QUESTION: My wife and I, both in our 70s, live on a fixed income. After paying the mortgage and our health-insurance premium each month, we have little left for other expenses. In the past six years, our medical bills have doubled, energy and food expenses have escalated, and prescription-drug costs have jumped 20 percent. Is there any financial help available to us?

ANSWER: Depending on your total income and assets, you may qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is an income-support program run by the Social Security Administration that provides monthly cash payments to low-income adults over 65 or to people of any age who are blind or disabled.Even if you receive Social Security benefits, you may qualify for SSI. In most states, a couple qualifies if their monthly income is below $599 ($406 for a single person) and they have few assets, no more than $3,000 ($2,000 for a single person). An applicant's home and car are not counted for these purposes. In some states, the income ceiling is higher. The best way to determine whether you qualify for SSI is to call the Social Security Administration at (800) 234-5772.

If you qualify, the amount of your monthly SSI payment will depend on where you live and your other sources of income. The maximum monthly federal benefit is $386 for a single person and $579 for couple. However, if you live in California, for example, you could receive up to $630 a month, or $1,167 per couple. This is because California, which has a comparatively high cost of living, augments the federal payment. Sixteen other states and the District of Columbia also supplement the federal benefit. Your payment is likely to be lower than your state's maximum if you have other income, such as Social Security.

QUESTION: My mother died last June after a year-and-half-long battle with cancer. My father was devastated, as was I. While I have a supportive family and a part-time job to keep me busy, I'm still sad about my mother's death and feel responsible for my father.

Recently, Dad started dating a woman he met through a friend of mine. He is anxious for me to meet her. Although I think it's great that he has met someone, I'm not sure I'm ready to welcome this woman into my life. What should I do?

ANSWER: Clearly, you are still mourning your mother. While your father probably still misses her as well, it's good that he has begun to reach out to other people. If this new friendship brings him comfort and happiness, you should try to be supportive.

Perhaps you and your husband can invite your father and his friend to brunch. If you feel uncomfortable entertaining her in your home, consider dining out. Get to know her as a person and discover what your father enjoys about her. Try to avoid comparing this woman to your mother. If your father's relationship with her continues, it may be appropriate to invite her to other family events.