Closing the Senior SNAP Gap

The National Council on Aging and Feeding America are working together to guarantee eligible seniors have access to the help they need.

Don
May 15, 2017
by Erin Kee, National Council on Aging

Over 5 million seniors age 60 and older in the U.S. struggle with hunger1. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as food stamps, is an extremely powerful program to fight hunger. SNAP provides people with low incomes with a monthly benefit they can use to purchase food. The average monthly benefit for a household with a senior enrolled in the SNAP program is $1282.

Research shows that households receiving SNAP are less likely to struggle with hunger, which means they have access to the food they need to lead a healthy, active lifestyle3. Seniors who face hunger are at a greater risk of chronic health conditions. They have lower nutrient intakes and are more likely to suffer from diabetes, depression, limitations in activities of daily living (ADLs), high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, heart attacks, gum disease and asthma4.

Even though SNAP is a great program for improving seniors’ health and economic security, only 42% of eligible seniors are enrolled in the program. This means more than 5 million seniors miss out on food stamp benefits they are already eligible to receive5. Seniors are missing out on this program for many reasons, including:

  • lack of knowledge about the benefit,
  • misunderstanding the eligibility requirements,
  • difficulty completing the application and
  • the stigma surrounding participation in the program.

Since 2014, the National Council on Aging has funded over 60 community based organizations nationwide to provide SNAP outreach and comprehensive application assistance to low-income seniors. These organizations provide seniors with information to empower them to make an informed decision about enrolling in SNAP. They also provide comprehensive assistance to seniors to navigate the complicated application process and maximize their SNAP benefit amounts. To date, these partners have helped over 85,000 eligible seniors successfully submit their SNAP application.

These community partners are all over the country, and include both traditional aging services organizations and hunger-relief organizations like Feeding America, because NCOA recognizes that a diverse range of approaches are needed to reach and enroll the seniors who are missing out on SNAP. For example, in North Carolina, we’ve partnered with Feeding America member Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, and they are already seeing a huge impact on the senior community through their SNAP outreach. To date, Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina has helped 900 older adults apply for SNAP. Zach Nissen, the Service Outreach Coordinator says, “We know that our SNAP outreach is having meaningful effects … allowing vulnerable older adults to purchase the foods they need and want to eat and affording them a break from the hard choices of food or medicine, food or a trip to the doctor.”

Feeding America and NCOA meet at the intersection of aging and hunger. By coming together to leverage our core strengths, we are leading a collaborative effort to close the senior SNAP gap. This effort will include research, advocacy, outreach, network engagement and resource development to increase senior SNAP enrollment and solve the problem of senior hunger.

Erin Kee is the Senior Program Manager, Hunger Initiatives, at the National Council on Aging.


1. The State of Senior Hunger in America 2014: An Annual Report. Struggling with hunger refers to food insecurity, defined by the USDA as lack of access to enough food for an active, healthy life.
2. Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Households: Fiscal Year 2015
3. Food Assistance Programs and Food Insecurity: Implications for Canada in Light of the Mixing Proglem
4. Spotlight on Senior Health
5. Trends in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Participation Rates: Fiscal Year 2010 to Fiscal Year 2014

Tags: Fighting Hunger in Action , Senior Hunger , Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina
 

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