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Poverty and Aging

Older Americans and SNAP

Program was formerly known as food stamps

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, is the nation’s largest federally funded source of food for low-income older adults. Despite its availability, however, many eligible Americans do not participate in the program:

SNAP Eligibility. While nearly 9 million older adults are eligible for SNAP, only one-third of eligible older Americans — about 2.9 million — participate in the program [U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2011 (PDF)].

Older Americans and SNAP. Only 8 percent of individuals receiving SNAP benefits are older adults, age 60 and older. Overall, however, 16 percent of households receiving SNAP include older adults [USDA, 2011].

Profile of Older Adult SNAP Recipients.
Approximately 80 percent of older adults who receive SNAP live alone. In addition, their average:

o    monthly gross income is $792
o    amount of monthly SNAP benefit is $119
o    certification period is 20 months [USDA, 2011]

Barriers to SNAP Enrollment. To determine why only one-third of those eligible for SNAP are receiving benefits, the USDA and other national anti-hunger organizations have conducted focus groups and other research to identify the primary application and enrollment barriers. These include:

o    Lack of awareness about the existence of the program
o    Stigma: negative perceptions of SNAP as “welfare” or “government dependency”
o    Perception that the benefit amount is too small (While the minimum monthly benefit amount is $16, the average monthly benefit is $119.)
o    Complicated application procedures and face-to-face interviews (Requirements vary from state to state.)
o    Lack of accurate information about the program and who is eligible
o    Asset requirements — often as low as $3,000 for households with someone age 60 or over in it (Requirements vary from state to state.)
o    Cumbersome reporting requirements
o    Problems with documenting proof of income and other paperwork requirements
o    Unaddressed language and cultural barriers
o    Lack of transportation/isolation in rural areas
o    Lack of communication between multiple agencies serving the same older individuals

Economic Impact of SNAP. Every $5 paid in SNAP benefits by the federal government generates $9.00 in local economic activity. Currently, 85 percent of supermarkets process EBT cards [USDA Economic Research Service, 2010 (PDF)].

For an overview of recent expansions to SNAP in the 2008 reauthorization of the Farm Bill, see The Food Stamp Program and Older Americans, published by the AARP Public Policy Institute.

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