Data Analysis Reveals that Millions of Households with Seniors Rely on SNAP to Stave Off Hunger
One in 10 of the nation’s 48.3 million households with seniors (age 60+) participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), on average each year between 2012–2016. This is according to U.S. Census Bureau data analyzed in interactive tools released today by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), in collaboration with AARP Foundation.
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Did You Know?
One in 10 of the nation’s 48.3 million households with seniors (age 60+) participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), on average each year between 2012–2016.
Too many of our nation’s seniors struggle against hunger. Three million households with at least one adult age 65 or older are food insecure. Millions more households with seniors face marginal food security.
- In 2017, 9.2% – 4.7 million – of the 51 million people age 65 and over in the United States lived at or below the poverty level.
- In 2017, three million food-insecure households included a senior age 65 or older.
- 1.2 million seniors age 65 or older who lived alone were food insecure in 2017, and approximately 524,000 of these seniors were experiencing very low food insecurity.
- SNAP benefits an average of approximately 4.7 million households with at least one senior age 60 or older. Even so, 3 out of 5 eligible seniors miss out on SNAP.
- The average monthly SNAP benefit for a senior age 60 or older was $101 in fiscal year 2017.
Coleman-Jensen, A., Rabbitt, M. P., Gregory, C. A., & Singh, A. (2018). Household food security in the United States in 2017. Economic Research Report, 256. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
Fontenot, K., Semega, J., and Kollar, M., U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P60-263, Income and Poverty in the United States: 2017, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 2018.
SNAP is the first line of defense against senior hunger.
- Why SNAP Matters for SeniorsThe Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP):
- is available to every eligible senior, in every corner of the country.
- provides seniors with significant food purchasing power every month of the year.
- improves food insecurity and health, helping seniors to maintain their independence.
- reaches by far and away more seniors than any of the federal nutrition programs available to seniors. In fiscal year 2016, SNAP served an average of about 4.7 million households with elderly individuals (age 60 or older) each month, but SNAP could reach millions of more eligible seniors.
In addition to SNAP, seniors could be eligible for additional federal programs depending on their income, health status, age, and whether the program is available in their area.
Source: Lauffer, S. (2017). Characteristics of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Households: Fiscal Year 2016. Alexandria, VA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Office of Policy Support.
- Closing the Senior SNAP GapOnly an estimated 45 percent of eligible seniors participate in SNAP. This compares to 88 percent of non-elderly adults. Why?
- Misinformation about the program
- Lack of information on how to apply
- Barriers related to mobility
One of the key strategies to addressing senior hunger is to connect more eligible seniors to SNAP. To improve participation, FRAC is working to remove barriers facing seniors through federal legislation that will improve benefit levels, and by partnering with state officials, advocates, service providers and other stakeholders to strengthen state policies.
Source: Cunnyngham, K. (2018). Trends in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Participation Rates: Fiscal Year 2010 to Fiscal Year 2016. Alexandria, VA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Office of Policy Support.
- Risk Factors for Food Insecurity Among Older AdultsCertain older adults are at higher risk for food insecurity than others. Research shows that food insecurity rates tend to be higher among older adults who are:
- Low income
- Less educated (i.e., less than a high school education)
- Separated or divorced, or never married
- Residing in the South
- Living with a disability
- Living alone
- “Younger” older adults (food insecurity among older adults decreases somewhat with age due to the availability of age-specific safety net programs, such as Medicare and Social Security)
Source: Strickhouser, S., Wright, J. D., & Donley, A. M. (2014). Food Insecurity Among Older Adults. Washington, DC: AARP Foundation. (Technical note: Based on low and very low food security data presented in Table 2b for 50-59 year olds and Table 2c for those aged 60 and older.)
- Older Adults Living with ChildrenOlder adults may reside in a household with children under 18 years of age (e.g., their own children, grandchildren), which can increase the likelihood of experiencing food insecurity. Parents and caregivers often try to protect children from food insecurity by, for example, sacrificing their own food and nutrition needs so that the children can eat.
National data show that:
- Rates of household food insecurity are 1.5 times higher among households with any children present (compared to households without children).
- Rates of household food insecurity are two times higher among households with a grandchild present (compared to households without a grandchild present).
Do, D., Rodgers, R., & Rivera Drew, J. A. (2015). Multigenerational families and food insecurity in the United States, 1998-2013. Integrated Health Interview Series, Data Brief No. 1.
Coleman-Jensen, A., Rabbitt, M. P., Gregory, C. A., & Singh, A. (2017). Household food security in the United States in 2016. Economic Research Report, 237. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
Ziliak, J. P., & Gundersen, C. (2016). Multigenerational families and food insecurity. Southern Economic Journal, 82(4), 1147–1166.
- Other Federal Nutrition Programs for SeniorsIn addition to SNAP, seniors could be eligible for additional federal programs depending on their income, health status, age, and whether the program is available in their area.