatown Manor, 175 N. Hotel St., Honolulu, HI 96817 – Phone: (808) 545-1996 – Email: cm-manager@eahhousing.org
  • Pi’ikoi Vista, 1326 Pi’ikoi St., Honolulu, HI 96814 – Phone: (808) 738-3100 – Email: propertymgmt@pruhawaii.com
  • Ainahau Vista, 2428 Tusitala St., Honolulu, HI 96815 – Phone: (808) 738-3100 – Email: propertymgmt@pruhawaii.com
  • 220 California (this is the name of the complex as well as the street address), 220 California Ave., Wahiawa, HI 96786 – Phone: (808) 738-3100 – Email: propertymgmt@pruhawaii.com
  • Franciscan Vistas Ewa, 91-1471 Miula St., Ewa Beach, HI 96706 – Phone: (808) 681-4000
  • Marin Tower, 60 N. Nimitz Hwy., Honolulu, HI 96817 – Phone: (808) 528-4460
  • Winston Hale, 1055 River St., Honolulu, HI 96817 – Phone: (808) 531-3085
  • Philip Street Apartments, 1605 Philip St., Honolulu, HI 96826-2538 – Phone: (808) 949-2555

Big Island

Kauai

Need Some Extra Help?

If you need more advice or help finding affordable housing, Catholic Charities‘ Senior Services program offers free counseling for seniors age 60 and older on affordable rental housing options. They can be reached at (808) 527-4777.

Other Statewide Programs For Seniors In Hawaii

If you are a senior with a low or moderate income, here are some programs that offer free or reduced-cost services:

If you are a senior with low income, here are some public assistance programs that you may qualify for that can help you make ends meet:

  • Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) – Provides low-income households with an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, similar to a debit card, that you can use like cash to pay for food at most grocery stores. (This EBT card system has replaced the old “food stamps” system.)
  • Hawaiian Telcom’s Lifeline Program – Provides discounted local phone service and installation to low-income households.
  • USDA Rural Housing Program – Offers loans and grants to low-income homeowners in rural areas so they can make vital home improvements. They also have a rental assistance program for tenants who live in rural development housing complexes so they don’t pay more than 30 percent of their income on rent and utilities.
  • Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii – Provides legal assistance to low-income clients.

County Services For Seniors In Hawaii

Each county in Hawaii has its own Aging & Disability Resource Center (ADRC), which provides information on aging-related topics and helps its senior residents apply for government benefits. They also refer seniors and their caregivers to local service providers that offer services such as:

  • Adult day care
  • Caregiver respite
  • Case management
  • Housework
  • Meal delivery
  • Home health care
  • Housing assistance
  • Legal assistance
  • Recreation
  • Transportation 
  • And much more

Your county’s ADRC staff can help you determine whether you qualify for any free or reduced-cost services under the state-funded Kupuna Care program. To qualify for Kupuna Care, you must be unable to do 1 or more activities of daily living (ADLs) or instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs).

Below are some key service providers in each county that every senior in Hawaii should know about…

City & County of Honolulu (Oahu) | Maui County (Maui, Molokai & Lana’i)
Hawaii County (Big Island) | Kauai County (Kauai)

City & County of Honolulu (Oahu)

  • Handi-Van – Offers transportation service to seniors who are unable to use TheBus, Oahu’s public bus system (see below).
  • TheBus – Has a greatly reduced senior fare and other bus passes.
  • Lanakila Meals On Wheels – Provides home-delivery meal service and congregate dining at their 18 Kupuna Wellness Centers.
  • Hawaii Meals On Wheels – Offers home-delivery meal service only.
  • HCAP Senior Employment Program – Helps low-income seniors age 55 and older to find part-time employment in community-service jobs.
  • HCAP Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) – Assists low-income households in paying their heating/cooling bills and making certain energy-efficiency home repairs. Income eligibility limits are higher in Hawaii than the rest of the U.S. (except Alaska), so check to see if you qualify. They accept applications only once a year (during the month of June), so mark your calendar.
  • HCAP Weatherization Assistance Program – Provides low-income households with free installation of energy-saving devices for their home, so they can save money on their utility bills while conserving energy.
  • Rehabilitation Loan Branch Program – Provide low- and zero-interest loans up to $75,000 to low- and moderate-income homeowners so they can make necessary home repairs, modify their home with disabled-person accomodations, or install a solar water heating system.
  • Hawaii Energy Rebates – Provides several rebate programs on energy-saving solutions for your home, such as a solar water heating system, Energy Star appliances, a solar attic fan, and more.
  • Catholic Charities Hawaii – Offers a variety of senior services such as housing assistance, transportation, and caregiver respite.
  • University of Hawaii Elder Law Program – Provides basic legal assistance, advice, and information to low-income seniors age 60 and older and their caregivers. They can help with matters such as advanced health care directives, simple wills, durable powers of attorney, public benefits, elder abuse, guardianship/conservatorship, and more. They cannot help with business or criminal law matters, personal injury cases, or any other fee-generating cases.
  • Kupuna Education Center – Offers classes for caregivers and seniors at Kapiolani Community College in Honolulu.
  • Dept. of Parks & Recreation’s Senior Citizen Clubs – Provide social activities and organize special events throughout the year.
  • Senior Centers – Offer recreation, classes, social activities, meal service, and more:

Maui County (Maui, Molokai, Lana’i)

