May 7, 2018
Over the past year, my colleagues and I have released several research pieces related to food insecurity– most recently, Loren Anthes’ report, Hungry for Policy: Searching for Solutions to Food Insecurity in Ohio Medicaid. The links between food insecurity and poor health outcomes are well-documented, and older adults are particularly vulnerable to the effects of food insecurity, such as the ones shown in this infographic.
There is also the misperception among some older adults that if they receive SNAP benefits, they may be “taking” from someone else, such as a family with children, who has a greater need
One of the most effective solutions to food insecurity is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program, or SNAP. However, as Rachel Cahill wrote here, around 264,000 Ohio seniors are eligible for but not receiving SNAP. Which begs the question, why aren’t more older adults using SNAP?
Here are a few common reasons.
Many older adults feel the weight of stigma or shame related to asking for help or receiving government benefits. When SNAP in Ohio shifted to an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card, some of that stigma was lifted, however, many older adults may still feel too proud to apply for the benefit. This may be especially true in more affluent communities, such as Rocky River, Olmsted Falls and Broadview Heights. While older adults are increasingly enrolling for SNAP benefits in communities like those, only about 40 percent of Ohio seniors who are eligible for benefits are enrolled in the program. This is a shame, because SNAP is a benefit that, if used to its full potential, could actually decrease government spending in other areas, such as Medicaid.
Many older adults feel the weight of stigma or shame related to asking for help or receiving government benefits.
There is also the misperception among some older adults that if they receive SNAP benefits, they may be “taking” from someone else, such as a family with children, who has a greater need. Since SNAP is an entitlement benefit, this is not the case. Anyone who qualifies for SNAP receives the benefit, with no cap on benefits for individual communities.
MISPERCEPTION ABOUT BENEFIT LEVELS
Many older adults assume that they wouldn’t qualify for SNAP, or that they would only qualify for the minimum monthly benefit of $16/month. This misperception may lead many to decide not to go through the “hassle” of applying for SNAP. However, fewer than one-in-four senior households receive the minimum benefit, and the average benefit for senior households is $115 per month. That amounts to an additional $1,380 per year to supplement the income of the average senior SNAP participant. Increased outreach efforts, as well as education, are needed to combat this common misperception among older adults and social service providers.
BARRIERS TO ACCESSING BENEFITS
Another common reason that older adults don’t access SNAP is that they face significant barriers to applying. Many older adults don’t have access to the internet, or don’t feel comfortable using a computer, so completing the online application for benefits is a challenge. Going to a county office multiple times to complete applications and interviews in person, filling out a complicated, hard-to-read form and gathering the information needed to apply all pose challenges for older adults. Rachel outlined some policy changes that could reduce these barriers, such as phone-based enrollment and the Elderly Simplified Application Project.
Until Ohio makes some changes in the way that it delivers SNAP to consumers, it is likely that older adults will continue to try to make ends meet without the benefit. Improving access to SNAP would help older adults lead healthier lives and age-in-place.