Florence dreads the 12th of the month.
That’s when after she and her sister Martha pay all of their bills they are able to take into account what they have left to live on until the end of the month.
This month they are making due with 43 cents.
The sisters moved to Manteca in 1988. Florence worked as a licensed vocational nurse and Martha as a registered nurse. Both were employed by St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Stockton.
Florence was making $7.25 an hour when she was forced to retire due to a back injury in 1994. Since the injury was work related she was able to get 60 percent of her salary until she turned 65 two years ago and applied for Social Security. Her sister is 72 years old and has heart problems.
Florence believes she is part of a significant invisible population of people in Manteca — primarily the elderly — that aren’t poor enough to qualify for assistance and have inadequate income to keep their noses above water.
“Receiving 60 percent of your salary when you are forced into retirement sounds like a good thing until you realize that was back in 1994,” Florence said.
Florence is painfully aware gas prices in 19994, as an example, were a third of what they are today.
Still Florence and Martha thought they’d be fine. After all, she had an IRA with $110,000 and her sister had a $400,000 IRA.
But as the years went by they found themselves depleting their IRAs to make ends meet as their basic living expenses increased and their income remained static after they were both forced to the sidelines by medical issues. The Great Recession didn’t help sending interest earned on IRAs down to practically nothing.
Today, Florence is left with a $1,300 a month Social Security check and Martha with a $2,000 Social Security check. They have $3,300 to meet all of their monthly expenses and not a penny more.
Their home mortgage, taxes, and home insurance takes $2,000 a month. They are dreading the additional burden of the recently passed Manteca Unified School District bond that teachers’ union representatives pushing for its passage flippantly said it would cost the typical Manteca homeowner the price of one Starbucks coffee a week.
The sisters can’t even afford one Starbucks coffee a year. When the assessment is slapped against their home they will have to decide whether to give up more meals or forgo more medicine.
They thought about selling their home. While it would get them out from under a mortgage, they still need a place to live.
Typical homes are fetching $1,500 or more a month in rent. Smaller two bedroom, one bathroom homes when they do become available are commanding $1,200 a month. At first it looks like it would give them breathing room. But at current annual rent increases they will be paying almost what they are right now in eight or so years. Apartments are almost as pricey. Florence says she doesn’t want to give up her cats in exchange for “living in a $500 a month hovel.” Even if she were to forgo her beloved felines, there is no place in Manteca you can rent for $500 a month and that includes single rooms in “residency” motels such as the Inn by the Station.
After paying the mortgage, the sisters are left with $1,300 a month. Prescriptions and gap coverage for Medi-Cal costs almost $400 between the two of them. That leaves $900 a month. Then there is PG&E, phone, city utilities, auto insurance, transportation costs and such plus heart medicine for her sister that isn’t 100 percent covered and after buying basic food they are down to 43 cents. It’s a budget that makes canned soup the go to meal.
Florence said they were practically “laughed at” by government agencies when they requested EBT for food assistance. They made too much money. The same is true when they tried to access help from church groups. Some have suggested they ask family for assistance. They have none.
“No one cares about two old maids,” Florence said partially in jest, partially in seriousness.
They recently got slapped with a City of Manteca weed abatement notice. When she told the city representative she couldn’t pull the weeds because of her back nor could her sister due to her heart condition, they said she could hire someone to do the work or else the city will find someone and bill the sisters. Her reply? “Who can I get to do it for 43 cents?’
In all likelihood it will end up as a lien against their home when they are finally forced to sell.
In all honesty, the sisters could probably find a decent, functional apartment with two bedrooms in Manteca for $800. That would go a long way to easing their financial pain although if they live another 20 years they could arguably be in a worse financially by renting.
That said, what they are facing is what a lot of others are in Manteca — literally being squeezed out of their home.
Florence and Martha would be happy if their Golden Years were Fake Golden Years and not turning into empty Tin Cup Years.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.