Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Seniors Going Hungry

This morning, the Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing titled "Seniors Going Hungry in America: A Call to Action and Warning for the Future." There were 8 witnesses including representatives from government agencies, local volunteer groups, large non-profits and academia.

This hearing was significant because the issue of food insecurity among senior citizens continues to grow as America ages demographically. During the hearing, Committee members spent their time either applauding the panelists or grilling them for more data.

The interest of Committee members was peeked when an authority from the USDA Food Nutrition and Consumer Services tried to make the case that the often told story that elders only qualify for the $10 minimum Food Stamps benefit was a myth. According to a recent WOW brief, we know Food Stamps are not properly designed to support retired elders. Food Stamps are a work support (rather than an income support), and elders who lack earnings, child care and notable medical or medical insurance expenses (when they qualify for Medicaid or Medicare Savings Programs, do not pay for medical insurance, or cannot pay for medical insurance) are expected to pay for their own food. For instance, elder renters in low-cost counties in California with incomes just above the poverty level will receive less than 1% of their economic security from Food Stamps – no more than $10 in most cases. Single elder and elder couple renters in high-cost areas fare better, and will likely receive a 4%-7% boost in income security due to their higher housing expenses. Yet, food expenses often comprise 20% of a local Elder Economic Security Standard Index.

The USDA panelist also discussed something that we, at EESI, continue to work on which is dissolving the stigma for elders who need assistance. To that end, the panelist suggested that the USDA has been considering a name change for their electronic food stamps program.

Edwin Walker of the AoA also brought up an important subject, ADRCs - Aging and Disability Resource Centers. These centers are being implanted around the country to help seniors and caregivers learn about services and supports that can assist older Americans in achieving economic security.

FRAC's James Weill made an excellent point about the Food Stamps minimum benefit by stating "Because of the interaction between Social Security and Supplemental Security Income cash levels and food stamp rules, the $10 minimum applies most often to seniors and persons with disabilities. The amount helps too little and discourages very needy people from going through an often complicated application process (and may be paying $10 or $20 to get to and from the food stamp office) to obtain such a small amount. A significant increase in the minimum benefit is long overdue."

Senators Smith and Wyden focused on quality control, waiting lists problems and the need for more participation data.

For more information, click the link to the hearing's page: Seniors Going Hungry in America: A Call to Action and Warning for the Future

Comments Please: What are local organizations in your area doing to help prevent seniors from going without proper nutrition?

No comments: