Updates on Five of 2013’s Money and Work Blogs

Follow-ups on two competitions, a program for boomer volunteers, an assisted-living expose and the same-sex marriage ruling

One of my pet peeves about journalists (maybe one of yours, too) is that after they write about something, they rarely return to that subject and provide readers with updates on what’s happened since. So I’m devoting this blog to follow-ups on five Next Avenue money, work and volunteering blogs I wrote in 2013, with questions and answers about them:

Who won International Living’s “Win Your Dream Retirement Overseas” competition and what did they think of their free month in Nicaragua?

In March, I wrote a blog noting that International Living, a magazine and website specializing in retirement abroad, would select a couple to fly to Granada, Nicaragua and take up temporary residence in a furnished home there. The pair would also get $1,500 in spending money and a weekend an upscale resort on Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast.

(MORE: Is This the Best Place in the World to Retire?)

Well, the winning couple — Bill and Nancy Mattox, RE/MAX real estate brokers in Bentonville, Ark. in their 60s — just came back. I asked them about their trip.

“It truly has been a marvelous experience, exceeding our expectations in many ways,” said Nancy, who described Nicaragua as “a poor country with lots of potential.” The Mattoxes found the expats particularly welcoming and liked the country so much they stayed two more weeks on their own dime.

They especially warmed to Nicaragua’s weather. “In Granada, temperatures have been running between 70 and 90 degrees most days and there is a great breeze,” said Nancy. It gets hotter in spring, she noted.

“Finding a little land outside Granada or Managua and building a home from scratch just might be our thing for the near future,” she said. “We are still not sure if this is the perfect place for us yet, but we haven’t found any place better.”

What’s happened with the Hollywood, Fla. initiative encouraging local boomers to volunteer and help the area’s unemployed and underemployed achieve career success?

In a blog post I wrote last April, I said the Atlantic coast community was ramping up what it called the Boomers Experience and Skills Team or BEST program. The goal was to get 50 boomer volunteers to train 500 residents and help run a job fair within the next 18 months.

Debra Pierce, the newly appointed BEST coordinator, had good news. Six training workshops are planned for January and February where boomers will offer their expertise on topics such as job searching and ways to get promoted; trainees will receive certificates. The job fair is scheduled for April 2014.

(MORE: 7 Reasons Volunteering Can Lead to a Job)

If you’re a retired or semi-retired boomer who’d like to be a BEST volunteer or know someone who fits that bill, email or call Pierce ([email protected]; 954-924-2922).

Have assisted living facilities become any safer as a result of the summer PBS Frontline/ProPublica exposé, Life and Death in Assisted Living?

Here I’m sorry to say the news is not as good. Although this powerful program I blogged about in July revealed serious problems in the way elderly residents are cared for in some of the roughly 30,000 assisted living facilities in America, neither regulators nor the assisted living industry have done much to improve the situation.

“I think the program pushed the industry into a defensive posture rather than a self-reflective look at what it could do better,” said A.C. Thompson, the show’s California-based correspondent, co-producer and co-writer. “But I hear lots of elder abuse attorneys saying this is the time to have a discussion. They are pushing, in the wake of our reporting and the reporting of others, to put the issue front and center with politicians in Washington.”

Regulators in Thompson’s state, however, have begun planning reforms that might go into effect next year. “That’s significant because there are more assisted living facilities in California than anywhere else,” he said. “Right now, there’s a $150 fine if a facility is responsible for somebody’s death, so it’s a very lax system.”

Thompson’s team has published several assisted living articles on the ProPublica site since the program aired. You can also now watch the show online or read the series in the Kindle e-book, Life & Death in Assisted Living (cost: 99 cents). Look for more articles online in 2014, Thompson said. And if you want to share personal stories about a loved one who has lived in an assisted-living facility or your experience working in one, you can do so on the ProPublica site.

How will Social Security handle benefits for same-sex couples in light of the Supreme Court’s decision invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal benefits to married gay couples?

Things are still a little murky since I blogged about this court ruling in August, when Social Security and IRS began talking about how they’d handle it. But Social Security just announced it has started processing some widow’s and widower’s claims by surviving members of same-sex marriages, paying benefits where they are due. The agency is also now paying some lump-sum death benefit claims to surviving same-sex spouses.

What Social Security hasn’t done, however, is figure out its rules for retirement benefits due to same-sex couples; it’s working them out with the Justice Department. Exactly when that’ll happen is anyone’s guess. “In the coming weeks and months,” a Social Security spokesperson told me, “we will develop and implement additional policy and processing instructions.”

Meantime, says Social Security’s acting commissioner Carolyn Colvin, “If you believe you may be eligible for Social Security, I encourage you to apply now to protect against the loss of any potential benefits. We will process claims as soon as additional instructions become finalized.”

By applying now, you’ll establish the effective date for the start of any benefits that become available after the agency makes its ruling.

What’s happening with the Stanford Center on Longevity’s Design Challenge to invent products and services to maximize independence for people with cognitive impairment?

I talked about this competition in an October blog post about how the tech world was suddenly falling in love with people over 50. The Design Challenge application deadline just ended and Stanford received an impressive number of entries (52) from college students in the U.S. and around the world, including China, Poland and Brazil. The winners, who’ll be announced in 2014, will receive $30,000 in prizes.

“Quite a few are technology-related designs, but there were also programs, activities and low-tech design,” said Ken S. Smith, who is coordinating the challenge.

When the winners are announced, I’ll be back with details.

RIchard Eisenberg, editor at Next Avenue wearing a suit jacket in front of a teal background.
By Richard Eisenberg
Richard Eisenberg is the Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. Follow him on Twitter.

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