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You May Qualify for Food Stamps

As many as a million New York seniors are eligible, but only half are enrolled

Food Stamps are accepted at 50 farmers markets in New York City like this one in Tucker Square near Lincoln Center

Only about half of the older New Yorkers eligible to receive food stamps are enrolled in the program. — Photo by Katja Heinemann/Novus Select

Two years ago, a social worker encouraged Louiza Crosby to apply for food stamps. "I had never applied before because I didn't think I qualified," said Crosby, 75, of the Bronx. "I have a lot of pride, and I didn't want to go on them."

As it turned out, Crosby was eligible to receive $200 a month in food stamps.

"There have been days when I didn't know what I'd do without them," said the retired housekeeper whose only income is from Social Security. "Now, I'm able to get fresh vegetables, meat and liver, which helps with my blood count."

As many as a million older New Yorkers may be eligible to receive food stamps, said Linda Bopp, executive director of Hunger Solutions New York, but only about half are enrolled in the program.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — called food stamps in New York — is a federal program administered by states that helps low-income people buy groceries.

"Malnutrition has been found to affect one in four older Americans living at home and is a factor in half of all hospital admissions and readmissions of older people," Bopp said. "Good health depends on good nutrition. Seniors, in particular, need a healthy diet to prevent sickness, manage chronic diseases, or heal after an injury."

Nutrition assistance programs help older adults remain healthy and living in their own homes, avoiding costly institutional care.

But persuading older adults to sign up for food stamps isn't easy, said Christine Deska, who coordinates the anti-hunger program for AARP New York.

"This is a population that will say 'How can I help you?' instead of 'I need some help,' " she said. "If you're eligible, you're entitled. These are designated dollars for you if you fall on hard times."

The application process can also get in the way, Deska said, because many older people are daunted by the paperwork and documents required. In May, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) called for the end to a fingerprinting requirement in New York City that some people thought discouraged fraud but that others said was a barrier for people who had difficulty getting to an agency office to be fingerprinted, especially frail older people.

Deska said some people don't realize that food stamps are no longer actual stamps.

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