Testimony of Will Thomas, Director of Research, Policy, and Advocacy
Hunger Free America
Hearing Before The New York City Council Committee on Aging and Subcommittee on Senior Centers
April 26th, 2017
My name is Will Thomas, and I am the Director of Research, Policy, and Advocacy at Hunger Free America. Formerly called the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, Hunger Free America changed its name in 2016 to better reflect the broad scope of our national work. This was also accompanied with intensifying our local efforts under the new name, Hunger Free New York City.
I would like to thank Chairwoman Chin, Chairman Vallone and the rest of the Committee and Subcommittee for your work, and especially for the opportunity to testify. I come before you in order to support several of the proposed pieces of legislation in front of this Committee and Subcommittee today. Specifically, we encourage you to advance Int. 1519-2017 supporting SNAP outreach, Res. 0112-2014 restoring weekend congregate meals service and calling for a public awareness campaign for congregate and home delivered meals, and Res. 0262-2014 ensuring Halal meals are available within the home delivered meals program.
It bears repeating that older adults experiencing food insecurity are among the most vulnerable populations in our City, state, and country. A 2016 research study found that the state of New York ranked fourth worst in terms of older adults facing the threat of hunger, with 19.28% of New Yorkers – that’s one in every five – over the age of 60 at risk for food insecurity.  Our own research found that an average of 171,197 adults over the age of 65 experienced food insecurity between 2013 and 2015, representing 13.6% of all seniors in New York City. This represents a nearly 30% increase in food insecurity in this population when compared to before the Great Recession (2006-2008).
Food insecurity wreaks havoc on the health of older adults, especially those already predisposed to chronic illnesses. When compared to older adults not experiencing food insecurity, older adults experiencing hunger are 60 percent more likely to experience depression, 53 percent more likely to die of a heart attack, 40 percent more likely to have congestive heart failure, and 22 percent more likely to face limitations in their Activities of Daily Living (ADLs).
These costs are subsequently passed on to the healthcare system through Medicare and Medicaid, and to the New Yorkers who struggle to provide care to their aging family, friends, and neighbors.
We fully support Int. 1519-2017. We believe this legislation would increase access to information about SNAP and socialize its use among older adults, whose participation in SNAP is traditionally lower than the rest of the SNAP-eligible population. Having access to SNAP benefits, even just the minimum benefit, can ensure that older adults have enough resources to cover their expenses; however, lack of access to trusted information and social stigma are common barriers to older adults opting to participate.
Nationwide, only 42 percent of eligible older adults participate in SNAP, according to the latest data from USDA. While the latest state-specific data shows that approximately 60% of eligible older adults participate in SNAP, when compared with NYC Human Resources Administration’s self reported, overall participation rate of 77%, it becomes clearer that more work needs to be done to ensure that older adults who are eligible for SNAP are receiving these benefits.
We believe this bill has the potential to help boost SNAP participation among older New Yorkers and look forward to its implementation. We also applaud that this legislation calls for quarterly data reporting, which will guide future efforts and help to develop promising practices.
We fully support Res. 0112-2014, but encourage the Council to extend previous funding for its implementation. It is absolutely crucial that congregate services are available to all older adults who are at risk of food insecurity, not only because of income constraints, but also because of physical constraints, such as the inability to shop for or prepare their own meals. As stated in the legislation and in this testimony, providing food to older adults who cannot otherwise access it improves health outcomes and ameliorates social isolation.
We would, however, encourage the Council to allocate additional funding in order for the Department for the Aging (DFTA) to carry out this legislation. Based on our estimates, Federal Older Americans Act (OAA) nutrition programs funding for New York declined by 13.1% between 2009 and 2016, adjusted for inflation. Program data indicates that the New York State Office on Aging has transferred funds from other OAA programs for a net gain to OAA nutrition programs from at least 2009-2013, presumably in an attempt to meet the increased need.
In Fiscal 2017, the Council wisely invested $1.2 million in funding for these additional “sixth day” meals over weekends, and we encourage the Council to extend these funds to Fiscal 2018 and beyond.
We fully support Res. 0262-2014. As stated in the legislation, DFTA accommodates many other dietary practices such as kosher meals, as well as culturally appropriate meals for Chinese, Polish, and Korean preferences. We would hope that the Committee would advance this common sense legislation so that those adhering to halal practices can be served properly.
If the members of this Committee are interested in learning more through interacting with our clients and citizen advocates, we look forward to connecting you with those resources.
Ziliak, James P. and Gundersen, Craig. The State of Senior Hunger in America 2014: An Annual Report. June 2016. http://www.nfesh.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/State-of-Senior-Hunger-in-America-2014.pdf
 Hunger Free America. The State of the Working Hungry: Low Wages Chief Cause of Malnutrition. 2016. http://www.hungerfreeamerica.org/sites/default/files/atoms/files/2016%20Annual%20Hunger%20Survey%20Report%20Final.pdf
 Feeding America. Spotlight on Senior Health: Adverse Health Outcomes of Food Insecure Older Americans, http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/our-research/senior-hunger-research/or-spotlight-on-senior-health-executive-summary.pdf
 USDA Food and Nutrition Service. Engaging Special Populations. August 2016. https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/engaging_special_populations.pdf
 USDA. Trends in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Participation Rates: Fiscal Year 2010 to Fiscal Year 2014. June 2016. https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/ops/Trends2010-2014.pdf
 NYC Human Resources Administration. SNAP Program Access Index and Participation Rates: 2002-2013. https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/hra/downloads/pdf/facts/snap/2002.2013NYCSNAPParticipation.pdf
 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Administration for Community Living. Aging Integrated Database. Profile of State OAA Programs: New York. https://agid.acl.gov/StateProfiles/Profile/Pre/?id=34&topic=13&years=2009,2010,2011,2012,2013,2014