How to Get a Job With the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP)

A man answers the phone at a local non-profit.
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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 55 and older with low incomes.

The Department of Labor received $402.5 million in funding for SCSEP in 2022, 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 42,228 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 the only Department of Labor-funded workforce program 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.

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 The Penny Hoarder.

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 provide 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 2023, 125% of the U.S. poverty level is $18,225 a year for a single person or $24,650  a year for a household of two people.

Keep in mind: Income from certain government benefits doesn’t count for SCSEP eligibility purposes.

For example, any Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) 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 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: 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.

Still have questions? You can call the U.S. Department of Labor’s toll-free help line at 877-872-5627 for more information.

Rachel Christian is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance and a senior writer for The Penny Hoarder. She focuses on retirement, investing, life insurance and taxes.