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Tax Preparation Options for 2012

1/26/2012 4:15pm

Senior Neighbors will no longer be offering assistance with taxes. However, they have compiled a list of resources older adults can contact for help with tax preparation. Senior Neighbors’ outreach workers will help seniors problem solve tax issues through appropriate referrals, like they do with many other concerns. To contact Senior Neighbors, call (616) 459-6019 or visit www.seniorneighbors.org

H&R Block is willing to go to senior housing sites and senior centers and provide tax services like Senior Neighbors has done for the past several years.  They are willing to assist the seniors using the same suggested donation schedule Senior Neighbors used last year.  The contact person at H&R Block is Carl Underhill.  He has been volunteering with Senior Neighbors the last couple of years helping with its tax program, so he is familiar with how the program has operated.  Carl can be reached at 616-669-2081 or at carl.underhill@tax.hrblock.com

AARP will continue to operate their senior tax program at the Baxter Community Center.  They have the capacity to help many seniors with their tax forms at the Baxter Center and can be reached during tax season at 616-456-8593.  Phil Quist is the contact at Baxter. For more information, visit http://www.aarp.org/money/taxes/ .

The Kent County Tax Credit Coalition operates over 20 sites to assist people with tax forms.  For more information, call 211 or check this link: http://www.hwmuw.org/media/KCTCC_Coupon_English_2011.pdf


#1 Debra Dagen said:

Thank you for update. Does anyone know if H&R is offerring these services in other counties?

#2 Jackie said:

I am not aware what is available in other counties, but you can contact AARP and H&R Block in your area and ask. I recall seeing an H&R Block commercial offering to do the taxes for free if you meet the criteria listed on the IRS website for free e-filing. OR someone can help them with the online format.

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Elder Abuse Legislation Update from OSA

1/23/2012 12:00pm

The Michigan Office of Services to the Aging (OSA) applauds Governor Rick Snyder's urgent call for the Michigan House to pass Senate elder abuse legislation quickly.  During Wednesday's State of the State Address, Governor Snyder urged swift legislative action that would give vulnerable adults and seniors the necessary protection from physical abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation.

According to Kari Sederburg, OSA Director, “Vulnerable adult abuse is one of Michigan’s fastest growing crimes, with an estimated 80,000 victims each year.  Sadly, these people are suffering, often in silence, because Michigan does not have adequate tools and resources to protect and support victims and improve prevention and prosecution efforts.  With passage of this legislation, this is all about to change.”

The bipartisan 18-bill Senate elder abuse package championed by Senator Tonya Schuitmaker (R-Lawton) provides long overdue reforms including increased criminal penalties, provisions for video-taped testimony, required training for employees of financial institutions, improved coordination between state and local authorities, and a silver alert program.  Most of the bills in the package have been introduced in previous legislative sessions.

Help Governor Snyder and OSA send a firm message to the Michigan House of Representatives and Speaker Bolger that passage of this elder abuse package by Valentine's Day is critical.  Michigan must not miss this unprecedented opportunity to show we care for our most vulnerable and will not break their hearts yet again.

Additional information on senior protections can be found in "the elder protection" Senate bills 457, 459-468, 604-605, 706 and 777; the bills text and analyses are available at www.legislature.mi.gov. For more information, contact the OSA at (517) 373-8230 or visit www.michigan.gov/miseniors.


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Resolve to a Healthy New You!

1/1/2012 12:00am

January is often a time to jumpstart fitness goals or make resolutions for a healthy new you and while nutrition is a key component in building a healthier lifestyle, it’s often neglected or overlooked. Yet, proper nutrition can be critical in preventing the development and progression of life-long diseases such as diabetes. Coupled with exercise, healthy eating habits can also reduce the occurrence of heart disease and osteoporosis.

The Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan (AAAWM) wants to help older adults reach their healthy lifestyle goals through a new program called Healthy Eating for Successful Living in Older Adults (Healthy Eating).  

If you want to learn about healthy lifestyle choices using a hands-on approach, then this is the class for you!  Sessions include cooking demonstrations, group outings to a grocery store and restaurant, and a group physical activity segment.  The group outings help participants learn how to incorporate the healthy choices into everyday life activities.  “The class is fun and interactive and not the typical classroom setting.  Participants have the support and encouragement of each other,“ said Barbara Nelson-Jandernoa, Contract Coordinator at AAAWM.

