Feeding the hungry should be a SNAP

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(NNPA)—AARP believes that no one—of any age—should go hungry. Yet many older people must make the devastating choice to either pay for their medications or their groceries.

The struggling economy has resulted in an increasing number of families left to wonder where their next meal will come from. One result is a dramatic rise in the number of individuals and families visiting food banks each week—and the associated stress on food banks to meet the new demand. The need for convenient and meaningful food assistance programs is critical.

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Of particular interest to the AARP Foundation is the impact this has on older Americans. There are an estimated 3.6 million people aged 65+ who live in poverty in the United States, according to a 2007 Census Bureau report, and millions of others who may qualify for federal assistance programs like SNAP (formerly knows as the Food Stamp Program), which can alleviate much of the worry and anxiety associated with how to pay for groceries each month.

For older adults with limited incomes, especially those who live alone; food assistance programs can help improve overall health. The healthier people are, the more likely they will be able to take care of their daily needs and live independently.

Unfortunately, only 34 percent of eligible older Americans receive food assistance—leaving millions of dollars untouched. The most common reason people do not receive SNAP benefits is that they don’t realize they may be eligible. But recent program enhancements mean that more people may be eligible to apply.

The old routine of standing in the grocery store line while people watch recipients tear food stamp coupons from a book is no more. Once a person’s application is approved, benefits automatically get loaded on a debit-style card which is accepted at most grocery stores and there are no hidden fees. The average monthly benefit for older Americans is $72 for individuals and $90 per household.

In addition to supporting healthier food options, SNAP also contributes economically to communities. The USDA says that every $5 in new SNAP benefits generates nearly twice as much ($9.20) in total community spending.

SNAP can be a life changing value for individuals, families and communities, but only if the millions of qualified individuals apply for the benefit. Currently, only 9 percent of SNAP recipients are age 60+, however, a much larger number of the elderly population is potentially eligible.

And though SNAP is the federal name for the program, state programs may use SNAP or another program name to refer to this food assistance benefit. Individuals can find more information about how to apply for SNAP and receive information about other public benefits via AARP’s Benefits QuickLINK Web site at http://www.aarp.org/snap.

In these tough economic times, AARP remains staunchly committed to connecting those in need with information and access to programs, which offer real relief and assistance in navigating their basic life needs. We encourage all older Americans and those who care for them to learn more about SNAP and apply if they’re eligible.

(N. Joyce Payne, Ed.D., of Washington, D.C., is a member of the AARP board of directors, and is chair of the board of the AARP Foundation.)

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