Food Assistance Programs Can Help Seniors in Need

Photo of a food delivery in a box at a door stoop
© Beton Studio, Bigstock.com

By JIM MILLER

(SAVVY SENIOR) Sadly, millions of older Americans struggle with food costs. According to a recent study by Feeding America, 5.5 million U.S. seniors age 60 and older are food insecure. Fortunately, several programs exist that may be able to help. Here’s what you should know.

SNAP Benefits

While millions of seniors are eligible for food stamps, fewer than 40 percent actually take advantage of this benefit. Food stamps are now referred to as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. However, your state may use a different name.

For seniors to get SNAP, their net income must be under the 100 percent federal poverty guidelines. So, households that have at least one-person age 60 and older, or disabled, must have a net monthly income less than $1,041 per month for an individual or $1,410 for a family of two. Households receiving TANF or SSI are also eligible.

Net income is figured by taking gross income minus allowable deductions, including a standard monthly deduction, medical expenses that exceed $35 per month out-of-pocket, and shelter expenses (rent or mortgage payments, taxes and utility costs) that exceed half of the household’s income.

In addition to the net income requirement, a few states also require that a senior’s assets be below $3,500, not counting their home, retirement or pension plans, income from SSI or TANF, and vehicle (this varies by state). Most states, however, have much higher asset limits, or they don’t count assets at all when determining eligibility.

To apply, seniors or an authorized representative will need to fill out a state application form, which can be done at the local SNAP office, or it can be mailed or faxed in. In many states it can be completed online.

If a person is eligible, they will access their benefits on a plastic card that’s used like a debit card and accepted at most grocery stores. The average SNAP benefit for 60-and-older households is around $125 per month.

To learn more or apply, contact your local SNAP office – call 800-221-5689 for contact information.

Other Programs

In addition to SNAP, there are other federal programs that can help low-income seniors, age 60 and older, like the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) and the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP).

The CSFP  is a program that provides supplemental food packages to seniors with income limits at or below the 130-percent poverty line.

The SFMNP provides seniors coupons that can be exchanged for fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and community supported agriculture programs in select locations throughout the U.S. To be eligible, income must fall below the 185-percent poverty level.

Many Feeding America network food banks also host “Senior Grocery Programs” that provide free groceries to older adults, no strings attached. Contact your local food bank (see feedingamerica.org/find-your-local-foodbank) to find out if a program is available nearby.

In addition to the food assistance programs, there are also various financial assistance programs that may help pay for medications, health care, utilities, and more. To locate these programs, and learn how to apply for them, go to BenefitsCheckUp.org. ISI

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.