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They are faced with choosing between food and medicine, food and housing, food and utility bills, and unless we push Congress to enact stronger anti-hunger and anti-poverty legislation, the picture will get bleaker.
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senior hunger in the land of the 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 unless we push Congress to enact stronger anti-hunger and anti-poverty legislation, the picture will get bleaker. According to a recent US Census Bureau report, by 2030, seniors will outnumber children for the first time in our nation’s history. One in every 5 residents will be retirement age.
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 2014, Arkansas ranked #1 in the nation for seniors facing the threat of hunger. According to a recent by the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger and Feeding America and Feeding America, Arkansas now ranks #10 nationally. An estimated 17.5 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.
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
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
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 Lance Whitney, 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 aged 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.
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. Concerned about the large number of food insecure seniors in Arkansas, the Alliance hosted the first statewide summit devoted solely to addressing senior hunger in 2014. While several projects resulted from findings of the Summit, one critical project is an ongoing partnership between the Alliance and DHS (Department of Human Services) related to senior SNAP outreach. The Summit Report 2014 is included here.
The Senior DHS Project is an agreement between the Department of Human Services (DHS) and the Alliance to increase enrollment and benefits, decrease roadblocks, provide assistance and prepare Arkansas seniors for the SNAP program process, from starting the application through extended enrolment and continuing with data collection for Senior SNAP advocacy efforts.
The purpose of the Garland County Senior Pilot project was to increase the number of older adults participating in SNAP in a single Arkansas county through effective on-site SNAP application assistance. The evaluation of the pilot uncovered effective strategies for SNAP outreach with older adults and led to recommendations regarding SNAP outreach project implementation, state level SNAP policy, and future research.
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 2019, the team helped 289 eligible seniors complete their food assistance applications, and in 2020, the team helped 183 eligible seniors complete their applications. This is an on-going effort that is gaining momentum and support.
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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 on how to offer SNAP outreach services to the people they serve.
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 is committed 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.
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The Alliance Alert goes out to members, advocates and others who want to stay up on hunger issues in Arkansas. See our latest newsletter.