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Anti-hunger Groups Collaborate to Help Seniors Enroll in Food Aid Program

Many unaware or reluctant to sign up

Betty Keenan applies for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Betty Keenan, 73, of North Saint Paul, right, applies for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program with the help of Maureen Wilson, Second Harvest Heartland SNAP specialist. — Photo by Darin Back

Hazel recently signed up for a program that provides financial aid for groceries — but only after county workers convinced her she really needed it.

"I was going to do it once before, and then I thought, 'I can get along without it,' " said Hazel, 86, who lives in a small town outside of Minneapolis. "I thought, 'Maybe there's others that need it worse.' "

See also: Help with enrolling in SNAP.

Hazel didn't want her last name printed because she doesn't want her neighbors to know she's getting government assistance. Hazel's determined self-reliance is typical of her generation, said Jan O'Donnell, special projects coordinator with Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank in Duluth.

"Many seniors are so sensitive to what people might think about them," she said. "They just don't want to be a burden."

Just four in 10 Minnesotans 60 and older whose income makes them eligible for federal food assistance are enrolled, according to the state Department of Human Services (DHS). For those 60 and older, the monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit ranges from $16 to $80.

The reluctance to sign up for SNAP benefits is so widespread and utilization so low that AARP Minnesota has joined with anti-hunger groups, businesses and government agencies on a three-year project, the Nutritious Food Coalition, to help low-income older people apply for benefits.

Like Hazel, many don't realize that they are eligible for nutrition support if their income is less than $1,498 a month for a one-person household, O'Donnell said, and others may be intimidated by filling out a long form or disclosing personal information.

Next: Working to remove the stigma. »

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