Registered Dietitian Staci Shell says older adults may not understand how their nutrition needs change as they have aged or possibly developed chronic conditions. “The goal is to teach people how to fit healthy eating into their lifestyle and how to make those healthy food choices in the grocery store, out to eat or wherever you are.  It’s not following the latest diet, but learning how to incorporate smart nutrition choices into everyday life.”

The program, provided in partnership with Spectrum Health Healthier Communities, can accommodate up to twelve adults age 60 and over. The first session will be held Wednesday from March 7 through April 11 from 1:00 until 3:30 at Spectrum Health Healthier Communities (665 Seward, Grand Rapids, MI 49504).  Instruction will take place in a classroom, kitchen, grocery store and restaurant.

Healthy Eating sessions are held weekly for six weeks. The March class will be taught by Nelson-Jandernoa and Shell. A session is also planned for Ionia County in the spring and AAAWM hopes to expand the program throughout West Michigan in 2012.

Healthy Eating is a National Council on Aging model program. It was developed in Massachusetts with funding from the John A. Hartford Foundation in 2005. Upon completion of the program, 80% of participants changed their diet or behavior to make healthier food choices or include physical activity in their daily routine.

Healthy Eating is one of seven healthy aging programs offered throughout West Michigan by the AAAWM.  Other classes address fall prevention, physical activity, chronic conditions and arthritis. For more information on healthy aging programs or other resources for seniors, visit www.aaawm.org/healthy_aging

To sign up for the class, call 616.267.2626 or toll free at 877.495.2626, option 4.


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Help for Paying for Heating Bills

12/15/2011 2:00pm

Winter is here and along with it high heating bills.  If your budget is tight and you’re worried about paying bills on time, call your utility company NOW to ask for assistance.  There are programs that can help, especially if you plan ahead.

This article summarizes the programs available throughout Michigan.  There might also be programs unique to your area – call your local Area Agency on Aging (www.mi-seniors.net) or Community Action Agency (www.mcaaa.org) for more information. 

Budget Billing Plan

Upon request, utilities will bill a customer an equal amount each month, allowing the customer to pay an estimated average.  For example, if your heating bills last year were $1200, you can ask to be billed $100 each month, instead of having low bills in the summer and high bills in the winter.  Gas and electric companies offer this option to all customers, regardless of income – contact them directly to sign up.

Winter Protection Plan

This plan protects all seniors 65+ and low-income customers from service shutoffs between November 1st and March 31st.  (Some utilities offer this protection to those 62+.)  Between these dates, seniors are protected from shut-offs even if they make no monthly payments.  (They are encouraged to pay something, however, to avoid higher bills when the protection period ends and they are required to pay.)  Low-income customers are required to pay at least 7% of their estimated annual bills between November 1st and March 31st, along with a portion of any past-due amount.  Low-income customers are defined as either 1) receiving cash assistance from the Department of Human Services; 2) receiving Food Stamps or Medicaid; or 3) having an annual household income at or below 150% of the poverty level (which in 2011 is $10,890 for one person and $14,710 for two – these amounts will go up slightly for 2012).  Both seniors and low-income customers must pay back any money owed between April and October, and shut-offs are allowed during this period.  All gas and electric companies offer the Winter Protection Plan; be sure to contact your utility company to let them know you qualify.


This program helps low-income customers of all ages reduce their heating costs by making apartments and homes more energy efficient.  Households that are weatherized can save as much as 20-30%.  The program provides home inspections, and can pay for a wide variety of repairs and services such as installing insulation, and repairing or replacing furnaces, heating ducts, thermostats, and water heaters.  Services are delivered on a first-come, first-served basis until funding is depleted.  To be eligible, you must have a household income at or below 200% of poverty (which in 2011 is $21,780 for one person and $29,420 for two – these amounts will go up slightly for 2012).  You are also eligible if you receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI), or cash assistance from the Department of Human Services.  Most weatherization providers are Community Action Agencies.  To find the agency that serves your area, look in the phone book’s business section under Community Action Agency, or on the Internet, go to www.mcaaa.org.

