Spotlight on Senior Hunger: BenefitsCheckUp® and Senior Resources

by Rose Saltalamacchia Program Associate, Seniors, Feeding America

With 10,000 people in the United States turning 65 each day, Feeding America has made it part of our mission to ensure seniors struggling with hunger have access to enough nutritious food. In May 2018, Feeding America released the State of Senior Hunger report, outlining recent data on senior food insecurity, meaning they lack the resources to obtain enough nutritious food to live a healthy lifestyle. While the report shows a slight decrease in the numbers of food insecure seniors (1 in 12 versus 1 in 11 in the previous report), the need is growing- 4.9 million seniors in the U.S. are food insecure. Moreover, only 2 out of every 5 seniors who are eligible for SNAP benefits are receiving them, meaning there is a gap in available resources and seniors who are seeking them out.

In 2017, the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and Feeding America introduced BenefitsCheckUp®, or BCU®, to their networks through an innovative partnership to fill the gap in resource access and awareness. One of the main drivers behind this partnership is to close the senior SNAP gap. We recognize there are challenges, including the myth that the average benefit amount for seniors is $16, and the feedback from seniors indicating they do not want to take benefits away from other needy families. To address these concerns, NCOA has created a helpful 2-page handout titled “The $16 Myth” that can be a useful resource when doing SNAP outreach to seniors.

The most recent data from Feeding America and the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger (NFESH) report shows that seniors face several unique challenges when living on a fixed income- 63% of senior households served by the Feeding America network of food banks must choose between paying for food or paying for medical care. On a fixed income that averages $1,404 a month in social security benefits. This gap is what prompted NCOA and Feeding America to embark on a journey to improve seniors’ connections with available local resources.

Seniors who experience food insecurity are also at greater risk for a number of negative health outcomes, including a higher likelihood of experiencing depression, asthma and chest pain. These seniors are also more likely to be women living in households with grandchildren, and who are racial or ethnic minority. As older adults continue to age, nutrition plays a key role in promoting well-being. Proper nutrition can be especially critical, yet challenging, for some due to limited financial resources and declining health and mobility.

Through BCU®, more than 7 million people have been connected with a total of more than $26 billion in benefits. In addition to connecting seniors with SNAP, the tool can help older adults find communal or congregate meals in their area, connect them with other emergency food programs like CSFP and TEFAP and Senior Grocery programs. We hope to further expand the tool’s reach with the support of both organizations’ networks and make meaningful progress towards ending senior hunger.

Rose joined Feeding America as the Program Associate, Seniors, in December 2017. Before moving to Washington, DC, she studied food policy at Boston University.