Millions of Eligible Seniors Not Receiving Critical Federal Benefits


Last updated 6/24/2016 at 11:12am | View PDF

Feeding America, the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief organization, has joined with other national and local organizations to help strengthen food assistance for low-income, food-insecure seniors by closing the "Senior SNAP Gap."

More than one in 12 older Americans in our nation are food insecure. Many may have worked low-income jobs for most of their careers and were unable to save or plan for their post-retirement years. Other seniors are retiring with fewer financial resources than they expected, due to the Great Recession. Additionally, many seniors have health issues that may require frequent and costly medical care.

Making ends meet on limited incomes is a challenge for many older Americans. According to Feeding America's study Hunger in America 2014, 63% of senior households receiving charitable food assistance reported that they must sometimes chose between paying for medical care or purchasing food, and 60% said that they must make trade-offs between paying for utilities or buying food.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) is an essential resource for food-insecure seniors, yet only 41% of eligible seniors (four million) are currently enrolled in the program. The average SNAP benefit for a senior is $110 per month. This means that 5.2 million eligible seniors are missing out on approximately $572 million in annual SNAP benefits.

By comparison, 83% of all eligible people in the general population are enrolled in SNAP.

SNAP benefit applications can be complex and time consuming. Seniors must often travel long distances from their homes to enrollment sites, which is a barrier for many, particularly those with limited mobility and those without access to transportation.

"We know that older adults face unique challenges when applying for SNAP benefits. Many are also reticent to ask for help of any kind," said Diana Aviv, CEO of Feeding America. "Because there are proven links between adequate nutrition, good health and independence, we strongly believe that national and local organizations must continue to work together to ensure that low-income seniors are aware of SNAP and have the support necessary to apply for benefits.

"States must also ensure that their processes for senior enrollment are simplified and Congress should address the issue in the upcoming Farm Bill, by modifying the national structure of the program to better serve seniors," she added. "Improving food security among older Americans by closing the Senior SNAP Gap is critical. Accomplishing this goal will be a significant step forward to helping end senior hunger."

SNAP application assistance is currently offered by 156 Feeding America Food banks, many of which have begun developing new and effective program models to enroll more seniors.

The Feeding America nationwide network of 200 food banks and 60,000 pantries and meal programs serves seven million seniors, which is more than any other organization in the country.

Feeding America is a nationwide network of 200 food banks that leads the fight against hunger in the United States. The network provides food to more than 46 million people through food pantries and meal programs in communities throughout America.


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