"We explain that you never have to go to the agency, and we see a lot of wide eyes and some hugs," said Maureen Fitzgerald, of the Hunger Task Force. "It's empowering for people to do it themselves and manage it themselves. "More and more older Americans are using computers, and help is available for those who need it. Jennifer Baier, AARP Wisconsin senior program specialist, said that 43 percent of the state's members are online, and that number is expected to grow.
Applying "feels a little like doing your income taxes," said Tussler, who helped her stepmother get into the program recently. "You're going to collect a pile of paper to prove your eligibility" for FoodShare.
The average household benefit for older residents is $177 a month.
FoodShare recipients may own a house and a car, and generally may have no more than $2,000 in liquid assets. Many people wait until they have nothing before they apply, but Tussler urges everyone to "save the $2,000 for when the car breaks down." Individuals with incomes of less than $1,806 or couples less than $2,430 a month are automatically eligible. People with higher incomes are often eligible depending on their expenses.
The Hunger Task Force operates two self-serve centers in Milwaukee where people can use computers to apply for state aid. Staffers are on hand to help, if necessary.
"So much help is available," Fitzgerald said.
People on FoodShare are "not taking it away from anyone else," she said. "It saddens me that it's underused in the senior population."
David Lewellen is a freelance writer and editor in Glendale, Wis.