  • ADA Paratransit Program (not available on Molokai or Lana’i) – Offers transportation service to seniors who are unable to use the Maui Bus system (see below).
  • Maui Bus System – Sells monthly bus passes at a significantly reduced price for seniors age 55 and older.
  • MEO Transportation – Provides transportation services to Kaunoa Senior Center, congregate dining sites, adult day care centers, and rural shopping areas (including those on Molokai and Lana’i).
  • MEO Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) – Assists low-income households in paying their heating/cooling bills and making certain energy-efficiency home repairs. Income eligibility limits are higher in Hawaii than the rest of the U.S. (except Alaska), so check to see if you qualify. They accept applications only once a year (during the month of June), so mark your calendar.
  • MEO Senior Community Service Employment Program – Helps low-income seniors age 55 and older to find part-time employment in community-service jobs.
  • MEO Senior “Red Card” Discount Program – Offers discounted prices for seniors over age 60 at local stores and businesses on Maui, Molokai, and Lana’i.
  • MEO Weatherization Assistance Program – Provides low-income households with free installation of energy-saving devices for their home, so they can save money on their utility bills while conserving energy.
  • Solar Roofs Initiative Program – Offers zero-interest loans for the installation of a solar water heating system in your home so you can lower your electric or gas bill.
  • Hawaii Energy Rebates – Provides several rebate programs on energy-saving solutions for your home, such as a solar water heating system, Energy Star appliances, a solar attic fan, and more.
  • Hale Mahaolu – Offers affordable rental housing, home-delivery meal service, personal care services, light housekeeping, a reverse-mortgage program, and mortgage delinquency counseling.
  • Kaunoa Senior Services – Provides one-on-one assisted transportation, congregate dining, home-delivered meals, leisure activities, companions, and volunteer opportunities for seniors.
  • Senior Centers – Offer recreation, classes, social activities, meal service, and more:

Hawaii County (Big Island)

  • Hele-On Bus System – Offers free public bus service to seniors age 55 and older with ID. (However, there is a $1 fee for any carry-on items larger than 16 inches x 10 inches. Backpacks are generally OK.)
  • Shared-Taxi Program – Allows taxi passengers to ride up to 9 miles for as little as $2 within the urbanized areas of Hilo and Kailua-Kona.
  • Hawaii County Economic Opportunity Council (HCEOC) – Has several programs for low-income households, including a transportation program, food assistance, meal services, shopping/chores assistance, utility-bill payment assistance (LIHEAP program), weatherization assistance program (free installation of energy-conserving devices in the home to lower utility bills), and deferred loans for homeowners to make necessary home repairs.
  • Hawaii Energy Rebates – Provides several rebate programs on energy-saving solutions for your home, such as a solar water heating system, Energy Star appliances, a solar attic fan, and more.
  • Dept. of Parks & Recreation: Elderly Activities Division – Runs many senior programs, including case management, service referrals, senior center programs, congregate dining, home-delivery meal service, a Senior ID program, and an annual Senior Discount Book.
  • Senior Centers – Offer recreation, classes, social activities, meal service, and more:

Kauai County (Kauai)

  • Paratransit Service – Provides door-to-door transportation service to seniors age 60 and older who register with the County Transportation Agency.
  • The Kauai Bus – Offers seniors a $1/trip discounted bus fare. Discounted monthly and annual bus passes are also available.
  • Senior ID Program- Issues identification cards to seniors age 60 and older.
  • Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) – Provides volunteer opportunities for seniors age 55 and older.
  • Rehabilitation Loan Program – Provide low-interest loans up to $50,000 to low- and moderate-income homeowners so they can make necessary home repairs or modify their home with disabled-person accomodations.
  • Kauai Island Utility Cooperative – Has several programs to save both energy and money, including a zero-interest loan & rebate program for installing a solar water heating system in your home, free compact fluorescent lightbulbs, and an appliance replacement program that gives free energy-efficient refrigerators to low-income seniors who have an old refrigerator (at least 11 years old).
  • KEO Food Program – Provides meals for congregate dining at select senior centers. They also run a home-delivery meal service for homebound seniors.
  • KEO Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) – Assists low-income households in paying their heating/cooling bills and making certain energy-efficiency home repairs. Income eligibility limits are higher in Hawaii than the rest of the U.S. (except Alaska), so check to see if you qualify. They accept applications only once a year (during the month of June), so mark your calendar.
  • KEO Weatherization Assistance Program – Provides low-income households with free installation of energy-saving devices for their home, so they can save money on their utility bills while conserving energy.
  • KEO Mediation Services – Provides a neutral third-party to help resolve disputes without having to go to court.
  • Dept. of Parks & Recreation – Coordinates classes and activities at neighborhood senior centers (see below) and hosts special events throughout the year.
  • Senior Centers – Offer recreation, classes, social activities, meal service, the EnhanceFitness program, the Better Choices, Better Health program, and more:

For more up-to-date, detailed info on moving to Hawaii, check out my e-book: Moving To Hawaii: A Step-By-Step Guide

Comments

  1. MC

    Couple updates: on Big Island, Hele-On has instituted a $1 fare for everyone under age of 55. Over the age, with proof, still ride free. Still, also, $1 per bag, but they don’t collect that fee for such things as backpacks.
    Second, Section 8 housing on the Big Island is virtually unavailable. For those who qualify currently, there is a 5 YEAR backlog of applications!

    • Michele Meyer

      Hi, MC:

      Thanks very much for the updates, especially about Section 8 on the Big Island. I have revised the info in the article.

      Aloha,
      Michele

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