Concerned Senior Couple Using Laptop In Kitchen, Managing Family Budget is a site that can help older adults find benefits they might be eligible for. (Adobe Stock)

(Jefferson City) -- Older adults on fixed incomes are more prone to financial hardship during economic downturns, and a new effort aims to connect those age 60-plus to available benefits.

Community agencies and organizations in Missouri and other states are helping older adults apply for programs that can help them pay for food, prescription drugs and health services.

Joshua Hodges, chief customer officer with the National Council on Aging, explains roughly $30 billion in annual benefits go unclaimed, partly because people don't know about them or how to apply.

"A lot of people are having to choose between, 'Do I pay rent this month or do I pay for my prescription drugs?' And those choices don't have to be made," says Hodges. "We hear stories all the time about individuals getting $2,000 or $3,000 back for prescription drug coverage, and that really can change somebody's life."

He says the council has a free online "BenefitsCheckUp" tool that features more than 2,500 benefit programs, including food assistance, tax relief and Medicare savings. Learn more at ''

For Missourians who don't have online access, Hodges says local community organizations can assist with the benefit screening. He also encourages the children of older adults to get involved.

"It should take about 10 minutes of your time," says Hodges. "And from there, you would see what benefits you might qualify for. And if you're interested in then applying for some of those benefits or going further in the process, you can do that, right on that website."

Research from the National Council on Aging found significant increases in poverty after the last recession among people age 60 and older. However, it noted retired individuals fared somewhat better, suggesting such government benefits as Social Security and Medicare help to improve many people's financial stability.