In 2014, 5.7 million seniors were food insecure across the country, more than double the number in 2001. In Massachusetts, an estimated 4.5% of seniors were at risk of hunger in 2014.
Seniors face unique challenges that increase their risk of hunger. Adequate nutrition is key for older adults to remain healthy, strong, and independent. Studies show that food insecure seniors are at higher risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and congestive heart failure, leading to increased medical costs.
Maintaining proper nutrition is difficult for seniors living on limited, fixed incomes. A recent study revealed that Massachusetts has the second highest economic insecurity rate for single adults older than 65. With a third of senior households in Massachusetts living on an annual income of less than $20,000, some seniors must make tradeoffs between basic needs, such as foregoing purchasing food in order to buy prescription medicine, heat their homes or pay the rent or mortgage. These harsh choices make senior hunger more likely.
In response to growing food insecurity among seniors, GBFB launched its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) outreach program in 2014. The GBFB SNAP program helps low-income seniors access this vital government food assistance resource. Along with our Brown Bag Program and Commodity Supplemental Food Program, SNAP outreach is part of GBFB’s multi-pronged approach for addressing senior hunger across Eastern Massachusetts.
Participation in SNAP leads to lower rates of food insecurity and may reduce health care costs. Despite the benefits, seniors have the lowest participation rates in the program. In Massachusetts, only 61% of eligible seniors participated in SNAP in 2012. Barriers to senior participation in SNAP include isolation, lack of knowledge, confusion about eligibility, difficulty with the application process, and stigma around the program. It is not uncommon for many seniors to feel ashamed that they need help making ends meet.
To address these barriers, GBFB strives to build partnerships with local senior centers and elder services to provide education and application assistance. Through our outreach events, seniors learn the benefits of participating in SNAP, how to apply, and to overcome any shame in receiving assistance. We even play an educational game of BINGO!
Given that 1 in 5 people in Massachusetts is projected be age 65 or older by 2030, senior hunger will continue to be a key focus for GBFB’s work.