During the pandemic, workers 55 and older lost jobs earlier, were rehired slower and faced higher unemployment rates than younger workers, according to an October 2020 study by The New School for Social Research.
These obstacles are especially daunting for low-income seniors, who may lack the education, training or wrap-around resources necessary to re-enter the labor force.
If you’re 55 or older and unemployed, a free work-based job training program from the Department of Labor can help.
It’s called the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP), and it provides subsidized, part-time community service work to thousands of low-income American seniors each year.
Keep reading to learn who’s eligible and how to apply.
What Is the Senior Community Service Employment Program?
The SCSEP was created more than 55 years ago as part of the Older Americans Act of 1965.
The program aims to provide subsidized, part-time, community service work and training for people ages 55 and older with low incomes.
The Department of Labor received $402.9 million in funding for SCSEP in 2021, according to the agency’s fiscal budget. It allocates those funds to various state agencies and 19 national nonprofit organizations.
The SCSEP helps pay the salary of an estimated 56,0750 older Americans who participate in the program each year.
How Does the SCSEP Work?
The SCSEP is federally-funded and administered by states, which contract with local community service organizations. (Goodwill and AARP are two of the biggest).
The SCSEP is specifically designed to meet the employment needs of older workers.
Participants are placed with a local nonprofit or government agency and get paid to work 20 hours a week.
You’ll get paid the federal, state or local minimum wage — whichever is highest.
The federal minimum wage in 2022 is $7.25. So you can expect to earn at least $145 a week before taxes, or about $7,540 a year.
Sponsor agencies are required to provide you with supportive career services like resume writing and computer training. They also place you in a hands-on work assignment with a local nonprofit or government agency.
This makes SCSEP a “win-win” for older workers and nonprofit groups alike, said Emily Allen, AARP Foundation’s senior vice president of programs.
“The participants get hands-on experience and the community organization gets extra manpower to carry out their mission,” Allen told Codetic.
These entry-level to mid-level community service jobs include work such as learning how to operate the ordering system at a food bank or answering phones at your local Council on Aging.
Allen said roles like this give workers current work experience, which is attractive to potential employers.
“It’s often easier to find a job when you have a job,” Allen said. “Program participants are actively working in an assignment, and that really speaks to an employer.”
When you’re not in the field, organizations like AARP work one-on-one with SCSEP participants to identify their skills and career objectives.
“We focus a lot on developing the soft skills and digital skills they need to look for and obtain employment,” Allen said.
The goal of the SCSEP is to serve as a bridge to full-time, unsubsidized work.
In other words, your SCSEP gig won’t last forever. Allen said participants usually stay in the program for about a year.
Still, many agencies go on to hire SCSEP workers as full-time employees. Even if they don’t, you can take the skills you learned to get a permanent position somewhere else.
Who Is Eligible?
You’ll need to meet certain criteria to qualify for the SCSEP.
To be eligible, you must:
- Be at least 55 years old.
- Be unemployed.
- Have a family income of no more than 125% of the federal poverty level.
In 2022, 125% of the U.S. poverty level is $16,100 a year for a single person or $21,775 a year for a household of two people.
You can check to see if your household meets 125% of the poverty threshold by using this tool on Benefits.gov.
Keep in mind: Income from certain government benefits doesn’t count for SCSEP eligibility purposes.
For example, any SSI or Social Security Disability payments you receive aren’t included as income, and neither is 25% of your Social Security retirement benefits.
According to the Department of Labor’s website, SCSEP gives employment priority to the following demographics:
- Veterans and qualified spouses
- Individuals ages 65 and older
- People with disabilities
- Residents of rural areas
- People who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless
How the SCSEP Works in Your Area
You can use the Older Worker Program Finder tool on the federal CareerOneStop site to find a SCSEP location in your area.
Chances are you’ll find one. According to a 2021 Department of Labor report, SCSEP-funded services are available in nearly 3,000 U.S. counties and territories.
“We always want to keep our positions filled, so there’s usually a recruitment going on for new participants,” Allen said.
Rachel Christian is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance and a senior writer for Codetic.