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Testimony of CLS Client Phyllis Ridenhour

Aging and Disabilities

Testimony of CLS Client Phyllis Ridenhour

Date Posted: 
06/15/2016

The following testimony was delivered by CLS client Phyllis Ridenhour to the Philadelphia City Council Committee on Labor and Civil Service on June 15, 2016.

My name is Phyllis Ridenhour.  I live in West Philadelphia in a house I have lived in for over 40 years.  I have been a widow since my husband died in 1995.

I have worked in the City all of my adult life.  I taught pre-K at Our Mother of Sorrows School.    Later on, I worked in customer service.  For a long time, I worked three jobs because I couldn’t make ends meet with one job.  Finally, I got a job that paid well enough that I could let one of the other jobs go.  I worked for a large bank, in their mortgage servicing department.  In 2008, I was laid off, or as the bank put it, “displaced” from my job.  My department was moved to Florida, and those of us who were around retirement age, including me, were forced to retire.

I am 66 now, and receive $1,054 per month in Social Security retirement. I do not have a pension.   When I worked at the bank, after I had been there for a year I was allowed to put money into a 401k, and I did that.  I was able to save about $35,000.  But after I was forced to retire, I had to take the money out of the 401k because my house was falling apart and needed repairs.  The house needed a new porch because it was falling down and many other repairs.

I also had to use a lot of the money in my 401k to help my son.  My son was very active in the community.  He helped teenagers and young adults and ran a football team.  The kids could only be on the team if they didn’t smoke, drink, or smoke marijuana. He kept a lot of them out of trouble.  And he would help the kids who slipped and went to jail.  But by the time I was forced to retire, my son was very ill.  He was in renal failure and going blind.  I used a lot of the money I had saved for my retirement to help him with his rent and all of his bills.   He was too disabled to work but hadn’t been approved yet for Social Security Disability. He died from renal failure in 2012, two days after we had a 46th birthday party for him.

My Social Security benefits are not enough to pay my mortgage, utilities, food, medical expenses and other bills. I was fortunate to get into a training program under Title V of the Older Americans Act through the Mayor’s Commission on Aging.  They placed me here in City Hall, where I review cases that come through the courts to make sure that the forms are filled out properly. Through this program, which provides part-time work for seniors at minimum wage, I work 20 hours a week or sometimes less.  But even with this additional income, I have really struggled financially.

In 2000, I took out a mortgage on my house to pay off bills and get a car to get to work.  Unfortunately, the mortgage had illegal and fraudulent terms in it.  I was not shown the paperwork that said that there was a balloon payment.  The balloon payment came due last year, and I have been really struggling since then to keep my home.  A lawyer from Community Legal Services is helping me with this.

After making my mortgage payment, I have a very difficult time affording my utility bills.  My gas was cut off last November, and I had to use an electric space heater.  I borrowed money and was able to get it turned back on in January.  PGW gave me a payment agreement of $168 per month.  I told them that I couldn’t afford that much, but they said that was all they could do.  I had to pay $400 in copayments for cataract surgery in both of my eyes in April and May, and got behind on the gas bill again.  So they shut off my gas last Tuesday.  I don’t know how I am going to pay PGW the $4,000 I owe, or what I am going to do in the fall when it starts to get cold.  I’ve applied for all of the programs that I qualify for, but unfortunately don’t qualify for many of them because I’m told that I have too much income. 

I also have a lot of medical expenses to pay.  I used to have Medicaid, but I was dropped from it recently because my income is too high.  Medicare only pays 80% of the medical bill, so I have to pay the rest of the bill.  I also have to pay copayments every month for my other medications, and that costs me about $100 a month.  

If anything comes up in the house that needs to be fixed, I have to find money to try to fix it.  I was able recently to get some electrical work, a new heater and grab bars from a PHA program.  But I need a new roof.  It is leaking in my bedroom.  I don’t have any money to get it fixed, though. 

I get Food Stamps, but it’s only $16 a month.  So I have to go to the Save-a-Lot and buy whatever I can that’s on sale.  It’s not about eating what I’d like to eat or what’s healthy.  I have to buy what’s on sale.

The extra income I earn from my Title V job has helped a lot.  But if I’m sick or have to go to the doctor, I don’t get paid.  I have two herniated disks and sometimes I can’t get out of bed, so I can’t go to work.    You can only stay in the Title V program for 4 years and my last month will be in October.  When this job ends, I will still be over the income limit for many senior programs, and I won’t have nearly enough income to pay my basic expenses. I really don’t know what I’m going to do after that.  I’ve applied for several positions but I have not found a job so far.  Thank you for considering what kinds of programs would help Philadelphia seniors have a more secure retirement.