Older Americans Month 2017:
Focus on Senior Hunger
By Will Thomas, Director of Research, Policy, and Advocacy
Every May, the federal government – and many grass-roots agencies -- celebrate Older Americans Month. This year’s theme is Age Out Loud, which reflects that aging looks different today than it has at any other time in human history. By and large, this is a good thing—many people are living healthier for longer and many older adults are finding more fulfillment in more ways than ever.
There is, however, a darker story, too. According to the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger (NFESH), in 2014 approximately 10.2 million adults over the age of 60 are facing the threat of hunger, a 65% increase since 2007. In New York state, this comes out to approximately 1 in every 5 older adults is facing the threat of hunger, and according to HFA’s own research, approximately 14% of NYC residents over 65 experienced food insecurity between 2013 and 2015.
Older adults face unique challenges when it comes to food security along a continuum of need. Even if they are able to afford food, they might not be able to take themselves to the grocery store, or might have difficulty preparing meals for themselves. The safety net for older adults tries to cater to these needs, but many programs, such as Meals on Wheels or Commodity Supplemental Food Program, have limited reach because of funding that hasn’t kept pace with inflation, much less the population growth. And while many older adults might be eligible for SNAP, 3 in 5 do not take advantage of the program because of stigma or lack of information.
And while food insecurity for anyone of any age is detrimental to health, it’s especially bad for older adults. Compared to those who don’t struggle with food insecurity, hungry older adults are 53% more likely to have a heart attack, 60% more likely to experience depression, and 22% more likely to have limitations of Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), according to research from Feeding America. The consequences of this problem get passed along to all of us through increased Medicare and Medicaid costs and costs for family caregivers. As HFA has documented, food insecurity and health in older Americans are closely linked.
What is Hunger Free America doing for hungry older Americans? Last month, I was recently able to testify to New York City Council regarding several issues touching NYC’s hungry older adults, including SNAP outreach, congregate service on Saturdays, and provision of Halal meals (check it out here). At the national level, we will be advocating for commonsense solutions to senior hunger in the Farm Bill, like the expansion of the Elderly Simplified Application Project in SNAP, protecting the Commodity Supplemental Food Program and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, among others. We must also advocate to ensure that the federal government doesn’t slash Social Security, Medicaire, or Medicaid, which dramatically reduce poverty among older Americans.
What can you do? Some ways to start include talking to an older adult you know about SNAP, referring them to HFA’s Benefits Access specialists to see if they might be eligible for benefits, volunteering for a farmers market offering senior vouchers, meals on wheels program, or more. Check out www.hungervolunteer.org. Share your efforts this month on social media using the hashtags #OAM17 and #SolveSeniorHunger.