Senior Hunger in the Land of Plenty
That seniors aged 60 and older in the wealthiest nation on Earth could be going hungry is shocking. Yet, all across the country, seniors are struggling with food insecurity. They are faced with choosing between food and medicine, food and housing, food and utility bills, and it’s taking a toll.
In a new report the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger and Feeding America, the nation’s largest charitable food organization, reported that in 2015 (the most recent year for which data is available), 9.8 million (14.7 percent) of US seniors 65 and older were at risk of hunger.
This puts seniors at risk for myriad health problems such as depression, heart disease, asthma and diabetes, and it robs them of their dignity. As we experience the continued graying of America, the problem is expected to worsen. By 2025, when the youngest of the Baby Boomers reaches retirement age, the number of food insecure seniors is projected to have increased by 50%. The time to strengthen the social safety net for seniors is now! We must urge Congress to increase SNAP benefits to seniors in need and ease restrictions on the USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program that funds many senior center and other senior congregate eating sites.
Contact your member of Congress and let him know that senior hunger in America is unacceptable and unnecessary.
Arkansas Has A Problem
Arkansas seniors fare worse than many of their contemporaries in other states, but the picture is changing.
In each of the previous four years, Arkansas ranked #1 in the nation for seniors facing the threat of hunger. According to a recent report by the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger and Feeding America, Arkansas now ranks #5 nationally. An estimated 19.56 percent of Arkansans over the age of 60 are either food insecure or face the threat of becoming so. This is down from 24.8 percent in the 2014 report.
The report also found that, 14.7 percent or 9.8 million seniors face the threat of hunger nationally. The proportion of seniors under threat of hunger declined by 1 percentage point between 2014 and 2015 (the most recent year for which data is available), however, the percentage of seniors experiencing hunger has increased by 37 percent since 2001. Seniors living in states in the South and Southwest, those who are racial or ethnic minorities, those with lower incomes, and those who are younger (ages 60-69) are at the greatest risk of food insecurity. Other national findings include:
- Seniors in rural areas are at higher risk than those in metropolitan areas
- The rate of food insecurity for African Americans is substantially higher than for whites
- Seniors whose incomes are between 100% and 200% of the poverty line and those above 200% of the poverty line (for whom fewer government programs such as SNAP and energy assistance are available) are at greater threat of food insecurity than those below the poverty line.
- Seniors age 60-69 are at higher risk of food insecurity than those over 70 years of age and older.
Federal Poverty Guidelines
The Alliance’s SNAP Outreach Team works with volunteers statewide reaching out to seniors at food pantries, in housing authority properties, at low-income energy assistance events and senior centers to help those who qualify for food assistance to navigate the SNAP application process. “We often see eligible seniors who don’t know they can receive food assistance or believe they will be taking food from those who are worse off than they are, so they are opting instead to cut back on medications to afford food,” said Tomiko Townley, older adult and SNAP outreach director. In 2016, 596 (or 26%) of the total SNAP applications submitted to the Arkansas Department of Human Services through the Alliance’s outreach efforts were for individuals age 60 and over.
Hunger is especially dangerous in a vulnerable senior population, increasing their susceptibility to disease and aggravating chronic conditions such as heart disease and depression. While Arkansas seniors may be doing marginally better than they were—although nearly 20% of Arkansas seniors facing the threat of hunger is hardly cause for celebration— the proposed White House budget cuts to SNAP will likely erase the progress made in protecting seniors. The Alliance and Arkansas’s six Feeding America food banks, along with hunger relief and senior advocates across the state and around the nation, are working to impress upon Congress the need for increasing the food assistance benefits for seniors and relaxing the eligibility requirements so our seniors can afford the nutritious food they need to stay as healthy and independent as possible.
As with people in other sectors, financial hardship makes seniors especially vulnerable. They are often unable to weather added stresses to their household budgets and so are forced to make difficult decisions about how to allocate their resources. For many seniors, transportation or physical mobility limits are barriers to getting the groceries they need every week; for others, the absence of supermarkets or grocery stores further limit their access to healthy food.
For an understanding of the plight of food insecure seniors in Arkansas, the Arkansas Department of Human Services Division of Aging and Adult Services has published a comprehensive look at senior hunger in Arkansas in their report Senior Hunger in Arkansas 2014 . This report assessed the impact and extent of senior hunger as well as trends. It serves as the most definitive snapshot of the state of senior hunger in Arkansas, although there are no plans to publish a follow-up report at this time.
We’re Working On Solutions
The Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, whose mission it is to reduce hunger through a unified effort to provide hunger relief, education and advocacy, has been taking steps to address senior hunger in a comprehensive way in Arkansas. The first step, taken in October of 2014, was to convene a Senior Hunger Summit in Little Rock that brought together advocates, organizations and agencies in the state that deal with hunger and the effects of hunger in the elderly population. The Summit Report 2014 is included here.
We’re Going Forward
The Alliance SNAP Outreach team works with food pantries, in housing authority properties, at low-income energy assistance events and senior centers to help elderly Arkansans in need apply for food assistance benefits. These benefits—meager though they often are—provide a much needed resource that helps seniors avoid having to choose between medicine and food or utilities and food. In 2016, the team helped 596 eligible seniors complete their food assistance applications. This is an on-going effort that is gaining momentum and support.
