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In The Bank

Posted on Friday, October 7th, 2011

by Lydia Mills, Food Bank SNAP Outreach Coordinator

The other night, at a food pantry in Hampshire County, I helped an older gentleman with his application for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly called food stamps. Born in the late 1940s, this man was living on a fixed income that I would call a pittance. He seemed agitated and nervous, and as I explained to him what additional documents his caseworker might ask of him (including information on his pension), he burst out, “If I had a larger pension, I wouldn’t be applying for food stamps!”

Sadly, this type of interaction was not new to me. Once I met an older woman who lamented her situation, saying, “I thought these were supposed to be our golden years.” Many receive their Social Security checks, pay their bills, and then have next to nothing left over to put in the bank. SNAP benefits provide a necessary buffer and allow seniors to afford nutritious and easy-to-prepare food.

Seniors are among the most likely to be eligible for, but not receiving, SNAP. Myths and stigma, along with a lack of information about changes in the program, all factor into why seniors might not be in the program. Senior hunger is a serious problem that does not get the amount of attention it deserves, perhaps due to stigma and the fact that low-income seniors lack the resources or ability to make their voices heard. Feeding America reported on a study that said food-insecure seniors were 2.33 times more likely to report fair/poor health status and had higher nutritional risk than seniors with higher incomes.

At The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, we have made a point of reaching out to seniors: through ads on the Meals on Wheels menus, eligibility flyers and SNAP application assistance at Brown Bag events, and by making it known that the entire application can be done from the comfort of one’s own home. We take application information over the phone, and the caseworker follows up for the interview over the phone. It’s simple, it’s safe and it gives seniors the ability to provide food for themselves.

One more thing: a quick public service announcement! It’s terrible but true; winter is coming. Low-income seniors often find it difficult to pay their heating bills, but fortunately there is a service that can help. Fuel Assistance is available for anyone who meets the income requirements. If you have any senior neighbors, offer to help out with an application for fuel assistance. Contact Community Action! in Hampshire, Franklin and Berkshire counties, and in Hampden County contact the New England Farm Workers’ Council/Partners for Community.

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