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By Ruth E. Hernandez

Beltran New York, Apr 26 (EFE).- About 23.8 percent of elderly Hispanics in the United States live in poverty, and the coming century does not have a very positive outlook for them, with them continuing to face serious economic, health and housing problems. Twenty-six percent of African Americans live in poverty, and 9 percent of whites, the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Institute for the Elderly in New York announced on Monday. The organization said that poverty is more prevalent among the elderly from minority groups, which is the fastest growing sector of the population.

Statistics also show that between 1997 and 2030, the elderly Hispanic population will grow by 368 percent, meaning there will be a greater demand of services for a growing number of sick, poor elderly who are not fluent in English. Home meal delivery and care services, visiting nurses, physical and mental health programs, especially for Alzheimer's patients, will also be needed by the elderly who have nobody to care for them.

According to Zuleika Cabrera, head of the Puerto Rican Institute, poverty is preventing the elderly from receiving health and food services, as well as adequate housing. Reduction in personnel, inflation, budget cutbacks, low wages and the high cost of living are negatively affecting the older generation. "Low and moderately priced apartments for rent are scarce, while the number of homeless increases. The housing problem is a main concern for those who come seeking help. Sometimes they live in mouse- and cockroach-infested buildings," said Cabrera, who founded the institute that offers several forms of assistance to this sector of the population.

A significant number of the elderly have only their Social Security checks - which they begin to receive at age 62, except in cases of disability - on which to support themselves. Many Hispanics who migrated to the United States worked in factories with very low wages and consequently they receive very low Social Security assistance to pay for rent, medicines, food and other personal needs.

To receive medical assistance from the Social Security Medicare program, which covers 80 percent of medical and hospital bills, the retirees must pay a monthly premium of at least 43 dollars, a fee which is constantly rising and taking away from their meager resources. Many choose to get Medicaid, a federal program for poor people that in the past five years has suffered budget cuts.

"The elderly live in poverty and those (who will join that group in the future) will be worse off,"

Cabrera said. © Agencia EFE S.A.