As a means of increasing access to fresh produce for seniors and others in food deserts or who are disabled, the Fresh2You mobile farmers market, makes weekly stops at high rise apartment building in Pulaski County where there are high percentages of elderly or disabled Arkansans. Fresh2You has been a very successful pilot program, and we hope that other cities around the state will adopt this innovative strategy for getting fresh produce to areas in need. The Alliance stands ready to assist cities or other organizations that might want to institute a mobile market.
If you or your organization would like to join us in this effort of providing nutrition support for seniors, please contact Tomiko Townley, older adult and SNAP outreach manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are many local, state and national organizations dedicated to the wellbeing of seniors. Many help provide direct services such as emergency food supplies, daily meals, home care options, transportation, SNAP application assistance, etc., while others act as policy advocates. We hope you will find these resources valuable.
Area Agencies on Aging (AAA)
Established under the Older Americans Act (OAA) in 1973 to respond to the needs of Americans 60 and over in every local community. By providing options that allow older adults to choose the services and living arrangements that suit them best, AAAs make it possible for older adults to “age in place” in their homes and communities.
Aging services and programs for elderly Arkansans are provided by the eight Arkansas Area Agencies on Aging. They are independent non-profit organizations receiving federal, state and private funding. The AAAs provide congregate feeding programs as well as other senior food services options.
The Area Agency on Aging of Northwest Arkansas
Jerry Mitchell, Director
1510 Rock Springs Rd, PO Box 1795 | Harrison AR | 72602-1795
Phone: 870-741-1144 | Toll-free: 1-800-432-9721 | TDD: 870-741-1346
Serving Baxter, Benton, Boone, Carroll, Madison, Marion, Newton, Searcy and Washington counties.
East Arkansas AAA
Monte Callicott, Executive Director
2005 E. Highland/Fountain Sq., PO Box 5035 | Jonesboro, AR | 72403
Phone: 870-972-5980 | Toll-free: 1-800-467-3278
Serving Clay, Craighead, Crittenden, Cross, Greene, Lawrence, Lee, Mississippi, Phillips, Poinsett, Randolph and St. Francis counties.
Area Agency on Aging of Southeast Arkansas
Betty M. Bradshaw, President & CEO
709 East 8th, PO Box 8569 | Pine Bluff, AR | 71611
Phone: 870- 543- 6300
TDD & Toll-free: 1- 800- 264- 3260
Serving Arkansas, Ashley, Bradley, Chicot, Cleveland, Desha, Drew, Grant, Jefferson and Lincoln counties.
CareLink, the Central Arkansas Area Agency on Aging
Luke Mattingly, Ceo/ President
706 West 4th Street, PO Box 5988 | North Little Rock, AR | 72119
Phone: 501-372-5300 | Fax 501-688-7437 | Toll-free & TDD: 1-800-482-6359
Serving Faulkner, Lonoke, Monroe, Prairie, Pulaski and Saline counties.
Area Agency on Aging West Central Arkansas
Timothy Herr, Executive Director
905 W. Grand Avenue | Hot Springs, AR | 71913
Phone: 501-321-2811 | Toll-free: 1-800-467-2170 | TDD: 501-321-2811
Fax: 501-321-2650 (Hot Springs) | Fax: 501-967-2401 (Russellville)
Serving Clark, Conway, Garland, Hot Spring, Johnson, Montgomery, Perry, Pike, Pope and Yell counties.
Area Agency on Aging of Southwest Arkansas
Ruth Langston, Executive Director
600 Columbia, 11E, PO Box 1863 | Magnolia, AR | 71754-1863
Phone: 870-234-7410 | Toll-free & TDD: 1-800-272-2127
Website: Age With Dignity
Email (Information and Assistance Division): email@example.com
Serving Calhoun, Columbia, Dallas, Hempstead, Howard, LaFayette, Little River, Miller, Nevada, Ouachita, Sevier and Union counties.
AAA of Western Arkansas
Jim Medley, President & CEO
524 Garrison, PO Box 1724 | Fort Smith, AR | 72902
Phone: 479-783-4500 | Toll-free: 1-800-320-6667
Serving Crawford, Franklin, Logan, Polk, Scott and Sebastian counties.
Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance
Through its SNAP Outreach program, the Alliance assists seniors and others who qualify for benefits to determine their qualification status and apply for benefits. The Alliance also trains non-profit organizations in how to offer SNAP outreach services to the people they serve.
Food Banks and Pantries in Arkansas
Arkansas’s food banks and pantries represent an important first line of defense against senior hunger. Many provide regular distribution of food items to seniors and information about other food programs.
AARP in Arkansas
AARP in Arkansas was a sponsor of the 2014 Arkansas Senior Hunger Summit. AARP and other organizations are joining forces to develop a strategic plan for reducing senior hunger in the state.
National Foundation to End Senior Hunger [NFESH] The non-profit National Foundation to End Senior Hunger was formerly known as the Meals On Wheels Research Foundation. NFESH iscommitted to bringing together the best minds in all sectors, commissioning research and exploring social entrepreneurial innovations to seek long-term, sustainable solutions to end senior hunger.
Their What a Waste program is an innovative, anti-hunger initiative for community-based nutrition programs. What a Waste works to reduce food waste, increase program efficiency and help the environment while providing new sources of healthful foods to those in need.