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Sunday January 19, 2020

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

Food Assistance Programs Can Help Seniors in Need

I would like to find out if my 73-year-old aunt is eligible for food stamps or any other type of food assistance program. It seems that she has a difficult time affording enough food each month, and I would like to help if I can. What can you tell me?

Sadly, millions of older Americans like your aunt 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, there are several programs that may be able to help.

SNAP Benefits


While there are millions of seniors who are eligible for food stamps, less than 40% actually take advantage of this benefit. The federal food stamp program is formally titled the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). However, your state may use a different name for the program.

For seniors to get SNAP, their net income must be under the 100% federal poverty guidelines. So, in households with at least one-person age 60 and older or disabled, the net monthly income must be less than $1,041 per month for an individual or $1,410 for a family of two. Households receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) are also eligible.

Net income is figured by taking gross income minus allowable deductions, which includes 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 including their home, retirement or pension plans, income from SSI or TANF and vehicle (this varies by state). Most states, however, either have much higher asset limits or do not count assets at all when determining eligibility.

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

If eligible, benefits will be provided on a plastic card that is 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 or visit fns.usda.gov/snap.

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 (see fns.usda.gov/csfp) is a program that provides supplemental food packages to seniors with income limits at or below the 130% poverty line. The SFMNP (fns.usda.gov/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, annual income must be below the 185% poverty level.

There are also many Feeding America network food banks that 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 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.

Published January 17, 2020
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