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Fixed incomes get tighter in lean economic times

POSTED: October 18, 2008 5:00 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Elmo and Janice Clark say they take today's tough economic times in stride and keep a positive attitude.

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Ethel Roberto remembers when gasoline was 39 cents a gallon.

A quick look at the price board at area gas stations reveals just how long ago that was.

"Gas gets you crazy," said 79-year-old Roberto.

"When I go to the gas station now, I ask for $25 worth of gas, and my son says ‘Mom, why don’t you just fill it up?’ But it hurts me to say ‘fill it up’ and have to give them $40 for gas."

As a tough economy gets tougher, everyone’s bottom line is being affected — especially those on a fixed income.

Roberto, who lived through the Great Depression, says that the current economic
climate isn’t as bad as then, but she agrees that things can be tough for many seniors.

"I haven’t had to cut out anything — thank goodness for that — but I know people who have had to," she said. "For them, it’s a question of either their medicine or food. That’s really tough. How do you choose?"

Aside from her Social Security benefits, Roberto says she has been able to make ends with assistance from her children and by taking a part-time job.

As the economy continues to worsen, cost-saving opportunities are greatly appreciated by many area seniors.

One such opportunity is the Gainesville-Hall County Senior Life Center.

Aside from offering area senior citizens various social activities, the center also helps participants save money by providing a free lunch and transportation to and from the center.

"Most of our seniors come at least twice a week," said Merry Howard, the center’s manager.

"Hall Area Transit will take them anywhere they need to go from the center — shopping, to doctor’s appointments, visiting, pretty much anywhere."

Howard said only about 10 percent of the center’s population still drives, so the center’s transportation services are a big draw for many of the seniors.

One couple, Elmo and Janice Clark, still drive and are regulars at the center, but say they can’t afford to come as often as they like because of the price of gas.

"We used to take long trips (in the car), but now we just take short ones," 73-year-old Elmo said.

"We can only come to the center twice a week now, but if the price of gas came down, we would come more often."

Both husband and wife collect Social Security benefits, but they too say they need other sources of income to get by financially.

"You couldn’t live on Social Security (alone). There’s just no way," said Janice.

"We do what we can to cut down our costs, but every time you go to the grocery store there is a constant increase (in prices)."

Even though many recipients agree that they couldn’t live solely on their Social Security benefits, the benefits themselves are a very important part of their monthly budgets.

As a way of helping individuals maximize their Social Security benefits, the Hall County Library is sponsoring a "Social Security and You" program at 6 p.m. Thursday.

"This is really going to be a very comprehensive presentation," said Marion Hunter, event organizer.

"We had a good response the first time, so we decided to offer the program again. And the presenter will be available afterward to answer any additional questions."

A Social Security administrator will be making the presentation and will cover many topics, including how to sign up for Social Security, when to retire and what can be done to help with Medicare expenses, Hunter says.

The program will be held in the meeting room of the Gainesville branch of the Hall County Library, 127 Main St.

Although there are many theories circulating about how the American economy has become so poor, Roberto has her own idea.

"Things that happen worldwide affect us here — they have to. Wars cost us, not just money but also lives," she said.

"I grew up during World War II. Wars do cost us, and the economy has to suffer. But I’m hoping that things get better for those people who are less fortunate than I am."



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