Not being able to afford a trip to the grocery store is something nobody should have to worry about. But for millions of Americans their diets are tied to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP); government assistance administered through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and individual states that provides financial resources to people who need help affording food. According to the National Council of Aging Organizations, roughly 4.8 million older adults (60+) receive SNAP. To qualify households must meet income requirements, with benefit levels fluctuating depending on need.
Currently, SNAP benefits play a critical role by providing older Americans a more healthy lifestyle by ensuring they don’t lose strength and muscle mass, and reinforcing their immunity. A weakened immunity is particularly problematic given the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) published an article entitled "SNAP is Linked with Improved Nutritional Outcomes and Lower Health Care Costs” that reports benefits have a direct link to healthier outcomes for seniors and less spending on health care costs. The article said:
“SNAP is associated with a reduced likelihood of nursing home and hospital admissions among low-income elderly participants, compared to low-income non-participating counterparts. Researchers looking at over 60,000 low-income seniors in Maryland report that SNAP participants are 23 percent less likely to enter a nursing home and 4 percent less likely to be hospitalized in the year after receiving SNAP than non-participants… SNAP participation is also linked with lower overall health care expenditures and Medicaid/Medicare costs. An analysis of national data on overall health care expenditures links SNAP participation to lower health care costs. On average, after controlling for factors expected to affect spending on medical care, low-income adults participating in SNAP incur about $1,400, or nearly 25 percent, less in medical care costs in a year, including those paid by private or public insurance, than non-participants.”
Recently, SNAP benefits have gone through several changes. First the good news! In October, the USDA implemented benefit increases. On average, benefits increased by 25%, which comes out to an additional $36 a month, raising monthly assistance to $169. The increase occurred because the USDA, directed by the 2018 Farm Bill, reexamined, and modernized the formula for how SNAP benefits are calculated, with final approval from the Biden administration.
Unfortunately, it’s not all good news. Increases to SNAP due to the pandemic are starting to disappear. For example, federal statutory emergency provisions have expired and individual states have started to end emergency declarations. Though, SNAP recipients should receive a higher benefit level than prior to the pandemic because of the increases referenced above.
While it’s good that SNAP provides critical resources, the Food Research Action Center (FRAC) and the AARP Foundation report a staggering 5 million older adults qualify for the program but don’t receive benefits. Recently, the AARP Foundation released a report analyzing the low SNAP participation rate amongst seniors and what should be done about the problem. The report indicated that cognitive difficulties, social isolation, lack of information, the stigma associated with using government assistance and misconceptions about benefits all contribute to low participation. Consequently, the report suggests simplifying the application process, allowing people to apply for multiple government benefits (including SNAP) simultaneously through one document, establishing seniors call centers focused on SNAP issues, improving outreach, and simplifying the Standard Medical Deduction would provide greater access.
SNAP is a vital nutrition pipeline for countless seniors across the country. The program does more than simply provide meals for people—it ensures they maintain a healthier life by reducing older American’s health care needs and costs. Having said that, SNAP is underserving our senior population with low participation rates. More must be done to make SNAP benefits available to everyone who qualifies, because nobody should be going hungry.
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