Published in the September 13 issue of The Bay State Banner
September is Hunger Action Month, a good time to step up and take on the growing problem of elder hunger in the United States, including right here in Massachusetts. Every day nine million older Americans face the risk of hunger – and 140,000 Bay State seniors go to bed hungry every night.
A growing problem
It is an undeniable and troublesome fact: Older residents, and families, are still struggling to put food on the table, due in part to the tough economy, but also because of the commonwealth’s high cost of living.
According to Project Bread – the state’s leading anti-hunger organization – participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, called SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), has increased over the past five years. However, many Bay State residents are going without the benefits they are entitled to because they do not know how to apply – or, perhaps more significantly, they do not know that they are eligible.
Many qualified, but don’t have SNAP
Keep in mind: We are not talking about just a few people missing out on important assistance that can help keep them healthy. In Massachusetts, 63 percent of residents age 60 and older who are eligible for SNAP – that’s nearly 119,000 seniors – have not signed up. This must change.
It is true: Older persons may often be more reluctant to ask for help, leaving them with tough choices – like having to decide whether to buy food or medication. But, when seniors go hungry, they are more likely to be hospitalized and experience chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
What is SNAP?
A federal program, administered at the state level, SNAP helps families and seniors buy the nutritious food they need for good health. It is the cornerstone of the nation’s nutrition safety net, and helps prevent and alleviate food insecurity and hunger.
SNAP may be used to purchase food at grocery stores, convenience stores, some farmers’ markets and co-op food programs. At the check-out counter, a SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card, which works like a debit card, is used to pay for food.
Who is eligible?
Today, people of all ages use SNAP. Eligibility is based on household size, income and certain expenses, such as out-of-pocket health care costs for seniors. Those with regular income from Social Security or a pension may still receive SNAP benefits, which average about $130 a month – and can make a real difference.
Let me be clear: SNAP is a nutrition program. It is not a welfare cash assistance program (which is called TAFDC). A person does not have to be receiving TAFDC to get SNAP; these are two separate programs.
How can I find out if I qualify?
Most older Massachusetts residents – those aged 60 and over – may complete a SNAP application interview by phone. Further:
- If your monthly out-of-pocket medical expenses are higher than $35 per month, you can receive a medical deduction ($90 or higher).
- For most, assets such as savings and investments will not be counted. Under no circumstances will the house you are living in or your IRA be included as an asset.
- You do not have to comply with work requirements.
- You can designate someone you trust to be an Authorized Representative, which enables them to use your SNAP card to purchase food for you.
- If your household consists of only an older or disabled person with a stable income (Social Security, for example), you may be SNAP “certified” for two years, meaning you will not need to update your information until 24 months after you apply.
SNAP can be a vital resource for older residents, especially those who are living on a fixed income. Whether you own your own home, live in elderly housing, or have moved in with family, you may qualify for benefits.
Tap into SNAP
AARP implores you: Take a moment, right now, to find out if you, a relative, a friend, a neighbor or acquaintance can tap into SNAP. Call the Project Bread FoodSource Hotline at 1-800-645-8333 or check your eligibility online at www.gettingsnap.org.
Today, let’s take another step towards ending elder hunger in Massachusetts.
Louise C. Myers is a long-time AARP volunteer, now serving on the Executive Council of AARP Massachusetts, which represents more than 800,000 members age 50 and older in the Bay State. This editorial appears in the September 13 issue of The Bay State Banner, the statewide African American weekly newspaper.