Community service

Guide to the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) | pennyhoarder

During the pandemic, workers aged 55 and over lost their jobs earlier, were rehired more slowly and faced higher unemployment rates than younger workers, according to an October 2020 study from the New School for Social Research.

These barriers are particularly daunting for low-income seniors, who may not have the education, training, or complementary resources needed to re-enter the workforce.

If you’re 55 or older and unemployed, a free job training program from the Department of Labor can help.

Keep reading to find out who is eligible and how to apply.

What is the Community Services Employment Program for Seniors?

The SCSEP was created over 55 years ago under the Older Americans Act of 1965.

The program aims to provide subsidized, part-time, community service work and training for low-income people aged 55 and over.

The Department of Labor received $402.9 million in funding for SCSEP in 2021, according to the agency’s fiscal budget. It allocates these funds to various public agencies and 19 national non-profit organizations.

SCSEP helps pay the salaries of approximately 56,0750 older Americans who participate in the program each year.

How does SCSEP work?

SCSEP is funded by the federal government and administered by the states, which contract with local community service organizations. (Goodwill and AARP are two of the most important).

SCSEP is specifically designed to meet the employment needs of older workers.

Participants are placed with a local non-profit or government agency and are paid to work 20 hours per week.

You will be paid the federal, state or local minimum wage, whichever is greater.

Pro tip

The federal minimum wage in 2022 is $7.25. So you can expect to earn at least $145 per week before taxes, or about $7,540 per year.

Sponsoring agencies are required to provide you with career services like resume writing and computer training. They also place you on a hands-on work assignment with a local nonprofit or government agency.

That makes SCSEP a “win-win” for older workers and nonprofit groups, said Emily Allen, senior vice president of programs for the AARP Foundation.

“Participants gain hands-on experience and the community organization gains additional manpower to carry out its mission,” Allen told The Penny Hoarder.

These entry-to-intermediate level community service jobs include jobs like learning how to operate the ordering system at a food bank or answering the phone 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 goals.

“We focus a lot on developing the soft skills and digital skills they need to find and get jobs,” Allen said.

SCSEP’s goal is to serve as a bridge to full-time, unsubsidized work.

In other words, your SCSEP gig won’t last forever. Allen said participants typically stay in the program for about a year.

Yet many agencies continue to hire SCSEP workers as full-time employees. Even if they don’t, you can use the skills you’ve learned to get a permanent position elsewhere.

Who is eligible?

You will need to meet certain criteria to be eligible for SCSEP.

To be eligible, you must:

  • Be at least 55 years old.
  • Be unemployed.
  • Have a family income not exceeding 125% of the federal poverty level.

In 2022, 125% of the US poverty line is $16,100 per year for a single person or $21,775 per year for a two-person household.

Pro tip

You can check if your household meets 125% of the poverty line using this tool on

Keep in mind: Earnings from some government benefits do not count toward SCSEP eligibility.

For example, the SSI or Social Security disability benefits you receive are not included in your earnings, nor is 25% of your Social Security retirement benefits.

According to the Department of Labor website, SCSEP prioritizes employment to the following demographic groups:

  • Qualified Veterans and Spouses
  • Individuals aged 65 and over
  • People with Disabilities
  • Residents of rural areas
  • People who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless

How SCSEP works in your region

Chances are you will 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 our positions filled, so there’s usually some recruitment going on for new entrants,” Allen said.

Rachel Christian is a Certified Personal Finance Educator and Senior Writer for The Penny Hoarder.

This was originally published on The Penny Hoarder, a personal finance website that empowers millions of readers across the country to make smart decisions with their money with practical, inspirational advice, and resources on how to to earn, save and manage money.