Home Heating Tax Credit

Low-income customers, including seniors, can receive a state income tax credit for last year’s heating expenses.  You can apply for a Home Heating Tax Credit even if you don’t pay income tax or file an income tax return; a separate form is used.  Eligibility is based on household income, the number of people in the household and actual heating costs.  Applications will be available in January from the Michigan Department of Treasury by calling (517) 636-4486.  Forms are also available on the Internet at www.michigan.gov/taxes.   Applications can be filed between January 1 and September 30.

State Emergency Relief

Run by the Department of Human Services (DHS), this program is available to low-income individuals year-round on a first-come, first-served basis until funding is depleted.  It can help with a variety of emergency expenses, including utility bills and energy-related home repairs.  Assistance is provided to those with an immediate crisis, for example, receiving a shut-off notice.  The monthly income limit for energy assistance is $1,909 for a one-person household and $2,496 for a two-person household.  (The limit goes up with each additional person in the household.)  There may also be an asset test.  Payments are made directly to the utility company or repair contractor.  To apply, call the DHS office located in your county for an appointment.   Current DHS clients can apply online at www.michigan.gov/heatingassistance.    

Propane, Heating Oil, Coal or Wood

Low-income customers running out of heating fuels may be able to get help from their local Community Action Agency, if funding is available – www.mcaaa.org.

Other Programs

Some utilities have created their own programs to help with utility bills.  For example, Consumers Energy, in partnership with the Salvation Army, operates the “People Care Plus” program for their service areas.  Another program, known as THAW (The Heat and Warmth Fund) is available in 53 of Michigan’s 83 counties, including the Upper Peninsula.  Help from THAW is provided to households already shut-off or completely out of fuel, as well as some in danger of being shut-off.  Customers must have a household income at or below 200% of poverty (which in 2011 is $21,780 for one person and $29,420 for two) and are required to apply for all other assistance first.  Payments are made directly to utility companies or vendors.  Applications can be submitted at the Salvation Army and some other organizations.  For more information, call THAW at (800) 866-8429 or visit their website at www.thawfund.org.


If you have a complaint about your gas or electric company and the company hasn’t resolved it to your satisfaction, call the Michigan Public Service Commission at 1-800-292-9555.

(This article taken from the November, 2011 issue of Aging Alert, a publication of the Area Agencies on Aging Association of Michigan. Click here for more information on this publication)


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Snowflakes, Seniors and Scams

11/23/2011 12:10pm

Around the winter months, like all of us, seniors may be more susceptible to scams that prey on persons needing to stay warm or to protect their health during frigid weather. However, during this time older adults can increase their knowledge about how to avoid being taken advantage of and ensure a safe and warm winter season.

Tips for seniors to avoid scams:


  • Always ask for information in writing and read documents carefully before signing. When asked to sign a contract, consider taking the document home and read it without stress. If comfortable with the terms and conditions, return the next day with it signed.
  • If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. During the winter months many places offer great bargains on items to keep warm and healthy. Unless it is a reputable, familiar business, stay away from deals that are “too good to pass up” and always read the fine print.
  • Protect yourself and your medical and financial information. Do not disclose this information over the phone. This has long been a popular tool used by con artists to gain access to personal information. Financial and medical institutions do not ask for this information over the phone.
  • Do your research before working with a new organization or individual. Many community resources exist to help seniors advocate for themselves. Contact your local Agency on Aging, the Better Business Bureau, legal assistance programs or family and friends you trust for more information on an organization. If something makes you uncomfortable, don’t do it. 

For other ways to combat fraud and abuse, visit the Senior Advocacy in Action Alert and contact your state Representative about pending legislation.


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Senior Advocacy in Action Alert

11/17/2011 2:15pm

Your action is needed to help prevent elder abuse!

Five years ago, a Governor-appointed Task Force of aging experts released a set of recommendations on addressing the growing, and mostly hidden, problem of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.  Since then, many bills have been introduced, but have died due to inaction by one or both houses.  Similar bills have been introduced in 2011.  We want legislators to get the job done this year to prevent abuse and get justice for victims.  

