Senior Citizens Facing Food Insecurity Crisis
Of the 75,000 people Philabundance serves every week, roughly 16% are senior citizens. While Philabundance strives to help all Delaware Valley residents in need of food assistance, we know that hunger impacts senior citizens in ways that differ from our other neighbors in need. As May is National Older Americans Month, now is the perfect time to discuss senior hunger and how Philabundance works to address it.
According to Feeding America, 4.8 million Americans over the age of 60 were food insecure in 2011. In fact, seniors as a demographic are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity. Many are out of the workforce (either because they are retired, disabled, or unemployed), leaving them to rely on fixed incomes that may not be sufficient to fulfill all of their nutritional needs. Even if they have adequate financial resources, mobility issues can make it difficult for seniors to access a sufficient supply of groceries or to prepare meals on their own.
“I’m on Social Security, I receive $77.00 in Food Stamps a month. Even though I’m by myself, those stamps don’t go far! With my food box, it’s a supplement. It really helps a lot!”- Linda, Chester County
A distressing number of seniors can only manage to pay their extensive medical bills by cutting back on food purchases. According to a survey of Philabundance clients over age 60, 54% had to choose between buying food or paying medical bills and other critical expenses at some point during the year. The cruel irony of this situation is that food insecurity is strongly associated with poor health outcomes for seniors. According to the Food Research and Advocacy Council (FRAC), food insecure seniors are 2.33 times more likely to report poor or fair health than their food secure counterparts. A huge number of health problems, such as increased susceptibility to infection and longer hospital stays, greater likelihood of sustaining a bone break after falling, and increased severity of cognitive impairment, are correlated with poor diet.
Furthermore, seniors are disproportionally unlikely to receive SNAP/Food stamp benefits, the federal government’s largest hunger relief intervention. Statistics from FRAC reveal that only around 35% of eligible seniors are enrolled in SNAP, compared to 85.8% of eligible children and 67% of eligible people as a whole.
“I am a senior who has been out of work for several months. I would like to extend my appreciation on how the CSFP program has helped me get through difficult times today. Please continue with the CSFP program because it helps a lot of people get by”- Tyrone, Philadelphia
There are a number of reasons for this discrepancy, including seniors’ difficulty handling the complex paperwork required for enrollment and inability to find transportation to local welfare offices. Needy seniors also may be excluded from SNAP eligibility altogether due to policies like Pennsylvania’s SNAP asset test, which prevents seniors with savings over $9,000 from receiving SNAP. Such legislation punishes many low-income seniors who have diligently socked this money away for end-of-life expenses and medical bills, but who still need help paying for day-to-day necessities like food.
Fortunately, there are hunger relief programs specifically designed with seniors and their needs in mind. One of the largest is the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP). CSFP provides monthly boxes of shelf-stable USDA commodity foods to low-income seniors. Distributed through food banks and other social service organizations in 39 states, two tribal reservations, and the District of Columbia, these boxes are designed to supplement low-income seniors’ diets with nutritious foods heavy in protein, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C.Philabundance is proud to distribute over 9,100 senior boxesevery month to seniors in need in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties in Pennsylvania.
But don’t take our word for it. Here are some first-hand accounts from seniors who benefit from CSFP:
“If it wasn’t for Philabundance sometimes I don’t know what I will do, because it has been a choice of my choosing between buying medicine and buying my food, so since you have been providing me with the food I no longer have to go without my medicine” –Genevieve, Philadelphia
“My husband received a small pension from his company. This stopped when he died, five years ago. This is why my Philabundance box has helped me so much. I use everything, and I have learned to cook some of the recipes I read in your newsletters. They are very informative and I am learning at my age”-Elmira, Bucks County
“I really appreciate the CSFP program. This box benefits me because, sometimes before the month is done, I run out of some foods and orange juice, milk, and other foods. Because I am a diabetic, it helps me to have these foods for health benefits. Thank you again for the supplemental food program. The nutrition and balanced mix of healthy foods add to my home pantries”- Judith, Philadelphia