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Costs for Maui County seniors high

Study: Elders need to pay more than Mainland counterparts for necessities

Maui County’s kupuna face some of the highest cost of living challenges in the nation, with some shelling out more than $5,000 annually for necessities compared to their Mainland counterparts, a recent study shows.

The Elder Index study by the University of Massachusetts in Boston looked at the basic and necessary costs for older Americans to live in states and counties.

The study said that a Maui County single, senior citizen, 65 years or older, who rents and is in poor health, would need $33,108 a year to pay for food, transportation, health costs, housing and some miscellaneous expenses.

That cost is 120 percent of the national average of $27,648.

Senior couples in Maui County, who may be faring a little better and own their own home with no mortgage payments and are in excellent health, still will need $29,952 a year, or 101 percent of the national average of $29,688, to pay for basic expenses.

In Hawaii, more than half of the kupuna living alone lack the financial resources to pay for basic needs and nearly 27 percent of older couples also are at risk of being unable to afford to live in the Aloha State, the report said.

The index does not include costs for vacations, restaurant meals or entertainment.

AARP Hawaii used the report, released in November, to aid its lobbying efforts at the state Legislature for measures to help working families save their own money for retirement and to not retire in poverty.

New bills in the House and the Senate would take the first step in creating a state-facilitated IRA program, so all workers could have access to payroll deduction savings, an AARP Hawaii news release said. This is the fifth try for the measure, which in recent sessions has reached conference committee stage before failing.

AARP Hawaii noted that there would be millions of dollars in savings to the state in the long run if lower-income residents were able to save enough money for retirement.

AARP estimates that the average Social Security benefits in Hawaii for households with members 65 years or older is only about $17,898 a year — which doesn’t cover all basic costs.

Social Security was never intended to be the sole source of income for older Americans, said AARP State Director Keali`i Lopez. Pensions used to cover the difference, but most companies no longer have pensions. Now, working families need to save.

But half of all private sector workers do not have access to payroll savings, Lopez added, advocating for the measures pending before the state Legislature.

According to AARP, Honolulu County was the most expensive place to live in Hawaii for kupuna in good health, who rent, with a required income of $46,068 annually for couples and $34,236 for singles.

Maui County was second at $42,504 for couples and $31,056 for singles, followed by Kauai County, $41,208 for couples and $29,556 for singles; and Hawaii County, $41,784 for couples and $28,536 for singles.

Maui County Office on Aging Executive Deborah Stone-Walls isn’t surprised by the high costs for seniors in Maui County.

“The cost of everything is more,” she said.

Stone-Walls is president of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, which represents America’s national network of 622 Area Agencies on Aging.

Stone-Walls said that private services which could provide meals for seniors can be delivered for much less on the Mainland, maybe even at $6.99 each, but if that same service was brought to Hawaii it would probably cost $14.95 in comparison.

The top five things people call the Office of Aging about are:

– Home delivered meals.

– Help with house cleaning.

– Transportation.

– Adult day care

– Personal care.

Ruth Griffith, administrator of Kaunoa Senior Services, said her program serves about 1,000 seniors with its Meals on Wheels program. The number of clients is the highest she has seen since recording totals in 2014.

“It has been going up,” she said of the number of clients in the home-delivered meals program.

The annual increases are due to people living longer with advances in medical care and those living longer but in need of care, as well as seniors living alone when families move away, Griffith said.

The increases in the meals program are not due to high cost of food but rather physical issues, such as not being able to cook or to move about easily, she said.

Transportation is another factor; the elder person may be too fragile or ill to take a bus ride or a taxi ride into Central Maui for food shopping or doctors appointments, Griffith said.

To see the report, go to elderindex.org.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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