The Senate passed a package of 18 bills in early November.  Here are a few examples:

  • Senate Bill 461 would prevent an abuser from inheriting his/her victim’s assets. 
  • Senate Bill 454 would allow vulnerable adults to provide videotaped testimony similar to laws protecting children from having to face their abusers. 
  • Senate Bill 466 would require law enforcement to publicize a missing elder similar to the Amber Alerts used for missing children 


Fourteen (14) of these bills are now in the House Families, Children and Seniors Committee, chaired by Rep. Ken Kurtz, and the other four bills are in the House Banking and Financial Services Committee, chaired by Rep. Marty Knollenberg.  The bills have to be reported out of these committees, and then be approved by the entire House before they can go to Governor Snyder for his signature.  Advocates are pushing for the bills to become law by Christmas as a present for older Michiganians. 

Whate You Can Do:

Contact the Chairmen of these two committees along with the Speaker of the House and ask that the bills be reported out of these committees as soon as possible!  Also contact your own Representative and ask him/her to advocate with Kurtz, Knollenberg and Bolger.


Here are some talking points:

  • About 80,000 Michigan elders fall victim to some form of abuse each year.
  • Last year, Adult Protective Services received 19,000 calls reporting abuse, up from 12,000 calls in 2000.
  • 70% of abusers are ‘trusted ones,’ including spouses, children, grandchildren and friends.  Victims come from all walks of life and income classes, as witnessed by Mickey Rooney’s testimony before the Congress.
  • Michigan’s high rate of unemployment is fueling the financial exploitation of the elderly.


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Senior Odyssey

10/18/2011 1:00pm

Senior Odyssey of the Mind teams are now forming and they need you! Click here for more details on how to get involved and join in the fun!


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Author to Speak to Caregivers

9/26/2011 11:30am

“Caregivers: Who’s Caring For You” will be entertaining as Michigan author, Lynn Alexander, teaches caregivers how to take care of yourself, reduce stress and find strategies to get you through, even if you are in the “Sandwich Generation.”

The event will take place on Thursday, November 10, 2011 at the Grand Rapids Public Library’s Ryerson Auditorium, Level 3 (111 Library Street) from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m.

Registration is encouraged at registration@aaawm.orgor (616) 456-5664

Click here for more information.

This event is sponsored by the Caregiver Resource Network, Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan and the Grand Rapids Public Library.


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Seeking Letters of Intent

9/19/2011 10:00am

The Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan (AAAWM) is seeking Letters of Intent to provide Long Term Care Ombudsman and Elder Abuse Prevention Education services funded under the Older Americans Act in Region 8. 

Region 8 includes the nine counties of Allegan, Ionia, Kent, Lake, Mason, Mecosta, Montcalm, Newaygo and Osceola. This Letter of Intent is for one year, Fiscal Year 2012.  The funding awarded will be for October 1, 2011 through September 30, 2012.

Click here for service definitions.

Funding levels available are:

  • Long Term Care Ombudsman                               $80.902
  • Elder Abuse Prevention Education                      $14,027


The Letter of Intent is Due Friday September 23, 2011 at 12:00 p.m. noon to the Area Agency on Aging of Western MI, 1279 Cedar NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503 or to proposal@aaawm.orgClick here for the Letter of Intent.

Letters of Intent will be reviewed and appropriate agencies will be selected to continue in the proposal process.

Questions can be directed to Jackie O’Connor, AAAWM Assistant Director at 616.222.7002 or Jackie@aaawm.org.


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Learn Safe Medical Transfers

9/12/2011 11:00am

Many caregivers also help their loved ones get out of the bathtub, get into chairs or walk throughout the home. On Thursday September 22, 2011, Easter Seals will teach the proper techniques to make medical transfers a safer and easier process.  The training will take place from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at Easter Seals (4065 Saladin Drive SE, Grand Rapids), lunch will be provided.


Registration is required and complimentary respite is available upon request. To qualify for this training, either the caregiver or the care recipient must be age 60 or older.


Email your name and the class title (Safe Medical Transfers) to registration@aaawm.orgor call the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan at (616 ) 456-5664. Registration is not complete until you receive confirmation.


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Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan
3215 Eaglecrest Dr NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49525
Phone: 616-456-5664 or 888-456-5664 • Fax: 616-456-5692


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